How do I get started in change management?

A beginners guide

change manager looking at phone and sitting

Whether you’re interested in change management as a career or simply initiating a change within your organization, this guide is designed to help you prepare.  Change Management is an exciting field and one that every manager needs to understand.

With some experts declaring this an era of change and uncertainty, businesses are focusing on changing their organizations to meet customer needs.  The role of managing change has often fallen on individual managers in every department.  This means you could have hundreds of managers, all implementing change processes in different ways.

Over the last decade, organizations have developed departments specifically for managing change effectively.  It’s usually a combination of top-level management and HR professionals.

Change Management as a Career

Change Management is a fast-growing career field, even if not officially recognized in the Bureau of Labor Statistics job database.  A quick search on Quality Careers shows over 125K+ jobs that mention “change manager” in the description.

Change Managers typically work for larger, well-established organizations that naturally experience a lot of change.  These changes are caused by issues like fluctuating stock prices, customer buying habits, and production and supply chain issues.

To get started as a change manager, you’ll need to start with a college degree in management.  A BS in Business Management from an online University like WGU or SNHU is a great start.  These universities offer comprehensive management programs that discuss change management principles.

Once you’ve achieved your business management degree, your next step is to gain a certification in Change Management.  This shows employers you’ve taken classes to learn the specific skills needed to successfully lead a team through changing processes and policies.  MSI offers a well-respected Change Management Certification that is completed online.  There are other certification options as well, such as the Prosci Change Practitioner or a certificate in Change Management from colleges like eCornell.  The important thing is that you select a certification that is respected within the business community and fits your specific budget and training timeline.

Once your degree and certification are complete, you should add these educational achievements to your resume̕ and LinkedIn profile.  You’re now ready to start looking for available positions.  Pay for Change Managers varies on experience and location, but you can expect an average salary of $95,000 in the US.

Managing a Change within your Organization

Getting hired as a Change Manager is just the beginning of your journey.  Once you’re onboarded with the company, it will be time to put your knowledge into practice.  To accomplish this, you first need to understand the company culture and what type of change it is facing.

Organizations go through different types of changes; these include:

  • Smooth Incremental Change
  • Bumpy Incremental Change
  • Discontinuous Change
  • Punctuated Equilibrium
  • Continuous Transformation

 You’ll also need to consider principles of effective change.  These include the work of Nadler and Tushman and consider principles such as:

  • The Vision Principle – Knowing where you want to go and a vision to get you there.
  • The Energy Principle – To get past resistance, an organization must have the energy to carry out the needed change.
  • The Diagnosis Principle – You need to know the “what” as well as the “how”. This helps avoid organizational mimicry, which is copying other organizations’ responses to a changing environment.

One of the most challenging aspects of change management is managing the resistance to change.  There will always be resistance to change, no matter how well the plan is implemented.  Change often leads to fear in the workplace.  Fear of reorganization, fear of implications, and fear of loss of control are all normal reactions to a changing work environment.

What is Critical in Change Management?

As a certified change manager, you must understand how your employees and co-workers perceive change.  Most people go through a transition curve when presented with a changing work environment.  This curve consists of anxiety, happiness, fear, threat, guilt, depression, disillusionment, hostility, denial, gradual acceptance, and finally, moving forward.

A Change Management Specialist must be able to recognize what is needed by employees at each stage of the change process.  How leadership responds to change will directly impact how other employees respond.

Having stakeholder buy-in and leadership support are critical elements of change.  Without leadership support, most change initiatives fail.

There are three critical components when managing change.  The first is considering the outcome.  You should know what you’re trying to achieve, the strategy you’ll need to follow, and the resources that will be required.

The second element is skill management.  You’ll want to develop a skill profile for each employee and determine their competencies.  You’ll want an understanding of both their hard and soft skills. 

Finally, you can determine what new skills may be required for each employee to be successful.  Do your existing employees have the skills to implement the change or do you need to hire new employees?  Perhaps you may need to bring in temporary help or 3rd party vendors to implement your plans successfully.

Listen to this article on our Podcast here:  The Process Improvement Podcast

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Picture of Rei Takako

Rei Takako

BS, Business Management
Chicago, IL