In order to stay ahead of new technological and economic developments, companies need to embrace change. According to research and advisory company Gartner, the average business has undertaken five major organizational changes in the past three years. A further 75 percent of those companies expect to pursue additional change initiatives in the coming three years.

Organizational change is typically pursued because it’s believed the transition will enable a business to operate at a higher level—becoming more efficient, productive, innovative, and profitable.

If the change is managed incorrectly, it can become a double-edged sword, leading to a loss of productivity and poor performance from employees. Gartner indicates that just 34 percent of all organizational change initiatives are considered a “clear success,” while 50 percent are deemed to be “clear failures.” A further 16 percent yield “mixed results.”

Managers and leaders must understand their role in managing change. Here’s a look at the different types of organizational change, along with some tips you can use to handle the change management process more effectively.

What is Organizational Change?

Organizational change is the process by which a business alters key components of its strategy or operations. This may involve changes to company culture, essential technologies, organizational structure, or major initiatives and goals. Depending on the objectives you're trying to achieve, organizational change may be either continuous or intermittent.

Organizational change is typically categorized into two types: Adaptive and transformational change. Adaptive changes are small, incremental modifications that an organization undertakes to evolve over time. They can be thought of as the fine-tuning of processes and business strategies. Transformational changes, on the other hand, are larger in scope and scale, and typically involve a radical shift in direction for the business. These changes are often the result of outside forces putting pressure on the company, such as the emergence of a new competitor.

Tips for Managing Organizational Change

Below are five tips and strategies you can use to better manage change within your workplace.

1. Understand the Process of Change

No two change initiatives are the same. But the vast majority of those that are successful follow the steps of the change management process.

All change processes have a set of starting conditions (Point A) and an endpoint (Point B). The change process is everything that happens between those two points. It involves multiple steps that are typically grouped into three stages: Preparation, implementation, and follow-through. Here's what happens during each phase:

  • Preparation: The change manager is focused on preparing both the organization and its employees. This involves helping the employees understand the need for the impending transition and outlining the vision and plan for achieving it.
  • Implementation: The change manager is focused on executing changes in a way that is compatible with the company’s vision for the future.
  • Follow-through: The change manager is focused on ensuring the change sticks and becomes embedded in the company’s culture and practices.

2. Understand the Forces of Change

To effectively manage change, managers must first grasp why it’s necessary. Without doing so, it can be difficult for you to craft a plan that addresses root concerns and pressing questions, such as:

  • What pressures are driving change?
  • Are they internal pressures, such as new leadership?
  • Are they external pressures, such as the development of new technologies, a shift in your industry, or the emergence of a new competitor?

By understanding the precipitating factors that have made an organizational change necessary, you’ll be better suited to address those concerns.

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3. Create a Plan

Once the motive for change is understood, you need to create a plan.

This plan should broadly outline the reasons for change, define its scope, outline key stakeholders, establish a team, and provide a detailed roadmap of the steps that will be required to complete the project. Having a defined strategy in place makes it easier to communicate the change to your team members and monitor progress toward key milestones and goals.

4. Communicate

When it comes to guiding your business and employees through a period of significant change, clear and focused communication is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. Ultimately, you must be capable of communicating change to two very distinct audiences.

The first consists of your employees and team members: These individuals need to understand the need for change, as well as how it will impact their job responsibilities. You must also recognize the importance of listening to their concerns so you can assuage any fears they may have.

“Despite realizing that change is necessary, employees are often afraid of big changes in the organization, preferring the dissatisfaction of the status quo to the risks of a new reality,” said Harvard Business School Professor David Garvin in the online course Management Essentials. “Often, the most important thing a manager can do is not identify the need for change, but provoke the momentum to begin and maintain the change.”

The second audience includes key stakeholders within the company—other members of management, the C-suite, and board members. If you’re the person proposing a change, it’s these individuals who need to be convinced it’s necessary. If they have initiated the change but charged you with overseeing the process, it’s these individuals whom you must regularly update on the status of the project.

5. Prepare for Roadblocks

No matter how thoroughly you prepare for change, everything is not always going to go according to plan. You need to be ready for a number of potential outcomes.

By doing your best to anticipate roadblocks, you can take some of the mystery out of the equation. Empower your employees to modify their behavior by removing the obstacles that prevent them from working toward change. Once those hindrances are identified, even the most complex problems can be addressed and corrected.

Learn How to Manage Change

Nobody is born with expertise in managing organizational change; it’s a skill that typically takes many years of hands-on experience to build. With this in mind, there are steps you can take to better prepare for the job.

In addition to embracing as many opportunities as possible to flex your change management muscles, pursuing professional development opportunities, such as an online course, can be an excellent way to hone your skills and become a better manager. When evaluating programs, seek those which align with your personal and professional goals. For example, if you're interested in developing your change management skills, consider a course like Management Essentials, which delves into the topic as part of its curriculum.

Do you want to improve your management skills? Explore our eight-week online course Management Essentials, and learn how you can spearhead initiatives that enable your organization to improve and innovate.

Tim Stobierski

About the Author

Tim Stobierski is a marketing specialist and contributing writer for Harvard Business School Online.