What is organisational change management?

Organisational Change Management (OCM) from the perspective of someone in the trenches on projects.

How would many experienced Change Managers describe the best way to steer change? Boiling down this complex work into principles helps.

There are tonnes of models and concepts describing how to lead and manage organisational change. While some are heavy on the theory, other models can be quite practical in nature. In practice, these models may occupy 1% of your thoughts. The remaining 99% revolves around the twists and turns of change delivery.

I wanted to define organisational change management from the perspective of someone with eight years in the field. My perspective is also someone who is brought into an organisation once a decision has been made to move from the current to a future state.

This future state is often a new system or a change to the way particular employees work. Changes could be an office relocation or learning a new procurement system. Not all changes are about growth either. For instance, changing an employee’s payment timings may be a necessary change yet not as palatable as new things to learn. Helping people navigate their emotions during a change is an important part of what I do. These emotions aren’t always predictable or follow a linear path (like some models portray).

To me, organisational change management is the internal marketing of the future state. This internal marketing involves understanding and segmenting the “customer”. My customer? The employees impacted by a change. Their managers and leaders are also part of this important group.

In the late 90s when I studied marketing, the 4P’s were drilled into our student cohort. Price, product, promotion and placement. 25 years later I can still remember the importance of each one. My focus as a Change Manager is more around raising awareness, working with objections and helping people adjust. This focus has an ulterior motive-making change stick. Yet at the same time, the good old 4 P’s still have relevance.

Perception is as powerful as reality in the marketing world-so too in organisational change management. Understanding my customer's pains and gains is important. This extends to a strong understanding of my customer's current state and the perceptions of the future state. In marketing, better products were beaten by better-marketed products. For anyone at the age to remember this, consider VHS videotapes vs. Beta (VHS had better marketing; Beta had a superior product).

In business, leaders may view sales as being the principal revenue driver — and marketing supporting value creation. On projects, leaders may still prize the delivery of a future state… with the change taking a backseat (or no seat). Change leadership is a delicate balance of investing time in winning hearts and minds… and mopping up a small amount of damage from the future state’s implementation.

Let’s have a brief look at the internal marketing of an emerging future state using the 4P’s. The project teams I work within tend to focus on the build and deployment of the future state. In larger teams, fellow change professionals specialise in their respective parts of the change.

Price: None of the employees in the sectors I have worked in has ever had to pay for their future state. What I mean by this is the effort an employee has to go to adjust to a future state. Can we remove unnecessary cognitive workload via structured and polished training? Can we ensure our communications are succinct and guide employees through the change journey? Is the future state and change deliverables accessible from all employees? Is this accessibility in place regardless of their work context and physical location?

Product: If the future state is in development, do I know in advance particular pains that will exist or emerge from the future state? What workarounds can I put in place to help people around or over these pains? Sometimes there is no such workaround so I need to “warm up” my audience, working through their frustrations and concerns. If the future state is a concept, can I reduce people’s anxiety by bringing a degree of tangibility to the future state? An important part of change management is “making change stick”. What can I put in place to make the future state accessible and reasonably enticing? How do I embed this change? What can I do to encourage my customers to habitually “buy” the future state after I have moved on?

Promotion: What are my tools of trade as a Change Manager? My role gives me permissions to step above and around organisational silos. This liberation lifts me above silos. In this, I can engage various decision-makers and key stakeholders through the organisation. I have permission to distribute disposable and durable communications. I can also rely on a series of public-relations style tactics to raise future state awareness. One of the most important tools of trade I have is the permission to engage stakeholders in person. This can be either a one-on-one meeting or workshops. These tools help me win hearts and minds of stakeholders who could act against the emerging future state.

Placement: The permissions I enjoy extend to using a variety of communication channels. I have the liberty to create posters and place them on the backs of toilet doors if I feel this will work. Or to provide production shift leaders with brief messages to convey to their factory teams. Placement is important: I use the term behavioural intercept as a way to target various employee segments. I also aim to ensure that I have a single point of truth for my change messages. This platform could be a single webpage dedicated to the future state in question. Using this marketing principle, I ensure that disposable messages always have a call to action. This call to action is for any reader to visit this single point of truth. Over time I “train” employees that I target to keep going to this platform. Employees use this platform to access training, progress updates and can provide feedback.

Good organisational change managers operate with their head, heart and hands. Like high-performing marketers and market researchers I need to be across my customers’ “holy trio”. What is this trio? Their thoughts, feelings and behaviours surrounding the change. I also need to put into place a way to systemise this empathy. This way I can hear stakeholder concerns, then validate these concerns by doing something constructive. If I don’t have a systemised way of empathising with stakeholders, three things can happen:

1. I burn out, or at least get drawn away from the critical path of my change stream;

2. Stakeholders get increasingly frustrated as their concerns aren’t validated;

3. Stakeholders go “answer shopping” amongst support teams, the project I am on and decision-makers. Chaos reigns.

Can I devise a clever way to elicit stakeholder concerns in an authentic way, and rapidly use what I learn to craft a better change journey? In most cases with my clients-yes. I also need to have a great self-care regime, as my work each day varies considerably.

I may need to shift gears between detailed analytical work and drafting clever and clear messages in the morning. The afternoon drops an unexpected surprise before I meet with a senior manager when they discover the changes are not to their liking. I may “run interference” for my project team by working with hostile audiences, distilling their concerns into a brief action plan for my team.

Good organisational change managers are masters of winning hearts and minds. They forge alliances with first-line support teams, subject matter experts and change champions. This effort often requires a degree of salesmanship and making the most of everyone’s time. This salesmanship also includes providing each of these groups with a sense of progress and influence over the change. You could take a leaf out of the story of Tom Sawyer, and get others to paint your proverbial fence. Also rest assured of the power of the IKEA effect — when others invest sweat equity in helping you co-design change, they feel a sense of ownership.

Hearts and minds are two pieces of the puzzle-what about behaviours? Change Managers need to be obsessed with the behaviours of employees that they target. What routine behaviours do most employees undergo? What messages do they pay attention to? what times of the day of the attentive to these messages? How do most employees in this organisation learn — and what learning management systems do they go to? What change of behaviour is needed for employees to successfully and habitually engage in the future state? Two years from now how are all new employees to the organisation going to onboard in the future state? How can we remove obstacles getting in the way of desired employee behaviours?

Each Change Manager brings different strengths to their change practice. I hope you found this perspective enjoyable and informative. What strengths and insights do you bring to influencing organisational change?

Our book — The Change Manager’s Companion — is available now. You can also check out our online course on Change Management.



Organisational change, behavioural design and coaching psychology insights — practical and research informed. Clever ways to put a dent in the world.

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Allan O

Senior organisational change manager. Mental health professional. Author of The Change Manager’s Companion. www.humanfactorsadvisory.com.au