Expert Guide to Writing an Effective Change Management Plan

The one thing a business can almost certainly expect is change. A lot of it. Most organizational change happens for one of two reasons: unexpected circumstances or intentional actions implemented to facilitate organizational growth or progress. Whether the change is due to a market influence, a reduction in budget, resource constraints, or expansion, it’s a safe bet that organizational change will affect your business on a fairly regular basis. 

Change management has evolved from simply something that happens in organizations to an entire discipline. This comprehensive guide provides information on how creating a change management plan can help your organization prepare and handle forecasted and unforeseen changes. We’ll also provide direction on writing effective change management plans for managing organizational change, along with best practices and tips from experts in the field. 

Understanding the Change Management Process

Many change management theories, models, and frameworks have been developed based on research and experience. One of these theories is Kotter’s 8-step Change Management Process. World-renowned change expert, John Kotter, outlined this 8-step process for change: create urgency, form a powerful coalition, create a vision for change, communicate the vision, remove obstacles, create short term wins, build on the change, and anchor the change into corporate culture. 

These models or frameworks act as a guide to managing change both personally and within an organization. Most of these models include a supporting process or sequence of steps to move a change from initiation to completion. Within the sequence of steps, there is typically a ‘Planning’ stage where teams create a change management plan to help manage the project tasks and activities. 

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Addam Marcotte, Vice President of Organization Development for FMG Leading says, “The one constant in life is change. This is especially true in the business environment with eternally changing conditions. As the world becomes more interconnected, interdependent, and complex, seemingly trivial variables can have profound impact on global markets. Studies have shown that agile organizations, those that can adapt to change rapidly, are more likely to succeed — therefore having competency in organizational change can no longer be a reactionary one-time solution, but is a vital element of organizational strategy. Organizational Change Management is a systematic approach to leading large scale change, from process and org structure to culture and human capital.”

What is a Change Management Plan and Why Do You Need One?

A change management plan helps manage the change process, and also ensures control in budget, schedule, scope, communication, and resources. The change management plan will minimize the impact a change can have on the business, employees, customers, and other important stakeholders.

Marcotte believes that, “Effective organizations are able to handle varying degrees of complex change and quickly pivot and navigate the changing landscape. Deep emergent change can be extremely disruptive and unsettling, whereas intentional incremental change may feel like minor efficiency improvements and largely go unnoticed. All forms and degrees of organizational change need someone leading the journey and continually communicating with employees. It is important to have a comprehensive and integrated change management plan to help clearly articulate organizational strategy, helping people understand ‘why’ the change is critical and what the future state will look and feel like.”

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According to Amy Kauffman, Founder of Strategic Moxie, “You need a change management plan because strategy and processes are always perfect in their conception, but as time goes on these elements of business become living, breathing, and changing entities. Change management plans help you remain agile, adapt to challenges along the way, monitor success metrics, and track milestones.”

How to Write a Change Management Plan

There are several steps involved in writing a change management plan. You can get started by using a change management template. We’ve outlined them here and provided some best practices recommended by experts in the field:

1. Demonstrate the reasons for the change.

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Kevin Lonergan of PMIS Consulting Limited explains that, “One should never assume that people know why change is needed. Even the blindingly obvious is never obvious to all. Make sure that the reasons for the change effort are clearly defined.” When your stakeholders have a clear understanding of why the change is needed and how it will improve business or the way they work, they are more likely to support rather than resist the change.

     

2. Determine the scope. The next step in writing the change management plan is determining who the change will affect. Also determine what the change will impact, including policies, processes, job roles, and organizational structure.

3. Identify stakeholders and the change management team. Marcotte explains that the “best practices in change management often include a task force or team who ‘owns’ the organizational change and is empowered to execute it. The composition of this team is extremely important and it must be led by a credible leader.” The change management team interacts with stakeholders, addresses concerns, and oversees a smooth change transition. Roles within the team require clear definition, including outlining each member’s responsibilities. A Change Advisory Board (CAB) may also be established to oversee changes, offering change approvals and guidance. 

4. Clarify the expected benefits. These benefits should be clearly delineated so that everyone involved understands the advantages of proceeding with the change. 

5. Milestones as well as costs must also be clearly outlined. Marcotte explains the importance of clear milestones: “Research shows 70% of changes fail because people believe that results relative to the effort aren’t worth it, or aren’t working. Establishing well-communicated and achievable milestones are vital to the success of any change plan. These milestones become symbols to employees that the plan is working, progress is happening, the direction is still right, and the effort is worth it.”

6. Create a change management communication plan.

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Susanne Powelson, Vice President of Lovell Communications, Inc., explains the value and importance of clear, consistent communications as part of the change management plan. “The right strategic communications can help maintain employee focus and foster trust – even in the most uncertain times. Build trust among your employees by being visible and accessible. Strive to set a positive tone for the organization and resist the urge to let problems or shortfalls dominate all of your communications. Instead, focus on helping employees across the organization understand the benefits of the change. Create opportunities for employees to ask questions and let them know what information you can share, what information you can’t share and when they can expect further updates,” she says.

Download Stakeholder Communication Plan


There are three basic elements to communications in the context of change management. 

  1. Identify the stakeholders and those impacted by the change. 
  2. Next, schedule regular face to face interactions and email communications to keep stakeholders updated on progress. 
  3. Finally, communications should be consistent, thorough, and regular. Communications should also clearly explain the change, define the reasons for change, present the benefits of the change, and always include change owner’s contact information.

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Below you will find a sample of how Bob Kermanshahi, Head of Strategy at Siemens Real Estate for the Americas, (part of Siemens, a conglomerate with $20 billion in annual revenues from the Americas,) manages business transformation utilizing a formal change management plan. 

Siemens Case Study

Change Management Processes and Systems

Change management processes and systems pave the way for successful change management. It is essential to be able to submit a change request, track, schedule, and manage that request through delivery. Along the way, you must also monitor roadblocks, milestones, and resistance. A change management system will allow a single storage location for all data association with organizational changes, standardization of procedures, analysis of trends and activity, and easy access from anywhere at any time. 

Look for a system that offers the following functionality:

 

  • Configurable change request forms
  • Change approvals
  • Change monitoring
  • Updating change
  • Change assignment to individuals, teams, and/or Change Advisory or Change Control Board
  • Ability to classify as a change and reclassify as a defect if necessary
  • Schedule of changes (Forward Schedule of Change)
  • Configurable change management processes
  • Role assignment
  • Change log for historical tracking
  • Budgeting and cost controls
  • Ability to break work down into tasks

Resistance Management Plan

How you manage resistance is a critical element when managing change. After identifying the stakeholders, a project manager should examine how they will each be affected by the change. According to Lonergan, “It’s not only important to identify stakeholders, but also predict how they will respond to the change. Often stakeholders will respond by resisting change, so creating a resistance management plan is important.”

Currently, there is an extremely busy industry focused on creating and studying change management models, frameworks, processes, plans, and tools - not to mention professional trainings and certifications that span industry verticals. Since change is a necessary element of organizational growth, this industry will continue to prosper.   

Smartsheet: The Ultimate Tool for Creating a Change Management Plan

Smartsheet is a work management and automation platform that enables enterprises and teams to work better. Organizations embracing change management can utilize Smartsheet’s features to streamline documentation, improve communication, and modify work styles. During the strategic planning phase, you can use Smartsheet to proactively chart your vision, align the right timelines, and empower your team members to share their ideas with an accessible model.

Track the progress of your processes with Smartsheet Sights. Build a customized, centralized dashboard in Sights to surface key information and stay updated in real time. The automated reporting tool also provides visibility into resources, status, and performance so you can quickly align operations to strategy. 

Learn More About Smartsheet For Project Management

Ready to try Smartsheet for yourself and start managing processes with ease? 

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