How much business change do I need?

How much business change do I need for my project?

I am currently presenting at the Ready for Change roadshows with SPOCE, Axelos and APMG. These are a great way to meet fellow business change enthusiasts and have interesting coffee-break discussions. A brilliant moment came early on when an attendee, eyes shining, told me she had just realised that her true interest lay in business change. How fantastic if the roadshows kickstart the careers of future business change managers.

My presentation is a general introduction to business change management, some of which is covered in a previous blog. One attendee asked how you decide on the amount of business change management you need for different projects. Here are my thoughts.

First: understand the impact of your project

Everything you do as a business change manager is aimed at:

  • increasing buy in
  • reducing resistance
  • enabling individuals to transition from old ways of working to new
  • supporting individuals to embed the new ways of working

Your stakeholders will find these four things easier or harder depending on your particular change. You need to use the right amount of business change management to support them in their effort.

Basically, the bigger the impact of the change on people, the more effort they will need to change. There are two main categories of impact:

Changes to practical ways of working: including processes, routines and procedures.

These can be one-off changes which require only short term effort from stakeholders. They can also be more complex changes which require longer term effort to implement and embed.

Changes to behaviours and cultures: including the way decisions are made; how people interact with each other; where power sits in the organisation.

These require the most effort from those affected and can be the most difficult to get buy-in for. They can take months if not years of effort to embed successfully.

It is easy to underestimate the amount of effort stakeholders will need to make your change. Make sure you do a proper impact assessment to get a realistic picture.

Second: understand your organisation

There are other considerations which will also affect how much business change management you will need for your project, including:

  • the culture of your organisation
  • the motivations and concerns of your stakeholders
  • the history of change in the organisation
  • the organisation’s maturity and confidence in managing change
  • how much other change is going on at the same time

For example,  if your stakeholders have had bad experiences of a previous change, more business change management will be needed to gain support and buy in for your change.

What does this look like in real life?

In my new book, The Shape of Change, I explore the change initiatives needed to support the merger of two electrical goods companies, Sparks and Clearholme.

Three of the change initiatives had different levels of impact on the organisation. The amount of business change management needed for each is described below.


New intranet platform: practical change with minimal effort required

A new company intranet platform replaced the two old ones.

Effort needed: Minimal and short term. The users had to use a different address, or url, to access their intranets. They also needed to update any links to the old sites.

Business change management included:

  • clear communications about the new intranet address
  • guidance on how to change any links
  • where to go for more help if needed


New finance system: practical change with longer term effort required

Both old companies needed to move to a new, shared finance system.

Effort needed: High amounts of longer term effort, including:

  • staff needed to be involved in planning the change to make sure the new system met everyone’s needs
  • all end users needed to learn how to use the new system and all associated activities
  • stakeholders needed to be consulted, involved and feel ownership of the new system

However, there was no cultural change here – people still needed to manage the finance of the organisation according to current principles and strategy.

Business change included:

  • clear communications about the need to change and the benefits of the new system and ways of working
  • involvement of subject matter experts, super users and management in designing the system
  • training and support for end users during implementation and embedding
  • leadership support to ensure the change was prioritised and people were given the time and support needed to make the change successfully

New HR department: cultural and behavioural change

The two old HR teams came together as one HR department for the new organisation. The new department wanted to play a much more strategic role in the new business. This was a culture change from providing basic HR services to the business to working in partnership with other departments to deliver Spark Clearholme’s ambitious strategy. They aimed to be seen as an integral, vital component of the company and its future success.

Effort required: high and long term, including:

  • every HR professional would have to behave in new ways due to this new culture: old behaviours of servicing requests had to be unlearnt; new behaviours of working as an equal with the business had to be learnt and embedded
  • all the other departments in Spark Clearholme had to change their behaviours and work in partnership with HR, rather than just seeing them as service providers

Business change management included:

  • supporting  senior leaders to to understand current cultures and behaviours which may help or hinder future success
  • coaching and mentoring senior leaders in role modelling the new behaviours and cultures
  • involving staff throughout the department in designing and undertaking new activities and behaviours for their local areas
  • engaging the rest of the organisation to encourage the necessary behaviour changes to embed the new HR department

What do I do next?

Each change varies in the impact it has on organisation and the effort needed by stakeholders to change. A thorough impact assessment and deep understanding of other aspects of the organisation will help you provide an appropriate amount of business change management for each change.