As consultants, we get the opportunity to engage with a wide range of companies and industries, which offers us a unique window into how different businesses think and work. Every new project gives the chance to hear how that business approaches Organizational Change Management (OCM), including their processes and beliefs. Plus, it’s an opportunity to help leaders gain a deeper understanding of what OCM is and why it is critical for project success; expressing the need for ingraining it in the project plan to best manage change related risk. 

This OCM conversation begins early in the sales process and continues throughout project delivery to ensure proper strategy, resourcing, and sponsor alignment. Occasionally, we’re met with varied levels of resistance when discussing OCM which often includes myths, generalizations, and poor practices … many, many poor practices.

We thought it would be helpful to share a few common myths we’ve heard from clients and bust them a bit to offer perspective in case you ever run into them. Read on to dig into these myths:

  1. OCM is just a fancy term for communications or training.
  2. OCM is nice to have, but it’s not necessary.
  3. Repurposed OCM materials and checklists can guide the way.

Myth #1 – OCM is just a fancy term for communications or training

We hear this one a lot – while communication and training are core components to addressing awareness and skills needed to make the change, they’re not the whole story. Organizational readiness depends on leader sponsorship, business goal alignment, knowledge and skill development, and empowering change champions to assist co-workers through the change process. This requires a detailed understanding of who is impacted, how they are impacted, as well as how to prepare and get support. OCM strategy builds off these impacts and guides the business successfully through change by leveraging key OCM activities and resources in preparation. 

The key is in understanding the organization’s culture and taking time – before jumping into tactical execution – to talk through what challenges could result from introducing change, from learning new processes to tactfully managing the emotional reactions people will have to the change. Because this analytical step is heavily weighted in organizational culture, you’ll need to look beyond training plans and the communications team and involve representatives from every department impacted by the change to gain a wholistic view of what other OCM steps your project requires. If you’re unsure of what steps to take, reach out to an OCM Consultant for a little help!

Myth #2 – OCM is nice to have, but it’s not necessary

Perhaps they feel that OCM is important, but it’s just not as important as keeping timelines short and costs down. In a world of thin budgets and thick to-do lists, many decision makers look to cut OCM line items, not realizing that they’re:

  1. Putting the entire change initiative at risk of failing
  2. Creating the risk that impacted employees could resist, delay, or underutilize the change
  3. Increasing risk of extended timelines and rework, as well as significant financial loss

We’ve heard the “budgets are tight” argument so many times as the reason to cut OCM, but we quickly counter with considerations of what happens when the project is over budget, past deadlines, and/or fails? Who’s ultimately responsible for those consequences? Also, reminding them that OCM is an option for making a known investment now that would greatly reduce the risk for unmanageable adoption cost arising later. 

You don’t need an international-scale project to justify the need for OCM. Pause for a beat and assess the change situation – no matter the project size, determine what steps you can take to prepare employees for the new processes they’ll need to use. Developing a structure for managing change will ensure that you’re ready for whatever objections impacted employees might have. 

Myth #3 – Repurposed OCM materials and checklists can guide the way

Uffdah, this one hurts a little bit. This is a situation where a client has found some “resources” elsewhere and feel they “have it covered”.  Maybe it’s a list of activities, or some left-over templates to get started, nonetheless it implies standardization – that’s all wrong, as strong OCM requires a tailored, ongoing approach managed by an experienced practitioner. While there are basic change management steps to take in every project, the key is to adjust your level of support and consider which activities (employee buy-in efforts, training, leadership support, etc.) require more attention based on the company’s demographics, the type of project and employees’ experience and comfort level with change. Ask any OCM practitioner and we’ll tell you how strategy and delivery is definitely a mix of art and science.

OCM must be approached with an open mind and room for adjustments along the way. Initial checklists could change significantly by the end of the project due to issues and feedback, which also makes it unwise to re-use OCM materials from elsewhere. When it comes to OCM, we must look at each individual project, in each organization, as its own entity. It’s also important to consider which activities must thread through the entire change process. For example, an attempted ‘Communication Plan’ with only a couple broad announcements early on isn’t enough to reinforce adoption, as it misses multiple opportunities throughout the process to bring awareness and prepare employees for what’s to come.

Let’s not forgot active follow up for feedback and reinforcement once the change occurs, as well as further beyond project implementation. That is so often left out by those that do not engage formal OCM resources/plans/people. It’s important to maintain a dialogue with impacted employees – consider conducting listening sessions and use other feedback channels like Champions or people leaders. Understand how their change experience was initially, then follow up again later to get longer-term feedback; seek out pain points and areas that could improve the experience. 

In summary

No matter the myth, we’ve seen our share of clients go down paths that eventually led to delayed, underutilized, or failed implementations because leaders didn’t take the time to deeply consider the consequences of poor change adoption. We need to help them slow down and understand both what’s at stake, as well as how we can assist them in their change journey now… so there isn’t a big user adoption mess to clean up later.