Change Management and Human Performance

There are various theories about what exactly constitutes “change management.” The bottom line, in all cases, however, involves people. When senior managers decide to make changes, they don't care about what the machines or the computer systems “think” about change. They care about what the employees, the customers and their business partners think. They worry that customers will decide they don't like the new services on offer or that employees will resist making the changes that management has determined are needed. Change management is about getting people to go along with change.

My reading of the Change Management literature suggests that there are, very broadly speaking, four approaches, although most theories tend to combine the approaches:

  1. Keep everyone informed
  2. Work with individuals to overcome resistance
  3. Assure that everyone agrees that the new tasks are part of their job
  4. Encourage individuals to support the change

Keep Everyone Informed

This rule may seem obvious, but companies and process groups often ignore it. This is especially likely to happen if the company or the process team expects an unpleasant outcome to a change effort. If we know in advance, for example, that a change will likely lead to laying off a number of people, there is a tendency to try to avoid saying that until the last minute, just before laying the people off. Sometimes that might work, but more often people figure out what is likely to happen and become upset long before the layoffs, and the change effort suffers as everyone resents it. Anyone who was involved in Business Process Reengineering in the 90s knows that BPR came to be widely perceived as something that resulted in major layoffs, and that perception made it very hard for BPR people to accomplish their real goals – which were to radically improve how processes worked.

With or without layoffs, employees become nervous when outsiders began to study their work. It's usually far better to start the project by sitting down with those involved in the As-Is process, explain the goal of the project, and then arrange to keep people informed as the project progresses. As a strong generalization, keeping people informed about changes that will likely affect them is the right way to go.

And, of course, it's not just the employees you need to keep informed. No one likes surprises, at least in a business context. Keeping customers and business partners informed is also important. Moreover, keeping the other processes, and their managers and employees informed about changes in your process that will likely impact them is just as important.

When a term using the BPTrends Methodology plans a project, they build in a number of meetings that are designed, in large part, to assure that everyone is kept informed on the goals and the evolution of the project's planned changes. Stakeholders are urged to share their thoughts and voice opposition so that everyone knows about potential problems well in advance of any actual process changes being implemented.

Work with Individuals to Overcome Resistance

A second emphasis in change management is on overcoming resistance. Let's assume that it emerges from an early meeting that some of the supervisors involved in the As-Is process are opposed to the type of changes that are being talked about. A number of change management techniques are designed to help a process team overcome such resistance. It begins by determining exactly why the individuals are resistant. Some people, for example, are quite skilled using existing equipment and get high praise for being able to get good results using the existing equipment. They fear that a change in equipment will obsolete their skills and make them less important. Once this problem is identified, the process team can incorporate training into the transition program to assure that those individuals gain skills in the new equipment, and so forth.

The general theory runs as follows: Individuals seek to secure their own advantage, or at least to avoid unpleasantness. The process team needs to show individuals how the proposed changes will be advantageous to them, or at least show that it won't be unpleasant in the way they fear. This can't always be done, but it often can, and it's largely a matter of communicating with individuals and determining the exact nature of their concerns.

Assure that Everyone Agrees that the New Tasks are Part of Their Job

Once again this seems obvious, but is often ignored. In union shops, this can be a very serious problem, but even in a non-union situation, most people have clear ideas about what they were hired to do, or what they are being paid to do, and most resent having their work assignments changed without some kind of negotiation and agreement. Many companies have formal documents, termed “job descriptions” or something similar. These documents define the work expected from a given employee. In the real world there is often some drift that has taken place since the employee was hired or the job description was written, but most employees have a strong idea about what is a reasonable variation, and what is, in their opinion, an unreasonable change. The rule is simple: you don't make unreasonable changes in someone job without some kind of negotiation and agreement. You might simply consider this a part of the basic approach that says you must communication about changes, but it often requires a more formal approach.

If the process team sees that it is moving toward a process redesign that will require major changes in various employee job descriptions, it needs to alert appropriate people – supervisors, human resource people – and draft new job descriptions for the To-Be processes being designed. Then, those job descriptions need to be discussed with the employees who will be affected. Often new training will be required to teach people to use new equipment or new software applications. In most cases some tasks previously performed will be discontinued at the same time that new tasks are being added. If the changes amount to requiring much more from the employee, then changes in job status and pay will need to be negotiated and agreed upon. This transition can be especially difficult if the job is being deskilled.

Encourage Individuals to Support the Change

There are lots of theories of motivation, but the approach that works best in business environments is an informal kind of behaviorism. People tend to do more when they are reinforced for doing it and they tend to do less when they are not reinforced. People tend to stop doing things when they are punished for doing them.

The key term in all this is reinforcement. It takes many forms. A pleasant word or smile can be reinforcing, just as ignoring someone can be punishing. In some circumstances formal recognition can be reinforcing. A posted notice saying that the night shift completed 200 units can be a challenge for the day shift, and the achievement of 201 units by the day shift can then be reinforcing. Added vacation time and salary increases are usually motivating, just as bonuses are.

I remember a situation in a call center when a new program was introduced to encourage the sale of some additional item that took quite a bit of time to sell. After a couple of months senior management was disappointed that the new item wasn't being sold. Observation of the work place revealed this: Supervisors tracked the time each operator took on a call and complained (punished) employees who took longer than average. In effect, anyone who tried to sell the new item was going to be punished, so the item wasn't being sold. In real work environments, rewards and punishments are often mixed, and you need to be sure you understand what is actually going on to understand why a given task is or isn't being done.

Management often postures about not wanting to offer bonuses to employees, although no one fools around with senior management bonuses or with the bonuses of salespeople. If you want something done, you need to be sure that the behavior is reinforced. When CEO Jack Welch launched the Six Sigma program at GE in the Eighties, he made 20% of each senior manager's bonus dependent on achieving Six Sigma goals. GE's Six Sigma became a major success!

Once the process team has designed a new To-Be process, you need to consider what will happen when that process is rolled out. What will happen to supervisors who support the new process? What will happen to employees who work hard to try to make the new process a success? If you really want the new process to succeed your team had better be sure that the supervisors and employees responsible for the new process get reinforced for making the new process succeed.

Too many process efforts are launched with a bit of fanfare, and then gradually fail. In most cases they fail for one major reason. Everyone knows and understands how to do the process the old way. People are confused about the new process, and, worse, are being pressured by managers to solve problems that come up. The easiest way to solve many of the problems management is concerned with is to revert to the old way of doing things. This environment, too frequently typical of roll outs, doesn't provide any rewards for those who make the new process work. In fact, since people take longer to use techniques with which they are unfamiliar, and feel awkward and under pressure to perform well, they find it easier (and more rewarding) to simply fall back on what they understand better.

At this point it should be obvious that Change Management has two venues. You use it while your redesign project is underway to do what you can to smooth out the eventual acceptance of changes, and you use it, indirectly, once the new process is rolled out, to assure that the new process is implemented effectively. Normally the process team is gone by the time the process is rolled out, so they need to build in support for the process changes in the redesign package they deliver. If you want supervisors to reinforce, or management to pay bonuses for great implementation efforts, you need to arrange that while the redesign project is still underway. In some cases you will need to arrange for supervisor training, to assure that supervisors support employees as you desire.

Change Management is one of the keys to a successful business process change initiative. Learning the basics involved and incorporating them into your process methodology will increase you chances for success.

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Paul Harmon

Paul Harmon

Executive Editor and Founder, Business Process Trends In addition to his role as Executive Editor and Founder of Business Process Trends, Paul Harmon is Chief Consultant and Founder of BPTrends Associates, a professional services company providing educational and consulting services to managers interested in understanding and implementing business process change. Paul is a noted consultant, author and analyst concerned with applying new technologies to real-world business problems. He is the author of Business Process Change: A Manager's Guide to Improving, Redesigning, and Automating Processes (2003). He has previously co-authored Developing E-business Systems and Architectures (2001), Understanding UML (1998), and Intelligent Software Systems Development (1993). Mr. Harmon has served as a senior consultant and head of Cutter Consortium's Distributed Architecture practice. Between 1985 and 2000 Mr. Harmon wrote Cutter newsletters, including Expert Systems Strategies, CASE Strategies, and Component Development Strategies. Paul has worked on major process redesign projects with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Security Pacific, Prudential, and Citibank, among others. He is a member of ISPI and a Certified Performance Technologist. Paul is a widely respected keynote speaker and has developed and delivered workshops and seminars on a wide variety of topics to conferences and major corporations through out the world. Paul lives in Las Vegas. Paul can be reached at

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