This change framework aims to help you make sense of the inherent complexity of change management, without being overwhelmed by it. Download a free, no email required, copy of this framework and checklist.
Change Implementation Framework
This framework is designed to help you develop a comprehensive strategy for embedding your next organizational change. Rather than a fixed, step-by-step process or method, this framework reflects that successful change is both an art and a science. It clarifies the key elements all change efforts should include (based on published research and practical experience), understanding that how you execute them will depend on the type and scale of your change and your organizational context.
An Integrated System of Reinforcing Parts
As you design your change implementation approach, it's helpful to consider each of the four elements that make up the framework: components, roles, phases, and context.
Components are the tools and techniques that you use to implement a change. Components provide structure to your implementation.
Roles refer to the people involved in driving and adopting the change you are implementing.
Phases reflect that change is a multi-stage and often iterative process.
Context refers to the internal and external factors that can impact the implementation — and which make every change effort unique.
Each of the four elements — components, roles, phases, and context — reinforces and supports the others to form an integrated whole. While you don't need to be equally strong in all of them, you do need to ensure all are addressed in your implementation approach.
COMPONENTS - Why, What and How
Components are the tools and techniques involved in change implementation. In this framework, components refer to six things: desired outcomes, the innovation, training and coaching, measurement and monitoring, communications and infrastructure.
Desired outcomes clarify the vision for the change — what will the change achieve and why is it necessary? Simple questions that often take quite a bit of effort to answer well.
The innovation is the change you are implementing. It should be selected based on its fit to your need as well as the capacity of your organization to implement it. The innovation should also be defined with sufficient specificity to clarify what you are not implementing.
Performance measurement and monitoring involve setting both process and progress goals and collecting, reviewing, and responding to feedback. This allows you to identify what’s going well, what’s not, what you need to do to improve —and ultimately, assess if the change has been successful.
In all efforts, training and coaching provide essential support to help leaders and end users develop the knowledge, perspectives, and behaviors they’ll need to effectively play their roles in the change.
Every implementation requires a supportive infrastructure to give it form and clarify how things will be done. This includes physical enablers (e.g., materials, a place for your team to work), administrative enablers (e.g., managers who provide time for staff to take part in implementation activities), and project management enablers (e.g., an implementation plan, agile planning process.)
Communications involve both formal and informal efforts to exchange information between all stakeholders involved in the change. It is both “push and pull” and includes not only words but also actions and behaviors. Communications can be both a stand alone effort, as well as an integral part of effectively delivering all other components.
ROLES — Who
People play various distinct roles to “make the change happen” in an organization, including as end users, leadership, stakeholders, or part of an implementation team.
Although there is an “I” in implementation, it is never a solo affair. Creating an implementation team is critical. This is a team of doers — it often plans and executes most of the enabling activities related to the implementation. It is primarily, but not solely, responsible for establishing and using many of the components discussed previously.
The implementation team interacts with all other roles in the effort, with a keen focus on end users, who are the people that will use the innovation or adopt the change you are implementing.
The implementation team also engages with additional stakeholders, such as those who will benefit from the implementation, as well as those who may want to influence it. Gathering input and feedback from these groups, and transforming it into decisions, plans, and actions are central activities of the implementation team and leadership.
Everyone involved in an organizational change must exhibit a degree of leadership. There are also distinct leadership roles, such as the executive sponsor and governance body, which have a unique function in implementation. They are often best positioned to amplify the vision for the change, create an enabling environment, and to reinforce commitment during challenging times.
PHASES — WHEN
Effective change implementation is often a multi-phased, iterative effort, rather than a linear progression from “start” to “finish”. Thinking of it as such better enables you to focus on the right things at the right time. It also helps you set appropriate expectations for what will happen when and how fast.
One review of 25 implementation frameworks found that about 70% of activities supporting implementation happen BEFORE the execution phase! Informed by this finding, this framework outlines a proactive rather than a reactive approach.
During the Decide phase, you establish the purpose of the effort, select the innovation that will be implemented, and agree on the resources that will be invested. It’s also wise to ensure these early decisions account for significant contextual factors. Rather than aiming to eliminate all uncertainty about the change, decisions made at this stage clarify what’s most important and signal how the effort will play out (e.g., planned or agile, participatory, top-down or somewhere in between.)
The Prepare phase often includes designing and documenting the innovation, assembling the implementation team, creating a clear plan (or parameters for an iterative planning process), and designing the approach for measurement, training, and communications.
All of this is done before the roll-out of the innovation during the Execute phase. Monitoring the implementation during execution is essential to provide data and feedback for the Improve phase, during which adjustments are made to enhance results.
Only after improvements are made, sometimes requiring multiple execution cycles, can the organization move to the Maintain phase, transitioning responsibility for the innovation to steady state operations.
Context - Where
No two implementations are the same and context is often the reason why. Your implementation can be impacted by all kinds of internal factors, such as whether or not other organizational changes are being implemented concurrently, shifts in executive leadership, failure of past change efforts, or the current performance or capability levels of the organization. It can also be impacted by external factors, such as changes in the regulatory or economic climate, actions taken by competitors or partners, or even popular opinions about what you are implementing.
For this reason, you should take stock of the environment in which you are operating and incorporate your assessment of contextual risks and opportunities into your planning and management strategies. Although it would be awfully convenient, most implementations do not operate in a bubble sealed off from outside influences. So, it's best to not act as if they do.
To learn how to apply this framework in your work, check out my book, The Implementer's Starter Kit. Available now on Amazon.