Change management is treated by many as an ethereal topic; a mystical process overlayed with a lot of “magic happens here”. Or a process described by one of eight major models of change which by their very nature remains high level.

In my experience, there are four main parameters to be considered to make change happen.

Revolution or Evolution

Firstly, and most importantly, the question, “Is this really change or just business-as-usual?” Organisations that do not change as part of their business-as-usual have always died since the industrial revolution. The only thing that has changed is the speed at which they die.

“Change” status is bestowed when the change is revolutionary, not evolutionary. Projects which are elevated to a “Transformation” project or “Change” project are usually given a team to manage the implementation of the “Change”.

Elevating a programme of work to “Change” status is a double edged sword. Doing so lends gravity to the programme and gives focus, attracting resources as a consequence. The other edge is that in doing so, it draws valuable resources from business-as-usual and adds considerable risk to the current business.

Keeping a change programme as business-as-usual, with a decent business case for each element of change, has advantages over a revolutionary change programme.

People are less likely to be afraid at the beginning.

Components of the change programme can be modified as circumstances change and learning is gained from previously completed components without appearing to backtrack.

With shorter implementation time line components, scarce project management, programme office and change management skills are required less.

Both approaches can be right in the same environment. The work required and supporting framework is different and the risks are different. It is a judgement call which way to go, however, revolutionary change is not the only way.

Build the rationale.

In either case, the rationale for change has to be believable to build an appropriate business case to get support for budgets and the resources for the work programme. In the case of revolutionary change, the rationale also has to be strong enough for the people who will implement the change to believe in it.

Without that team believing in the change, the risks grow exponentially each day the team does not believe. The implications are that the team must be selected carefully and allowed to opt out if they want and that they must be brought into the action whilst the rationale is being developed and allow them to study and evaluate the data and shape the rationale.

When building the rationale, build it on data taking into account the four levels of data reliability; internal opinion, external opinion, internal facts, external facts. Rationale built solely on opinion or even worse, opinion in the face of facts will create division on the rationale for the length of the change project and a hostile atmosphere of blame after it has failed.

If you don’t have the facts to support or deny a strongly held opinion, find them, either by research or by running a pilot programme.

Build projects that can be supported.

Most organisations have poor project management skills. I do not mean the ability to manipulate a MS Project GANTT chart. I mean, for example, understanding what a critical path is and having experience to manage one, or being able to remain on top of milestones or change control.

Most organisations, however can mange small discrete projects with a short duration of, say, six months, with small discrete outcomes.

Organising yourself in this manner will increase some costs but will increase effectiveness. You will benefit more from discrete early outcome benefits which will cheer the team and the organisation.

Tell them early and tell them often.

There is no doubt that the people who experience the change will also have a significant impact on the success of the change. It is not always true that they have to believe in the rationale for the change, unlike the team which is implementing the change.

What is true is that they need time to adjust to the change and accept it in their own terms. The only way they can do this is to be informed. To be informed about the rationale and data behind the change, and at many points during the change, what we are doing, what we have done and what the results have been.

If in doubt, tell them.

Keep change in your mind as a group of simple principles such as these, or others that work for you and your organisation. Use models to illustrate and build the rationale behind activities which need to be completed, but don’t shoehorn your change into a particular model or theory. Only add complexity when it adds value over the simple approach.