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What Is Change Management? It may not be what you think it is.


Last week I spoke to someone at a consulting firm that offers Change Management as a service, and they said, “Change Management is easy, it’s tracking the changes to a project.”  She’s not wrong, because there are two definitions for change management.

Change Management Definition

The term change management, according to the Oxford Dictionary has two definitions:

  1. “The management of change and development within a business or similar organization.”
  2. “The controlled identification and implementation of required changes within a computer system.”

It’s no surprise that people get confused. Part of the problem is that I didn’t ask the question correctly, for her firm. At her very large organization, they call the service Organizational Change Management (OCM).   Interestingly, there is no definition in the Oxford Dictionary for Organizational Change Management.

Prosci, a global leader in change management solutions, has been sharing insights on change management since 2009. According to their site, “Change management is the discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes.” I like to think of change management as simply helping increase people’s adoption of the change, while decreasing resistance to a change.

Facing & Accepting Change

For example, I once hated speaking in public. I would drop/add classes just to avoid giving a speech. Clearly, my resistance was very high to changing.  Even if I couldn’t avoid giving a presentation, I would delay it.  I remember delaying a high school English speech three months by “feeling sick”.

One day, years later, I received a promotion and my director, Greg, asked me what I felt my greatest weakness was.  I confessed my fear of public speaking for I knew in this new role, I would need to give training. This began my change journey.

I realized I needed to change.  For the first time in my life, I was aware that my fear was a roadblock I needed to solve and not avoid.

To achieve my dreams of being successful and get promotions, I had to change.  This desire to change was the key to unlocking my growth potential.  Greg offered to send me to presentation training.  At first, this made my situation actually worse when I failed the “heckling” part of the class. Though my confidence was lower, I went back to Greg.  He then suggested I join a public speaking club called Toastmasters.  Toastmasters changed my life, as I went from hating to give presentations to loving them!

From a change management perspective, the Toastmasters program took my desire to change and gave me the knowledge on how to change.  Their process was simple to follow (give small speeches at every meeting) and a mentor to help me when I got stuck.  My first speech was the hardest and I was too afraid to even give it to my mentor, Mary.  She took me across the street from work to her house and had me practice in front of her two big, adorable dogs.  When they feel asleep on me, I knew I had to add more energy.  Only after keeping them awake through my entire 4-minute speech would I give my speech to Mary.

Mary helped clear my path of resistance and to build my confidence, which gave me the ability to give presentations.  I gave that speech to the non-judgmental group and received a glowing evaluation, with the only opportunity being to give my speech a title. Not a single person fell asleep!

To make sure I didn’t fall back into old habits and lose my confidence, I set 4 goals for myself:

1. Go to every meeting

2. Speak at every meeting. Even if I wasn’t giving a speech, there were opportunities to facilitate, give evaluations or report out the “filler” word (“um”, “you know”) counts.

3. Commit to giving a speech every month

4. Join the Leadership Team.  I respond well to doing what I say I’m going to do publicly.  I knew that if I was on a team of people that would hold me to my commitments, I would not back out.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my 4 goals were also making sure my change was sustainable.  By the fifth speech I was no longer blushing or had butterflies in my stomach.  By the tenth speech I started to enjoy giving speeches!

Change management is about helping people recognize what’s stopping them from accepting the change, desiring it, learning how to adopt the change, gaining the ability to give a speech and making it sustainable.

Often, with organizations there is a give-and-take required between the organization and its people at one part of the process to enable success.  For example, my Toastmasters group did not have official mentors.  By doing my research, I saw it was part of the program and I knew I would need all the help I could get! Though my Toastmasters group wasn’t sure how to create a mentoring program, I did. I ran for VP of Education and started the mentoring program myself.

“Change Embracers”

Change Management’s definition will probably evolve over time.  To me, it is about helping people, through process and tools, to embrace change.  It’s not always easy.  People don’t always like change.  Imagine, though, what we could do if we became “Change Embracers”. In our organizations, we could raise engagement, productivity and realize the benefits from change initiatives.  Personally, we could improve our lives and conquer whatever is holding us back from our dreams.  What changes do you want to see this year?  Look at what’s holding you back and figure out a plan on how to get what you need to achieve it and make it sustainable!

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