Change management is not just another business buzzword that can be ignored. A number of distinct, proven methodologies are critical to adopt when implementing or responding to change in the in-house agency (IHA) you lead. And, as is often the case, these practices are about the people as much as the actual change management process.

It's safe to say that change is inevitable, constant and accelerating in the business world. Whether it involves a merger or acquisition, implementing a new project management tool or responding to new competitors, IHA teams can feel confused, frightened or overwhelmed in a rapidly shifting environment. Due to the unsettling discomfort, some staff may stubbornly balk at adapting to the needed changes—or worse, become disengaged or leave the organization. 

Fortunately, there are steps that agency leaders can take to minimize the negative impact of change. Two of the most widely accepted change management frameworks were developed by Kurt Lewin and John Kotter. Both include constant, consistent and strategic communication as a central premise.

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Kurt Lewin's Three-step Change Management Model

Kurt Lewin's model is comprised of three specific phases and associated practices. They include:

  1. Unfreeze - Assess your agency's current state, determine needed changes and establish the driving forces for change while minimizing barriers.
  2. Change - Take action and launch the change.
  3. Freeze - Institutionalize the change and adopt new habits.

John Kotter's Eight-step Change Management Process

John Kotter's model is more tactical and actionable and speaks to the urgency of change management.

  1. Establish a sense of urgency - Confirm and communicate that the current state is more dangerous and/or onerous than the desired future state.
  2. Form a powerful guiding coalition - Find advocates and change stewards both within and outside of the IHA.
  3. Create a vision - Conceptualize the future state.
  4. Communicate the vision - Make the future state understandable and inspiring.
  5. Empower others to act on the vision - Provide information and training to your creative team and remove obstacles to the change.
  6. Plan for and create short-term wins - Proactively establish key benchmarks and communicate successes as they occur.
  7. Consolidate improvements and produce more change - Keep dialog open and act on wins to create more successes.
  8. Institutionalize new approaches - Document the change, retrain staff and reward those who adopt the new practices.

No matter which model is chosen, understand and articulate the "why" as well as the "what" and "how" of the change. Put together a core change team, and communicate with the greater organization before, during and after the change occurs. Although a specific launch date is customary, it's important to remember that change is never a one-and-done proposition. It takes time for individuals to shed old habits and embrace new ones. This means that managers will need to remind teams about the new habits and expectations, cue staff to use the new practice(s) and reward people for their compliance.

In addition, the change management coalition (including the leaders) must embody and inspire the change by supporting continual dialog and refinement of the change management process. Leverage the capabilities of your change stewards to both inspire and inform your group. For the launch period, establish a "war room" and have stewards available to handle questions and challenges in real time as they arise.

Three Guiding Principles for Managing Change

Finally, when consulting with IHAs, I always encourage leaders to follow these three guiding principles when implementing change.

  1. Care and concern for all people involved - Maintain an empathetic yet assertive tone with all workers who will be affected by the transition.

  2. Business continuity - Prioritize meeting today's business requirements before focusing on the future.

  3. Clear communication and expectation setting – Ensure that IHA staff (both incoming and those already part of the team), internal customers and business partners all know what to expect and why. Focus on building trust and producing the high-quality creative product or service associated with the change ensuring that it's delivered with superior client- and team-relationship management.

Change occurs only when a team understands, embraces and adopts it. Given that human beings are typically hardwired to resist change, success comes to leaders who appreciate this natural tendency and who apply careful planning to executing best practices when bringing changes about.

Cella can guide you to insure the adoption and sustainability of your most complex organizational changes. Learn more about our change management expertise!