Organizational Change Management – An Overview

Organizational Change Management Explained

Organizational change management (OCM) is now one of the ITIL 4 management practices. If you didn’t know this, then no matter because this article is here to help you and your IT service management (ITSM) through greater understanding of what organizational change management is.

In the next 1000 words, I’ll quickly cover what organizational change management is and why it’s important before offering some practical advice as to what organizational change management should involve.

What’s organizational change management?

There are many definitions of organizational change management available in books and on the internet. Here’s what ITIL 4 has to say about its organizational change management practice, that it’s:

“The practice of ensuring that changes in an organization are smoothly and successfully implemented and that lasting benefits are achieved by managing the human aspects of the changes.”

Source: Axelos, “ITIL Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition”

But the organizational change management definition provided in 2016’s ITIL Practitioner Guidance Publication might be more helpful, that organizational change management is:

“… concerned with the people side of change. It’s a structured approach that ensures improvements are implemented smoothly and successfully for lasting benefit.”

This article provides an overview of what Organizational Change Management is and why it’s important. #ITSM Click To Tweet

Organizational change management explained

Here, it might be easier to look at what happens when organizational change management tools and techniques are absent. So, think of a new technology that your IT department has implemented, IT self-service is a good example. On paper, the new technology is going to solve many issues. In the case of self-service, it will make IT support cheaper, faster, and ultimately better. The world is better with self-service.

However, once the technology is implemented, maybe the promised benefits don’t materialize. Probably because people aren’t using the new technology to the extent that you expected – with this due to people not being engaged in what was thought of as a technological change. Whereas it was, in fact, a people change because it involved changes to the way of working (which of course affects people).

If this self-service example sounds farfetched to you, then it’s worth reading this article which explains why historical Service Desk Institute (SDI) research found that only 12% of IT self-service initiatives had realized the anticipated benefits and return on investment. But please keep reading this organizational change management article for now.

Why it’s important

Ultimately, organizational change management is all about getting people to buy in to changes and then bringing them along such that they’re ready to “do things the new way” once a change or changes have been affected.

Here @StephenMann provides practical advice as to what organizational change management should involve. #ITSM Click To Tweet

In doing this, there are a number of proven organizational change management tools and techniques that can be applied. For example, ITIL 4 outlines the following four key organizational change management enablers:

  • Clear and relevant objectives. To gain support, the objectives of the change must be clear and make sense to the stakeholders, based on the context of the organization. The change must be seen to be of real value. 
  • Strong and committed leadership. It is critical that the change has the active support of sponsors and day-to-day leaders within the organization. A sponsor is a manager or business leader who will advocate, and can authorize, the change. Leaders should visibly support and consistently communicate their commitment to the change.
  • Willing and prepared participants. To be successful, a change needs to be made by willing participants. In part, this willingness will come from the participants being convinced of the importance of the change. In addition, the more prepared participants feel they are to make the changes asked of them through relevant training, awareness, and regular communications, the keener they will be to go forward.
  • Sustained improvement. Many changes fail because, after some time has passed, people revert to old ways of working. Organizational change management seeks to continually reinforce the value of the change through regular communication, addressing any impacts and consequences of the change, and the support of sponsors and leaders. The communication of value will be stronger when metrics are used to validate the message.”

Source: Axelos, “ITIL Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition”

These are, of course, other aspects of organizational change management to consider; with these covered in the next section.

Organizational change management in action

The following five bullets explain some of the key activities of organizational change management, but they can also be used as a checklist of what your organization will need when employing organizational change management tools and techniques to successfully deliver a people-affecting change.

@StephenMann discusses the five key elements of organizational change management. #ITSM Click To Tweet

Five key organizational change management elements are:

  1. Communication, including the why, what, and how. Communication is one of the most important aspects of organizational change management and should be approached as such. The messages, frequency, and delivery methods all need to be carefully considered. Especially for different audiences.
  2. Involvement of all who are affected by the change. Importantly, people should be involved from the very beginning. This includes not only those who’ll be directly affected by the change but also everyone who might be impacted. And organizational change management involvement is not just “the receipt of communications”; it’s also the ability to have personal opinions and feedback heard and considered.
  3. Addressing the “fear of the unknown” and minimizing resistance. Resistance to change can be a change killer, with it caused by a variety of factors. For example, a lack of understanding, not seeing the benefits (personally), not feeling prepared, or – commonly – the fear of the unknown. Rumors caused by a lack of communication are often the cause of both fear and resistance.
  4. Gaining buy-in. This starts with strong leadership and visible buy-in at a senior level. Generating interest with effective communications then helps. But ultimately, buy-in is a very personal thing, and individuals will need to be convinced either directly or via the standing of their peers that a change is the right thing for everyone affected. Ultimately, people will need to know the “what’s in it for me?” before embracing any change.
  5. Education and training. Education is very much about people understanding everything they need to about the change. This includes that the change is coming, and when, as well as the why, what, and how. Training is needed to ensure that people are ready for the post-change world. For example, this might be training on how a new system and associated processes work. Also, training (and retraining) needs to be made available long after a change has been affected.

So, that’s my quick overview of organizational change management. What would you add? Please let me know in the comments.

This 2019 organizational change management article was updated in 2023. If you would like to read more ITSM and ITIL articles, the following articles might help…

Stephen Mann

Principal Analyst and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

Previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.

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