As change experts, we talk a great deal about new trends and strategies to implement in your next Change Management initiative. Whether it be shifting to a four-day workweek, going hybrid, or experiencing periods of intense growth, there is one common denominator that never changes: people. We stress communication and empathy when undergoing change because we know that people remain the deciding factor on whether your project will fail or succeed. That’s why today, we’re taking the time to delve into the practice of People Change Management.
What is People Change Management in the first place?
People Change Management, or PCM for short, is exactly what it sounds like: the people or human side of change. Whatever kind of change you’re going through, whether it be technological or organizational, there will always be people impacted. PCM is an approach that supports organizations, teams, and individuals as they successfully transition to the new ways of working. The goal is to enable people and ease change adoption to facilitate the shift in behaviour. While a change project can have many components, it all boils down to how well people are able to accept and follow through with the change—this is where PCM has its biggest impact.
The evolution of People Change Management
In some ways, PCM has changed over time, and in other ways, it hasn’t. Traditional PCM methodologies and tools have become antiquated. While these frameworks are still useful, they are not best suited for dealing with all the ways that workplace culture has shifted in the last couple years. Today, people are more comfortable voicing displeasure or concern—they are more aware of their ability to speak up about personal demands or issues they may come across. As a result, PCM has had to shift from a focus on managing people (telling them what to do and how to do it), to enabling people (empowering them to take ownership of their own change journey).
Check out our blog, “Change Management is Dead, Long Live Change Enablement,” to read more about how organizations and their people have changed and why methodologies must shift to keep pace. One such cultural shift is the way top-down driven change has become a thing of the past. While strong leadership support remains essential, peer-driven change is the critical factor for instituting change. Learning programs must be dynamic and they must be tailored to their intended audiences. A one-size-fits-all approach to learning is simply not adequate anymore. In all, culture has shifted, and PCM must shift along with it by updating its approaches towards supporting people through change.
Why don’t people prioritize People Change Management?
Most leaders know or will say that People Change Management is crucial to any change, so why is it still often neglected?
1. It is believed that PCM is too costly—but ultimately, the cost of not applying PCM would end up being much higher. Organizations don’t want to spend extra money where they don’t have to, but it’s important to recognize that every change has a people or human component, and that investing in your people means investing in sustainable change and overall business benefits realization.
2. Limited internal capacity, especially from leaders and middle managers. Most organizations these days run lean, meaning doing more with less. Often what we have less of is time. It is important for people (leaders, managers, and individual contributors) to learn the skills it takes to manage PCM within their workload. It is especially important for people to be supported by their leaders or managers to make the time to do so, otherwise they won’t have the time or resources to spend on PCM, which will have a significant impact on morale and the bottom line.
3. Lack of awareness and desire to understand what PCM is. Without awareness about what PCM is, people are not able to identify the value and purpose of its role in organizational change.
4. PCM is typically viewed as just a Communications function. Enabling and empowering people to change means more than communicating what the change is and when it’s happening; it also means explaining why it's happening, what are the impacts, who is impacted, as well as providing learning and training opportunities so that behaviours and beliefs can change. By providing a holistic view and engaging people, the accountability is given back to the people for their own change journeys, helping them shift their behaviours over time.
5. Organizations underestimate the difficulty or length of a change. People require ample time and support to successfully transition to the new ways of working. Each person goes through the change journey at their own speed and often the length of the change journey is underestimated. See the video where Greg Roth, Managing Partner at Harbinger discusses what is the average length of a change initiative.
Why should you care about People Change Management?
You should care about PCM because it impacts the success and sustainability of your change. If you’re going to have to spend time and money to repair a leak, might as well do it now rather than when the boat’s already sinking. It’s essentially a “pay now or pay later” type of situation. If leaders in organizations don’t support their people throughout a change, they risk having people quit, burn out, or make avoidable mistakes. By supporting your people before, during, and after a change initiative, you lessen the chances of experiencing these consequences. Make the choice to pay now, devote time and money to support employees, and avoid having to deal with a problem bigger and more costly than the one you started out with.
What can you do to better prioritize People Change Management?
Now that we’ve established how important PCM is to an organization’s success, what can you do to start prioritizing it?
1. Put people first
Start prioritizing people by putting PCM first in your company operations’ hierarchy of importance. As simple as this strategy may sound, it will be the hardest to achieve, as it will involve a fundamental shift in how your organization operates. Putting PCM first can seem like a slow and gradual process, but it needs to be done to keep pace with the rapidly changing environments of today’s work world.
2. People are worthy investments
Invest in the people you already have in your organization. Recruiting, hiring, and training new employees ends up being more costly than investing in your current employees’ wellbeing and professional development. You get what you put in; if you foster a work environment where employees feel supported and adequately challenged, you’ll receive a better overall business benefits realization, and you’ll maintain it by retaining your capable workers.
3. Think of PCM as a tactical activity
If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around the idea of PCM and why you need it, consider it from a tactical perspective. Tactical change management is often practical and lean, which we expand more on in our blog "The New Era of Change Management is Practical." While a robust strategy and a methodology that follows best practices is beneficial, these are only useful when the impacted audience has the time and capacity to even think about the change and all the components involved. Providing a lean or tactical approach can make the change more palatable to both those going through it and those who are leading it. If people are able to connect the dots along the change journey in a logical and practical way, they will be more fulfilled and feel better supported when experiencing change, which means your organization will ultimately achieve greater efficiency and quality of results.
4. Break up PCM into smaller pieces
The official wording of “People Change Management” may seem daunting to approach, but the key to getting started is to treat it as a journey. To further the discussion about tactical and practical change management, let’s break up the strategy into small pieces and take it one step at a time. Consider lean change management, whose strategy is to eliminate wasted time, energy, outdated practices, etc., and to better utilize successful practices already in your toolbelt to ultimately create the most optimal process and results. Essentially, get rid of what’s not working, but keep what is, and lean into it. Lean into helping your people grow by building them up.
Consider this quote:
“Businesses often forget about culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.”
-Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
People will always remain the common denominators in an organization’s success or failure. Be mindful of how your people are faring and keep a close watch of how your company culture may evolve. By supporting the foundation of an organization, i.e., people at every level of your organization, you ensure optimal work habits and results. As Tony Hsieh explained in this quote, unhappy employees just won’t deliver the same results as employees who are supported and feel fulfilled with their work. Put your people first because when they thrive, your organization thrives.