Best Practices

Expert Guide to Writing an Effective Change Management Plan

Jonathan Friedman
September 10, 2021
Expert Guide to Writing an Effective Change Management Plan

Change is inevitable. Yet, as Thomas Fuller, a historian, writes, "All things are difficult before they are easy." To bring your company to a better place than it was before is a challenge—even when every change made is for the better.


How do you move your company through the challenging waters of the change to get to the smooth sailing on the other side?

Navigating change poorly will cause problems. For example, issues like low morale, psychological distress, and confusion over new job duties reduce the day-to-day quality of life at work.  


The negative impacts of changes aren't inevitable. However, a company can implement changes in a way that mitigates the risk of employee dissatisfaction. You just need a change management plan.


We'll share everything you need to know about a change management plan. Below is everything we will cover. Feel free to skip ahead.


 

What is a change management plan?


A change management plan is a strategy. It mitigates the risk of employee dissatisfaction, confusion, and conflict during an organizational change. 


The most substantial change management plans are built on a solid foundation. This foundational structure is comprised of four key elements. When you build a plan on this foundation, you can empower your team to adapt to change and thrive. 


Is a change management plan right for you?


Not all changes require management planning. Changes that impact many people alter core business processes or are extensive in scope should be managed with a plan. Smaller, less-central changes don't call for this degree of management. 


Foundations of a strong change management plan (4 keys to success)


Change management plans will vary depending on different companies' needs. Yet, all strong plans have the same foundational elements. The foundations of an effective change management plan are:


Foundations of a strong change management plan


Writing management plans requires you to make thoughtful decisions. It's easier to make wise choices with this framework.


1. SMART goals: awareness and adaptation


A change management plan has two overarching goals. The first is to alert everyone to the oncoming change. Essentially, this goal ensures that nobody is blindsided by the change: all staff, management, and other personnel will know what's coming and when.


The second general goal of a change management plan is to empower leaders to implement the change smoothly. This involves relational management.


You'll achieve this second goal when all team members are on board with the changes. You've put a plan in place that lets everyone adapt to the new circumstances. 


SMART awareness and smooth transitions


A strong change management plan takes these two overarching goals and clarifies them into SMART goals. SMART goals are:



This means your change management plan must come up with a way to inform everyone of the change. Then, you'll choose a specific method on a reasonable timetable.


You'll need to specify what "smooth adaptation" to the change looks like for your company. Get specific. Establish a timetable for the transitional period, and set up concrete actions to empower people to adapt well. 


KPIs


To measure progress effectively, you'll need to include Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs are quantitative metrics used to evaluate how well your plan is working.


How do people rate their understanding of the change? How do they note their emotional and psychological response to impending changes on a scale of 1-to-10?


Choose KPIs that tell you what you need to know. That choice is the linchpin of your SMART goals.


2. Emotionally intelligent communication


When developing your change management strategies, establish how you're going to inform people about the change. The communication notes in your change management plan should consider:



These decisions matter in emotionally intelligent communication. Emotionally intelligent communication uses honed social and emotional skills to persuade people or explain concepts and processes.  


Before communicating, imagine your audience's point of view. What do they know or not know? What might their emotional response to this information be? What factors belie this response? 

Plan to communicate in a way that gives all the necessary information. Include details that address any potential sources of distress. Give people space to process information.


Questions and feedback


Make sure people have avenues to ask questions and give feedback. Plan to answer questions that people are most likely to ask. 

Reflect and summarize your audience's concerns as you address them. This shows them (rather than just tells them) that you understand their point of view. 


Deciding "who" will deliver information about the change. Consider who people have the most positive rapport with.


Who demonstrates compassion and firm leadership? People may be more receptive to changes when that individual explains them. 


3. Resistance strategies


To implement change effectively, plan on the possibility that people may resist the change. Resistance is the barrier you'll eventually encounter when you try to enact changes.


Resistance strategies are sub-sections of your change management plan. These sections address likely points of resistance with concrete tools, dialogue, and resources. 


Resistance stems from inertia or internal de-motivation. This is sometimes called "internal punishment" in a punishment-reward matrix.


This means that change itself is harder than remaining the same. Or, it means that this specific change induces some stimuli that people find unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even painful.


Understand resistance to change


Stimuli, in this case, are anything that evokes sensation--a physical or emotional response. Stimuli can be something that impacts the senses (a new smell, sound, or touch). Or, it can be a more abstract element, such as:



A person might resist any new element if they want to avoid negative emotions and pursue positive ones. Addressing resistance includes strategies for:



These strategies are all aimed at encouraging employees to adapt to changes. For example, you might decrease internal punishment if you grant employees new freedoms alongside new regulations.

Or, you might provide resources like counseling or coaching. These help people navigate changes with minimal stress.


Positive rewards


Increasing internal rewards might mean connecting an employee's adoption of the change to a positive sense of self. Compliments can positively reinforce adaptive behavior.


Or, it might mean integrating positive stimuli into mandatory changes. For instance, good smells or pleasant background music can make a new unpleasant task more pleasant. 


4. Adaptation training


The final foundational element of a change management plan is adaptation training. This is one of the best resources for anyone navigating different organizational changes. 


Adaptation training emphasizes a belief that everyone can improve. We just need the tools and time to learn how.


Thus, you need to plan to train staff on how to adapt to the change. This is akin to writing a lesson plan.


This training is woven into specific subject matter instruction relevant to the particular change you're implementing. Make sure a subject matter expert (SME) trains employees on the ins and outs of a new information set.


The SME can also teach adaptation skills at the same time. Or, the SME can work alongside an adaptation teacher. 


Training diverse thinkers


Adaptation training teaches people about the change. It also teaches them how to navigate it.


Practical adaptation training accommodates different learning styles. This means trainers might teach information in written, video, and audio formats. People should be encouraged to keep and refer to these source materials as long as they need to.


Adaptation training incorporates hands-on practice and constructive feedback. Practice is the best way a person can learn a new skill. 


Calm learning environment


Some employees may feel self-conscious about learning a new skill in front of other people. Or, a person may feel anxious about learning or change altogether. 


People retain information best when their minds are calm. So, if possible, plan adaptation training in a way that lets people learn in a calm environment. For example, it can help to begin a lesson with mindfulness meditation.


Trustworthy trainers


Adaptation training works best when people feel they will be encouraged to learn. Conversely, training goes poorly when people are afraid they will be judged for not already knowing something. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for fear of judgment to disrupt learning. 


To create a non-judgemental training environment, plan to begin adaptation training with complimentary and tolerant statements. Consider how you will demonstrate trustworthiness in training.

Showing trustworthiness is critical, as learning new skills demands a degree of vulnerability on the learner's part. 


The best way to show trustworthiness is to reward small acts of trust. Address any concerns someone brings up with compassion. Answer questions truthfully, with respect for the asker.


If a trainer doesn't know the answer to the question, they should still validate the asker. Then, they should follow up with the person who asked the question later. At that time, the instructor might seek out additional sources to answer the question accurately.  


Memorable lessons


Scholars recommend the Feynman method to ensure people retain new information (either about the change itself or how to manage it). 

Richard Feynman is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. He has pioneered new ways of learning.


When Dr. Feynman teaches, he outlines a three-step process to understand new information deeply. The steps involve taking in information, teaching information, then riving your own understanding.


Three-part method


The Feynman method first asks a student to learn new information in the way that best suits them. This can be reading, listening to a lecture, or a hands-on activity.


Then, the student attempts to teach what he or she just learned back to the instructor. Again, students must use as simple language as they can to explain what they've learned. They may even explain the concepts as if the instructor is a kindergartener. 


When a student hits a gap in their explanation, the student asks clarifying questions. Then, finally, the student summarizes more or less what they do understand.


Answer questions, correct misconceptions


Then, the student pinpoints what their knowledge gaps are. Finally, the instructor fills these gaps by answering the student's questions.

The instructor also corrects or clarifies a student's summary of what they do know. The teacher will catch quickly if the student's explanation is off-base in some way. This prevents misconceptions or faulty assumptions from taking root long-term.


The Feynman method enables someone to build a strong, detailed mental map of a new concept. By summarizing and clarifying, students build a strong, connected base of real knowledge. This is deeper and more memorable than rote repetition. 


Adaptation training is the final foundational element of a strong change management plan. Once you understand these elements, in theory, it's time to apply them.


Keep each element in mind as you create. Then, you will build a change management plan that meets your company's needs. 

 

How to write a change management plan that works (in 5 Steps)


Creating a change management plan is easier once you've established a foundation. But, it's still a process. Each step requires your full attention if you want to develop something useful. 


If you feel stuck on any step, return to the foundational premises. SMART goals, emotionally intelligent communication, resistance strategies, and adaptation training come together to build a strong plan. 


When in doubt, ask yourself: which foundational element does this draw on? Does this choice work against any pillar?


Maybe you realize the way you've acted upon a step doesn't strategize around potential resistance. Or that act demonstrates poor communication.


If so, pause for a minute. Then, refocus on the foundations. Let those elements drive your actions as you try the step again.

How to write a change management plan


1. Create your goals


SMART goals are the first foundational element of a change management plan. The broad scope of the plan aims to raise awareness and enable a smooth transition. 


The first step, then, is to create more specific SMART goals within that scope. What change are you implementing? How does this change serve your company's needs as a whole? 


Then, consider which specific actions will enable awareness. This includes awareness both of the change and its purpose.


Planning makes goals SMART-er


It's alright if your initial goal concept is incomplete. For each goal, identify any barriers that prevent it from being SMART. For example, you may have a goal that all employees learn a new documentation process by June 14th, 2022. 


This goal is relevant to the change. It's also time-bound. But, it could be more specific, achievable, and measurable. 


To revise it, you could learn how employees will learn the new process: they'll read a manual. To achieve that goal, you need resources to print and distribute manuals.


To measure the goal's success, you could plan to test each employee's understanding of the new process. 


Revisions aim to alter irrelevant goals. Revising also fleshes out vague goals into actionable ones. 


2. Assemble your change management team


You will not be implementing change alone. To implement a change smoothly, you'll need support. Creating a change management team is the critical second step. 


You'll need to persuade people that the changes you want to make are worthwhile. You'll also have to make the case that your change management goals are helpful. 


You need four types of people for your change team: decision-makers, resource managers, strong communicators, and expert trainers. Of course, a particular individual may fill more than one of these roles. 


The scope of the change you want to make will determine how much backing you'll need to make it happen. Yet, no matter the change's size, these four roles matter. 


Decision-makers


Decisions makers are the people who sign off on budgets, direct workflow, form business partnerships on behalf of the company and determine quarterly goals.


At your company, these might be members of the executive team. Or, they might be a board of directors. But, on the other hand, they could be representatives from relevant departments.


It would help if you had decisions makers on board with your plan. Otherwise, you might finish drafting an excellent process, only to find you don't have the power to act on it. 


Resource managers


These people can get you the resources you need to reach the change management plan's goals. For example, they can fund new tools or processes, get you space, or allot time for plan implementation. They may even be able to assign or hire trainers. 


Strong communicators


Strong communicators are clear and precise. They're known to be trustworthy. They can explain new concepts in a way people understand. 

Strong communicators are key to introducing changes. Without them, a change might go over poorly simply because it wasn't presented well. 


Expert trainers


Expert trainers understand the subject relevant to the change. They can explain something complex in depth. However, it's tricky to adapt to a new federal regulation or to learn a new software program.


Expert trainers can demonstrate exactly what's entailed. They can answer questions and break necessary information down into manageable chunks.


Once you've gotten all four types of teammates onboard with your basic change management plan, it's time for step three. 


3. Build and refine your plan


A set of SMART goals, no matter how detailed, isn't a finished plan. Once you have your team on board with the changes you want to make, you start plan development.


Plan development means building and honing your goals. This process transmutes goals into a series of actionable tasks. These are project milestones.


Make a note of assets or tools you'll need to complete a given task as soon as the need becomes clear. Every task must concretely serve the broader goals. Each task must have a deadline attached to it. 


Team-driven timeline


Building your task timeline pushes you to think about what's the best way to meet each goal. First, coordinate with your change management team. You'll need to line up their schedules with yours to make sure there's enough time to do each task. 


Honing your plan means cutting irrelevant tasks. It also means incorporating detailed instructions on how to achieve tasks if the methods aren't obvious. Project management software can help your team keep track of deadlines and details.  


The sub-goals, your teammates' schedules, and the task timeline will begin to link together. By the end of this step, your change management plan will start looking like a roadmap.  


4. Get ready to put your plan into action


Once you've followed your roadmap, you and your team are ready to make change happen. Then, with resources in place, execute your plan.


Your change management plan is your guide. Use it to tackle the stages of change implementation. Communicate the change. Answer questions about the change.


Empower people to adapt to the change. Make sure that you've fully integrated adaptation training into your change management plan. Without it, the execution could bring about a lot of conflicts.  


5. Reinforce changes that work - and drop changes that flop


The final step in change management planning is reviewing and reflecting. Take a step back and see how different people are adapting to the changes. Then, analyze how effectively the change management plan addressed concerns and helped people adapt. 


If some facet of adaptation is going well, reinforce it. Incentivize a flexible attitude. Encourage and reward collaboration among employees who help each other adapt effectively. 


Re-evaluate new skills


Re-evaluate new knowledge or skills periodically. Employees can forget new things or let skills weaken. They might fall back on old processes when work becomes hectic. 

Make it easy for people to re-learn or practice new skills without penalty. Reward people who take advantage of consultation with experts. Make sure people can access subject matter resources when they need one. 


Change management plans are adaptable


All this said, not every change will work. Or, it won't work right now, or it won't work with the company's current resources. Moreover, sometimes a change looks manageable on paper, but it turns out to be untenable in real life.


This is why the last step in every change management plan is to let the plan change. Be flexible. Adapt your plan when timetables or resources shift unexpectedly.


Pivot if resistance is too extreme or too fundamental. The change might not work for some of your current staff, period. You may have to let people go and hire someone else. Or: you might have to let go of this specific change.


Change management: it's about people


Change is inevitable. But, no matter what happens, you can adapt.

With a thorough change management plan, you can encourage widespread adaptation. That sets the stage for more positive changes down the road. 


People make or break any change. That's why your tools need to keep people at the forefront, like TrueNexus' person-centered project management software. 


People inspired our UI/UX. People galvanized our engineers to create new spheres of collaboration. TrueNexus moves projects forward by bringing people together. What can we do for your people?


Explore the possibilities. Try TrueNexus for free for two weeks: no strings attached.