What its like to be a change manager...
We've given a lot of career advice over the years, to people who want to break into change management. This is what we tell them...
To be a change practitioner...
It's both the hardest job and the most rewarding job, you will ever do.
Most people move into change management (often called transformation) because they like to help people and they like to change things. While these are both essential ingredients for a change practitioner, there is a lot more to the role if you want to do it well.
You need to understand people.
The best change practitioners we have met, have a deep curiosity about what drives human behaviour. This is one of the reasons the field of neuroscience is starting to heavily influence the field of change management. If you understand what people will respond positively and negatively to - the words, images, channels, tone, timing, type of engagement - you will be able to influence how they perceive what's changing and hence, how they will behave in relation to the change.
As you can imagine, this is a development area that will never end for change practitioners. There is always something new to learn about human behaviour and mindset, as well as ways to influence it.
You need to understand the characteristics of change.
Every change initiative is different. It involves different people, solutions, and problems that need to be solved. There will never be "one way" (or process) that can deliver successful change management, everytime. Each change you work on, will require an approach tailored for that situation and context.
Yet at the very heart of every change - it's all the same. It's about people - it's about getting people to do something different to what they were doing yesterday. Moving people from their "Current State" through a "Transition Zone" to the "Future State" - as the theory goes.
The people in the business come to work to do the best job they can do, with the tools and systems the company gives them to use, and following the process that was established years ago, working with people and relationships they have enjoyed working with for years.
Today, you want them to stop doing something and start doing something else. It could be a new or revised system, new or revised process. It could be different people and teams they now need to work with. They may be in a new role in the business or have new tasks assigned to them in their existing role. Something is different in their worklife that they need to adapt to, in order to continue to do the best job they can do.
And tomorrow, when everyone is working in the new way, the business will achieve the "Future State" and the business will get the benefits they were seeking - efficiencies in time or money, higher engagement, customer growth, higher revenue...
So while every change is the same at its core, the challenge arises when you move away from the core and into the detail.
Each change has its own level of complexity. Complexity comes from:
the amount of people impacted,
the different ways stakeholders want to be engaged - generating a need for change management plans that are tailored to each stakeholder groups
how different the solution is (system, process, tools, structure) from the current state
the stakeholders' history of the change - have they tried it before and failed
how much capacity people have in their workload - do they have the time and mindset to be able to engage and understand what is happening, or are they overwhelmed and overworked
the maturity of the business in being able to deliver change, and have difficult conversations
Once you understand the different characteristics of change, you can spot the signals and red flags that warn you when a change is going to be more complex and challenging than it looks on the surface. This is critical to be able to have the tough conversation with Sponsors and project teams, who often assume the change will be small and straight forward.
You need to understand the change process (and underlying theories that tell you why each step is required).
A lot of the things mentioned above, will come from intuition and hands-on experience. The other element that rounds this out, is an understanding of the technical "Change Management Process". Companies charge a lot of money for you to be accredited in their process - and for good reason. Until you do the training, you will always feel as though you are doing a good job in managing change, but is there something you are missing - that there is something else you should be doing that you just don't know about. You won't be able to get a sense of closure on this until you become accredited in a change management process. We have accreditations in Prosci (pronounced "pro-sigh" as in "Pro" and the beginning of the word "science") and ChangeFirst - and both are great in their own way. Prosci has a lot of science and research behind their tools and method - however, it is heavy and prescriptive. ChangeFirst, is more flexible and common-sense (and easier for business leaders to get their head around) but it lacks the scientific nature of the Prosci tools. So both are great in their own way.
As you learn about the different technical change processes, you can start to identify what works best for you. What are the steps and tools that you need to make sure your particular change is successful - and this will be informed by your understanding of your stakeholders (the people) and the characteristics of the change.
We have mapped out a change management process that we follow with our clients. Check it out on our "How to" page
The career path (and salary range)
You can cross-over into the change management field at any level.
Responsibility for collecting data and filling in tools and templates.
Responsibility for leading change workstreams within a project or initiative
Responsibility for leading the entire change management effort for a project or initiative. May have change managers reporting into this role for different workstreams.
Organisational Change Manager
Responsibility for establishing change management tools, capability and structure for the entire organisation.
How do you get into change management?
Whenever we are asked this question, we always answer with:
"Can you tell us the last change you led in your personal or work life and what you did to make it successful"
We ask this because we are faced with change every single day. Some of it we decided to do. Other changes were decided for us, and we had to adapt as impacted people. If you want to get into change management, take some time to reflect on these changes - it will really help you in an interview process. And when we talk about these changes, we are talking about:
have you ever moved houses? Moving house is such a big change. It's highly disruptive and takes a lot of hard work and effort, and big decisions with lots of stakeholders. It takes a lot of management for it to go smoothly - and this includes things such as getting your stakeholders involved early - you may take your partner or parents to the open day so they can see you are making good choices, it may involved having a housewarming party so that all your stakeholders can come and see where you live at the same time (its a communication and engagement tool).
have you changed jobs? This is also a big change that requires a lot of stakeholder engagement, tough decisions and management of timelines.
have you been on an overseas holiday? there are schedules and timelines and budgets, and lots of management of stakeholder expectations and needs.
Take a moment to sit down and map these out, or if you have a change coming up, notice what it is you do and why.
It's similar to what we do with business changes. It's not exactly the same - but it's similar, and can help you in an interview.
Next, read our Day in the Life. This will give you a sense of the careful balancing act we do on a daily basis - to be able to read the current situation in the business, find the right approach to manage the change and keep it moving forward to a successful outcome, while helping stakeholders shift their mindset and behaviours, without making people feel we are over-complicating or "over-cooking" the effort required.
Then, read through some position descriptions and start to look at what do you do already in your current role, or in your personal life that is transferrable. There will be a lot that you do already by intuition and instinct. Search the job boards on LinkedIn and Seek to find a role and company you want to work for. Talk to as many people as you can. Most opportunities to cross into the industry come from someone you know in your network, or someone they put you in contact with. There are specialist recruitment agencies who focus on change management and project roles (White Cloud Recruitment).
Finally, enrol yourself in some training programs. There are so many different options you could start with, and it all depends on which interest you the most and where you feel you need to develop the most. Think about which you want to learn first:
a course on understanding human behaviour, mindsets and habits (e.g. The Neuroleadership Institute)
a coaching course (e.g. IECL by GrowthOps)
a course on engaging people (such as human centred design, or innovation - e.g. IDEO)
a course on project management (to understand the process, tools, and work they do - e.g. PMI)