Over the past few years, a trend has emerged: departments and practices formerly known as “organizational change management” have begun replacing that term with “business change enablement.” As a business change enablement practitioner, I’m frequently asked, Why this is?
From the vantage point of designing change initiatives across organizations that vary by industry and size, I’ve seen trends that are driving the desire to reposition and rebrand change management.
Current state change management needs an update
Replacing “organizational change management” with “business change enablement” points to a difference in practice and outcomes far more than a change in the foundational change philosophy or methodology.
The root of the problem is that in many organizations, the practice of organizational change management has become siloed. All too often, organizations with siloed change management departments or processes rely upon a small team to create training and communications associated with a change. Leaders delegate the change sponsorship responsibilities to the change team (or the training or communications teams), and focus their efforts elsewhere.
In organizations with more mature change practices, change management follows a consistent process, whether it be Prosci, GE’s Change Acceleration Process, or Kotter’s 8-step change model. These are all capable change models, but when they are used in the reality of a siloed business context, some of their best insights are consistently de-emphasized — or skipped entirely. In these instances, the change management practice has become a checklist of actions managed by skilled specialists in HR or IT to drive change into an organization. And in many organizations, that isn’t getting the results they need.
Here’s why: The bits that are first to be cut from Prosci, GE CAP, and Kotter’s model are the ones that require a business line leader to deploy their influence and to build a coalition of leaders to support the change — asking their peers to waterfall sponsorship through layers of management. The associated ask, to hold managers and leaders accountable to success metrics associated with the change, also tends to be cut. Even before the “Great Resignation,” metrics accountability had been a tough sell. Today, it can be a barometer of a company’s retention outlook. As a result, many business sponsors avoid naming success owners to be accountable for the adoption and sustainment of the change.
Business sponsorship: Where change initiatives falter
This trend of cutting change sponsorship responsibilities isn’t surprising. It requires substantial coordination and human-influence management.
That work doesn’t cleanly fall into the traditional responsibilities of communications or training departments — neither of which typically specializes in strategically deploying leadership influence. That sort of work usually happens organically within business units themselves — so much so that it tends to be invisible, and as a result, not often planned with the rigor it requires. Therefore, we see a trend: in organizations where change responsibilities are siloed outside of the business units, the essential work of deploying influence is usually missed.
Beyond that, effectively sponsoring change requires leaders to spend social capital that they may see as a limited resource worth saving for something else — or as a resource that they simply don’t have. A prime example of influence failure in these instances is that change messages are sent from the project manager, the change manager, or a generic “IT” or “HR” email address. Those roles, while providing crucial specialized skills, aren’t seen as roles that are authoritative enough to reset the current state business processes. When instances of this example happen, the adoption doesn’t take off…or if it starts — it usually doesn’t hold.
The (re)new(ed) practice and outcomes implied by the new name
Hence the push for a new name and new approach. The term “business change enablement” points to three important transitions:
1. The term “business” is a shift from “organizational” — a term which is usually associated with HR’s purview
This indicates that the leadership and success of the change must be owned by the business units themselves, not only HR or IT (teams that should remain valued partners). Change efforts can’t be delegated whole cloth to the training and communications teams. There are sponsorship activities that business leaders and frontline managers must own in order to transition to a new process and sustain that adoption over the long haul.
2. The term “enablement” is a shift from “management” — a term that seems to imply a starting point removed from the end users
“Management” can convey a disengaged top-down push instead of a needs-driven shift. Contrast that with “enablement” — a term that implies that the starting point is the end user and the teams that are going to be most impacted. This conveys a partnership between the business units that must own the change and the specialists from shared services that are building the digital solutions, the communications, and the training. By extension, this indicates a greater flexibility in finding the activities, support resources, and timeline that are the right fit for the end users who are being asked to change.
3. “Organizational change management” and “business change enablement” seem to imply different definitions of “done”
Whereas the timeline for traditional “organizational change management” is usually the rollout period that includes a few weeks or months of reinforcement, the timeline for “business change enablement” is much longer. Business change enablement is not only about successful deployment or delivery — it’s about long-term adoption.
Ultimately, this is why I find the new term compelling. We aren’t changing for the sake of change, we are changing in order to capture a real benefit — be that increased ROI, improved customer or employee satisfaction, or reduced costs associated with inefficient processes. Whatever it may be, the change is aimed at achieving something beneficial, and that benefit doesn’t materialize unless there is sustained and widespread adoption.
Getting back to what works
With a different definition of “done” comes different sustainment methods. One of the most useful is integrating the ongoing monitoring, governance, and learning into a Center of Excellence (CoE).
Groups like these operationalize the sustainment of process and product improvements by ensuring that success measures are tracked over time, by identifying and sharing best practices, and by providing organizationally relevant learning opportunities.
Why does business change enablement matter now? What are the reasons for the shift from the “organizational change management” nomenclature? It’s a difference in practice and outcomes far more than a departure from foundational change philosophies or methodologies. It points to a practice where change sponsorship is intentional, and understood as a key responsibility of the business leadership aligned to the change. It moves change from a delegated checklist siloed in specialist departments to a partnership between specialists and those whose influence is crucial to sustaining the change over the long haul. At the end of the day, it is a step closer to the best practices articulated by respected change methodologies — an enablement of business benefits by tapping into the end users’ needs and landing solutions with lasting value.
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