Qualification of Organizational Change Projects

When organizational change initiatives are first initiated, they are often vague and uncertain. Sometimes those who desire the change underestimate the effort that will be required; other times, they over estimate it. I use two questions to initially frame and qualify the proposed change.

  • How many people are affected?
  • How much of a change will they perceive this to be?

The number of people affected gives a indication of the scale of the project. That is, projects impacting a high number of people, more than 30 or so, require a lot more structure for communications, training, and employee engagement. This type of structure requires a team to organize and orchestrate it. Conversely, when only a small number of people are affected, roughly less than 30, the group can meet together in a single room and discuss the changes. Additionally, with a group that small, the initiators of the change can talk personally to everyone who is affected.

The second question explores the expected reaction of the affected population, or impact. Although this is a subjective estimation at the start of an initiative, it gives an indication what sort of change efforts will be needed. By combining the response for the size of the affected population with the anticipated degree of impact, the proposed change effort can be categorized into a 2×2 grid as shown below. The boxes give examples of the type of activities that will be required for that category of change.

Note that the items in the boxes are provided to illustrate the changes in scope by category , not to provide a comprehensive list. The implications of the categorization are further explained below.

  • Low impact, low scale. Projects that have a low impact to only a few people are not really organizational change projects. They can normally be handled by the manager (s) of the employees as part of regular responsibilities and skill set.
  • Low impact, high scale. High scale efforts require some structure for the communications and training of a large number of people. Since the impact is relatively low, it may not be necessary to engage a highly participative effort, although clear support from upper management is still important. Examples of this category of change include the following:
    • Upgrading the phone system or personal computer software
    • Rolling out a new code of conduct
    • New procurement or other web applications
  • High impact, low scale. These efforts do not involve extensive communications, training, or other employee involvement activities. So they can normally be handled by the manager (s) of the employees, perhaps with some coaching from human resources or a consultant. Examples include
    • Reorganizations of small departments
    • New group leadership
    • Major changes to the work and projects of small teams
  • High impact, high scale. Change efforts that significantly impact a high number of people require extensive planning and a fully staffed team of change professionals. Examples of this category include
    • Significant changes to benefits plans
    • Significant movement of operations offshore
    • Creating new project planning processes
    • Changing the leadership style of the company

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