Change is necessary for organizations to innovate, evolve, and grow. Growth is especially relevant in business today, given that executives anticipate digital disruption will eliminate 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the coming decade. To stay competitive and afloat, your company must develop and implement a strategy for change.

To successfully embrace and foster change on an organizational level, businesses need to have a change management framework in place which outlines the plans, processes, and models to be followed. This will serve as a guide to managing organizational change, regardless of how simple or complex recommended changes prove to be.

Some common examples of change management include the Kotter Model, developed by Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter, and the McKinsey 7-S Model, developed by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in the 1970s.

In Harvard Business School Online’s course Management Essentials, a three-step framework is presented that leaders can use to ensure successful change management. Here’s an overview of the framework’s three stages.

Stage 1: Preparing the Organization for Change

First, in what psychologist Kurt Lewin deems the “unfreezing stage,” managers must help employees recognize the need for change and ensure they are all on board with the effort.

In the online course Management Essentials, HBS Professor David Garvin explains that managers must take the following steps to set the scene for change:

  • Generate dissatisfaction with the status quo
  • Create a sense of direction for the organization
  • Build a coalition to help lead the change
  • Craft a vision and accompanying plan
  • Convey a picture of the future that is compelling and believable

People can be prone to resist change. The “unfreezing stage” breaks down previous notions or beliefs against change through effective, transparent communication. Without proper communication, the change management process cannot succeed.

Stage 2: Altering How the Organization Does Business

The next step is to alter the company’s strategies, structures, systems, processes, and, most importantly, employee behaviors. Lewin suggests this is the most difficult stage because it requires people to change their behaviors, which are often deeply ingrained. In this stage, managers must:

It is important to set clear expectations about how people should behave and work while also empowering their teams along the way. This means allowing people to suggest changes in their own processes that eliminate roadblocks and increase their effectiveness.

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Stage 3: Making Sure Changes Stick

This can be thought of as the “refreezing” stage. To make sure new changes stick, managers must ensure they’re firmly anchored in the organization's culture. This means paying close attention to structures, controls, systems, and rewards.

Leaders must focus on:

  • Embedding changes fully into a culture
  • Preventing backsliding
  • Institutionalizing the new ways of working
  • Reviewing progress

This final stage of managing organizational change ensures employees do not revert back to the old ways of conducting business. If employees were to return to the original status quo, the time and effort taken to implement organizational change would be irrelevant and counterproductive.

Using tactics such as positive reinforcement can help employees understand the necessity of cementing changes so these new practices become routine.

Implementing Organizational Change

Establishing initiatives that define and guide organizational change is both necessary and valuable when adapting to the demands of business.

Change can be an uncomfortable topic of discussion for any member of an organization, regardless of position. Given that people sometimes change, establishing a new status quo can be difficult and rigid.

That is why implementing change across an organization requires a thoughtful, structured, and deliberate process. By following a framework like the one laid out in Management Essentials, executives aiming to implement organizational change can simplify the process and increase chances of success.

Do you want to learn how to more effectively manage and lead change at your organization? Explore our eight-week online course Management Essentials, and discover how you can design, direct, and shape organizational processes to your advantage.

This post was updated on November 5, 2019. It was originally published on November 2, 2017.