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Build a Change Management Plan: 5 Key Steps to Success

You’ve been tasked to oversee the rollout of a major company initiative. Congrats! But where to begin? Implementing a change management plan takes a high level of commitment and cooperation. The effort and resources required might surprise the uninitiated.
No matter how big or small an organization is, successful implementation of a change management plan leans on these steps:

1. Identify Your Company's Needs and Target the Key Players

First things first, identify the company’s needs. Typical HR needs might include changes in:

  • Employee rules and guidelines
  • Talent acquisition processes
  • New company systems
  • Management of the bottom line

Companies in need of human resource solutions can also benefit from a change management plan. You’ve probably heard of SWOT Analysis. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis is meant to identify where a company stands in the marketplace. In addition, this method is beneficial when evaluating internal opportunities.
Pinpoint key players in your organization as early as possible.Key players can consist of a wide range of roles throughout the organization, including executives, managers, supervisors, HR, etc.
An important step is to establish the individuals who will represent areas or departments throughout the company. These members will provide you with valuable feedback across all employee groups through your rollout.

2. Build Out a Change Management Vision and Roadmap

After you've identified organizational weaknesses and targeted your group of “change ambassadors”, begin clarifying your vision for change. Your change ambassadors will be involved in the planning and rollout of the solution. Lean on this team to plan and document the process and progress.
Don't forget to document. There will be many activities happening simultaneously, so tracking progress and accountability will be the key to managing all the moving parts. Smartsheet is a great example of a tool for project tracking. Whatever system you choose, the goal is to have accurate documentation.
Ensure all of your key players have a clear role and understand their responsibilities. Note the start and end dates for each task and keep lines of communication open. Giving an end date for tasks is essential for tracking milestones and holding the task owner accountable for their responsibilities. It’s easy to say something will be done. Having a plan with landmark goals will support an effective change management plan further.
Though it's important to set project deadlines, maintaining a degree of flexibility is also mandatory. Padding your tasks with some extra time to account for worst-case scenarios will help provide a realistic project roadmap.

3. Establish Communication Guidelines

Change is impossible without communication. In fact, lack of communication or ineffective communication is the #1 reason a change management plan can go wrong. Building communication guidelines is extremely important to achieve successful results. Make sure employees and leadership understand the impending change and know what they need to do to prepare. Your team will want to know how their role will contribute to this change and when it will take place.
Your "change ambassadors" shine the brightest here. Since you have designated a representative for each area, they will know ahead of time what is down the roadmap. Communication between them and their area employees allows familiarity and confidence in an open forum. This openness allows the ambassador to relay any positive or negative feedback to you. Knowing the immediate feedback from the teams involved will allow you to pivot. For example, gaps in planning can be immediately remedied with feedback from the team.

4. Invest in Employee Training

For most change initiatives, a simple communication campaign will not do. Providing training or visuals of what to expect is a crowd-pleaser. A best practice is to create manuals and ensure access to helpful documented resources.  It also takes the load off you and your change ambassadors when the progress of adopting change can be supplemented through self-service references.
Also, depending on the department, the method of rollout could vary. Change ambassadors may suggest an appropriate method of training that is conducive to their group. For example, the change will affect remote employees differently than on-site employees. Therefore, the approach to training should be adjusted accordingly. Let's say a company-wide time and labor solution is being implemented. Hourly workers and salaried workers will be affected in different ways.

5. Lead by Example

Out of all change management steps, leading by example is possibly the most challenging. As an individual, you may be 100% on board and ready to adopt the initiative. But you have to admit that encouraging a group of people to adopt the change is what likely brings you to this article. The change ambassadors that we identified at the beginning have the toughest job. They are not only in constant communication with you and their departments about the upcoming changes, but also must be the Cheerleaders of Change.
The success plan is greatly disrupted the moment an appointed change ambassador shows disdain towards the solution. Make sure your change ambassadors are on board and not sabotaging your efforts from within.
So, what should you do in case you do not have total buy-in from change ambassadors or affected groups? It's crucial for those involved in communicating the change to understand all potential downfalls that could occur. Impress upon the ambassadors that their actions have consequences. You might use sticks and carrots here.
Finding a way to emphasize the positive reasons for the change is helpful. Remember that from the perspective of the employees, the short-term pain of change must impact long-term goals. So, tell them what the goal is. Rewarding employees for supporting the change management plan will help push the masses to actively participate.
The next time you take on change management leadership, be sure to keep these key factors in mind. They will help smooth out the process significantly.

Summary: How to Build a Change Management Plan

Developing a change management plan requires a lot of commitment and cooperation. In order to achieve the expected results, you need to follow some simple, but important rules. Investigating and identifying your company's needs is the first step on your to-do list. Also, you need to have a well-thought-out roadmap at the core of your change management plan. Last but not least, communication is key in any management process and so is offering the optimal training.
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