Article

6 essential skills for successful change management

By Kristen Hicks

Published May 13, 2020
Last modified May 27, 2020

Managing change isn’t just a normal part of business, it’s a normal part of life. Yet learning how to manage change well doesn’t come naturally, it’s a skill that has to be developed and honed. That’s especially true for organizational change, which often involves a lot of moving parts, including different people, systems, technologies, and goals.

For your desired changes to take root, your organization needs people that possess change management skills.

Why developing change management skills is important

Every business undergoes organizational change at some point and navigating it has always been a valuable skill. But in recent years, the change management process has become an increasingly common part of doing business. “Whether you realize it or not, part of almost everybody's role in this day and age is change management” says Rachel Breitbach, the Change Management and Agility Practice Lead at Farwell.

For your organization, encouraging employees to develop change management skills will mean more success for your change programs. For individuals, learning these skills leads to career growth. Change management initiatives are therefore more effective if they include plans for educating and training your team in key change management skills.

6 change management skills to develop for success

Change management skills are a necessity for those most likely to lead change management projects, like senior executives or change managers. But they’re also useful for anyone likely to be involved in the change management process. Invest in programs and resources to help your employees to develop the following skills.

  1. Communication

    Effective communication skills are important at every point of a change project. When in the strategy stage, communication is key to clarifying what you want the change to accomplish. In the preparation stage, it’s how you overcome resistance to change by persuasively making the case to your employees about why the change is needed, and giving them the support they need to do their part. And in the execution stage, regular check-ins to gather feedback and make sure employees are implementing the planned changes are how you keep things on track.

    Communication requires taking time to understand the people involved in the change at all levels of the organization. When building a communication plan, Breitbach insists it should “speak to what most of them are going to feel.” You can’t just create one message for the entire organization. Effective change requires ongoing messaging and information that’s tailored to each employee.

  2. Active listening

    Good communication is a two-way process. For your change management plan to achieve the intended results, you need to devote as much time to listening to employees as you do to giving them updates. Skilled change managers learn to actively solicit feedback from people at all levels of the project, and then apply that feedback moving forward.

    “Change management is about helping with the people side of change, and helping people make changes stick,” explains Breitbach.

    Your change management plan won’t stick if it doesn’t make sense for way your employees do their work. And worse, you risk making changes that don’t actually make things better. To make sure the change takes effect and meets your goals, employees need the chance to weigh in and know they’ll be heard.

  3. Research

    If you don’t have direct experience with change management, strong research skills allow you to learn from the knowledge and experience of others. Study up on the most popular change management methodologies to determine which ideas should be applied to your change projects. Look for relevant case studies on similar projects to learn best practices based on actual past results.

    And tap into your company’s data to make sure you fully understand the current state of things before you develop a strategy. To create a plan that truly addresses your organization’s needs, you need to understand what the current roadblocks are, what employees are struggling with, and if there are any current processes getting in the way.

    Knowing how to do research in advance can go a long way toward ensuring you develop a more effective strategy for meeting your top goals.

  4. Strategic thinking

    Successful change management projects start with a strong strategy. This means knowing how to take a big-picture view of what the organization needs, and combine that with the granular details that matter to successful execution. It requires learning to anticipate issues that may arise during the change process and create a plan for handling them.

    Strategic thinking is the skill that enables you to translate general needs and goals into a clear roadmap for meeting them. That includes creating a list of specific steps to take, determining who to put in charge of each, and putting together a realistic timeline for enacting it all. Good ideas are a start. The ability to turn them into reality requires strategic thinking.

  5. Leadership

    Managing change means managing people effectively, and that involves leadership skills. Part of that is knowing who to put in charge of each part of the change management process, and how to make sure they’re properly equipped to succeed in their roles. You also need to learn how to motivate your team to care about the change.

    That involves building trust and showing you care what they’re thinking and feeling. “Trust is such a key building block for change and change management,” Breitbach points out. Make a point of asking them for their input and actually listening to what they say. Make a habit out of following up on surveys they fill out and feedback they send.

    “The more that you can involve people in the outcome,” says Breitbach, “the more they will be willing to adopt the change.” A good leader makes sure every employee involved in the change process feels like they’re a part of the project—not just someone asked to fall in line.

  6. Measurement and analysis

    Finally, change management requires the ability to measure progress and make sure the change accomplishes the results it’s meant to. You need the ability to identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure the project’s success based on its goals.

    “Where a lot of change projects fail is the measurement piece,” according to Breitbach. It’s important not only to confirm that the project met its goals, but also to be able to prove to employees that the new way is an improvement over the former status quo. “If you don't measure how something is going in the current state, they get a halo effect in terms of thinking it was working perfectly before the change,” Breitbach explains.

    If you measure KPIs both before and after the change process, you’ll know for sure what effect it had and be able to prove your results.

How to improve change management skills

Improving change management skills involves a combination of research and practice. If no one in your organization has much direct experience with implementing change, you may benefit from bringing in a change management consultant to learn from to start. Pair their guidance with research into change management best practices. Then carefully track what you learn from each change project you’re involved in so you can apply it to the next.

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