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6 essential steps for a successful change management process

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia Martins
January 3rd, 2024
8 min read
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Change management gives you a step-by-step process to handle large transitions—such as adopting a new company-wide tool or bringing new leadership onboard. With a solid change management process, you can help your team adjust and take transition in stride. In this article, we describe how to design an effective change management process in six steps.

Change is an essential ingredient to help your organization succeed. As you grow, you’ll invariably need to implement new tools, try new strategies, or break into new markets. Small changes may be easy to execute—but what do you do when you need to enact a sweeping, organizational change?

Without proper planning, trying to implement organizational change can lead to chaos, confusion, and reduced company velocity. Instead, you need to roll changes out carefully to make the transition as seamless as possible.

Simply put, you need an effective change management process.

In this article, we’ll discuss what change management is and how you can create a change management process for a seamless organization-wide transition. 

What is change management?

Change management is the process of preparing for and managing any new organizational change. During the change management process, you will: 

  • Prepare for the transition to a new change. 

  • Gain organizational support for whatever the change is.

  • Deploy the change thoughtfully over time.

The most important thing for change management is to approach the change deliberately and from several angles. Before you make an organizational change, think about how that change will impact members of your organization at different levels and on different teams. 

For that reason, change management frameworks often include strategies to help teams introduce an organizational change slowly over time, pilot the change with a subset of the company, or ensure buy-in from the right stakeholders before rolling out a new initiative.

Change management is a process, as well as a methodology. You may never have spent this much time thinking about how to roll out a change initiative, and that’s ok. By following a change management process, you can best equip your team and company to prepare for and benefit from a new change.

Create a change management plan template

Our tried-and-tested 6-step change management process

To help new teams adopt Asana, our Professional Services and Customer Success teams built an effective change management process inspired by traditional change models and informed best practices from customers who successfully implemented Asana at their organizations. The resulting methodology, the Asana Way of Change, helps teams roll out new tools or technologies at an organizational level.

[inline illustration] Asana's 6-step way of change (infographic)

Whether you’re implementing Asana or a different tool, here’s how you can use the Asana Way of Change to help your teams adapt to the new process.

1. Define your “why”

Before you introduce a major change to your organization, you first need to ask yourself: 

  • Why are you doing this? 

  • What pain points is this change solving? 

Though not every member of your organization will be thrilled with the change—because we’re all pretty change averse—having a concrete reason for why you’re doing this will help.

There are three different elements to defining your “why:”

Craft your “why statement.”

To start, document why you’re implementing this organizational change. This “why statement” will be your compass for all of the work to come.

“[Team/Organization name] is implementing this [change] in order to [manage these projects and processes]. In doing so, we hope to [alleviate these pain points] and [accomplish these goals].”

For instance, if you’re rolling out a work management tool, you might write:

“Our company is implementing this new work management tool in order to improve cross-functional collaboration and visibility. In doing so, we hope to increase company productivity and complete more projects on schedule.”

Define your success metrics

You’ll also want to define what success looks like for your implementation process. Sit down with your change management team to set metrics. You might want to include key performance indicators like:

  • Deadlines to meet change management milestones

  • Adoption or training percentages across the company

  • Utilization rate across the company by a certain date

For example, to roll out a work management tool, you might have some of the following KPIs:

  • We will start rolling out this tool to a small group on March 3rd. Employees will have the opportunity to opt-in in mid-June. Then, everyone at our company should be onboarded and familiar with the tool by July 17th.

  • Teams should send weekly project status reports in the work management tool, and work should be managed exclusively in the tool.

  • 100% of employees should be active on the tool by July 30th.

Assemble your Adoption Alliance

Rolling out a significant change isn’t a one-person job. You need a team of people, and your Adoption Alliance—otherwise known as your proxy team—are those people. There are three types of proxy team members:

  • The Convention Setter: This is essentially a workplace influencer. Your convention setter(s) will help you define how you’ll implement this major change across the company. They might lead trainings or answer questions team members have along the way.

  • The Awareness Builder: This is a member (or members) of your company’s leadership team. Your awareness builders may not be as close to the change being implemented, but they’ll be the voice of support. The awareness builder should communicate your “why statement” in order to increase team buy-in.

  • The Product Advocate: These are individual contributors or early adopters who are excited to help build momentum for this change.

What is change management in-text image 1

2. Discover your “now”

In order to implement broad-scale change, you first need to start small. Choose one workflow to implement in the new system first, so your Adoption Alliance can build practices and examples before you roll it out completely. Ideally, choose a workflow that is collaborative and broad, so you can work out any kinks before you implement change.

For example, to roll out a new work management tool, you might select a team or department, like the Marketing department. Before introducing the Marketing department to your new tool, consider building out demo environments of how they might use it. For example, you might show them how they can run more collaborative marketing campaigns with the new tool.

3. Design your first workflow

This is your chance to test out your new change on one workflow or process. Your convention setter should hold training for the selected team or workflow. Make sure your product advocate is also on hand to help celebrate wins and document the process working effectively.

At this point, you’ll likely run into questions you haven’t thought of before. Make sure to document frequently asked questions (and their answers) so you can implement them in your documentation when you roll this change out more broadly.

To illustrate, in the rollout of your new work management tool, you’ve already built demo environments for the marketing team. All that’s left is to hold training sessions with the team to show them how the tool works. During these trainings, you should:

  • Encourage participants to plan cross-functional initiatives—like the marketing campaign you demoed—in the new tool tool.

  • Check in frequently to see how the rollout is going and answer any questions the team might have.

  • Document their successes so you can use these moments to inspire other teams to adopt the new tool.

4. Enable your team and celebrate wins

While your proxy team is getting set up in your chosen workflow, make sure to check in with them frequently about their progress, and celebrate any wins—even small ones. 

Getting this momentum up front will not only help your change gain steam—it’ll also build an entire cohort of pro-change people who can become product advocates in their own right when you roll this change out more broadly.

5. Set up for future success

At this point, your proxy team should be up and running in the new way of operating. To prepare to introduce this change to rest of your organization, use this time to:

  • Celebrate the team’s early victories 

  • Collect regular feedback

  • Monitor tool adoption 

  • Build upon best practices 

Including FAQ documentation, help sessions, and a plan for continuous onboarding of new teammates in a central place will ensure long-term success.

6. Measure and expand use

Once you feel like you’ve worked out the issues in your first workflow, it’s time to roll out your change initiative more broadly. Use the training sessions, FAQ documentation, and prep you’ve done with your proxy team to help guide the rest of your organization. 

Depending on the size of your company, plan to hold office hours with your Adoption Alliance to answer any questions. Encourage your product advocate(s) to check in and celebrate wins frequently in order to help your new work management tool gain momentum.

Before you know it, you’ve successfully completed your change management plan!

Create a change management plan template

Benefits of change management

With effective change management, you can introduce new processes without disrupting your team or organization. We tend to be pretty attached to the “old way” of doing things, even if the new way is, objectively, better. A change management plan helps your team realize the value of the proposed change, by making it as minimally disruptive as possible.

[inline illustration] Benefits of change management (infographic)

With a successful change management process in place, you can expect:

  1. A higher rate of success: By rolling out large changes slowly, addressing issues, and celebrating wins in the early stages of your change management process, you can drive greater benefit realization while also preparing the rest of the organization for success. 

  2. Reduced risk: According to Mckinsey, 70% of change programs fail largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. Implementing a process that addresses these common roadblocks will lead to less wasted resources and a better chance of success.

  3. Improved management of future changes: Change is frequent in today’s business landscape. By continuously improving your change management process every time a new update rolls out, you’re ensuring the next transition is even smoother than the last. 

  4. Consistency when managing change: You can streamline organizational change management when there is a standard change management model in place. 

  5. Better alignment of practice and values: Your employees are your company’s greatest assets, so positioning a change in a way that aligns with their core values will help them be more receptive to the change process. 

Other change management models

Change management processes go back to the early 1960s, and there have been several models of change management over the years. Here are three traditional change management models that organizations still find effective to this day. 

Lewin’s change model

Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist, is best known for his contributions of applied research to communication practices. Lewin’s change model breaks change management into a three-stage process:

  1. Unfreeze: During the Unfreeze phase, you will help your team or company overcome their initial change aversion. Not only will you analyze any aversion to the change, but you’ll also begin convincing your team why you need the change. At this point in Lewin’s change model, your focus is on preparing your team for something new.

  2. Change: The Change step is when you roll out the organizational change. Keep in mind that Change may be a multi-step process as you run into unforeseen obstacles and work to slowly onboard everyone onto the new system, whatever it may be.

  3. Freeze: You’ve implemented the Change—now it’s time to freeze it in place so the “new” way of doing things becomes the standard.

The ADKAR model

The ADKAR model was created by Jeff Hiatt. ADKAR is an acronym, which stands for:

  • Awareness of the need for change

  • Desire to participate and support the change

  • Knowledge of what to do to ensure successful change

  • Ability to implement the change

  • Reinforcement to ensure the change continues to be implemented in the long term

The 8-step process for leading change

Dr. John Kotter invented this method, which he outlined in his book, Leading Change. This process is the main inspiration for Asana’s Way of Change. According to Kotter, the eight steps are:

  1. Create a sense of urgency to emphasize the importance of acting immediately

  2. Build a guiding coalition to guide, coordinate, and communicate the organizational change

  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives to clarify how the future will be different from the past

  4. Enlist a volunteer army to rally around the change

  5. Enable action by removing barriers in order to provide the freedom your organization needs to generate real impact

  6. Generate short-term wins to energize the organization to persist

  7. Sustain acceleration and be relentless about initiating change until your vision is a reality

  8. Institute change until it’s strong enough to replace old habits

When to use change management

You shouldn’t roll out the full change management process for every organizational change. Change management is only essential when the potential pushback is going to be large or company-wide. Remember that, as humans, we can be averse to change—we tend to like the current system (even if it’s not the best process), and it can be hard for people or teams to imagine working in a new way.

Here are a few examples of organizational changes you’d introduce with a change management process:

  • New company-wide tool or technology

  • Change in leadership or organizational structure

  • Work culture or values updates

  • Updated company policies, HR programs, or benefits

  • Merger or acquisition

The most important thing to keep in mind when implementing a change management process is to be thoughtful about when and how you’re rolling out this change to your organization.

At Asana, our Professional Services and Customer Success teams frequently help teams build a change management strategy to roll out a new company-wide tool or technology. With Asana, teams don’t just have a tool to organize and execute work—they’re also rolling out a new approach to team collaboration through work management. Using a change management process can help ensure success and adoption.

The key to organizational change is change management

No matter what organizational change you’re rolling out or which change management methodology you use, a thoughtful, measured process is the key to change management. Help your team successfully adapt to any change by using change management.

Create a change management plan template

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