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Why the channel needs change champions

There’s never been a better time to include professional change managers. But how do you find the right one?

Off the record, many technology leaders express a level of awe for change managers.

Monique Mann, The Change Lab Monique Mann, The Change Lab
The realisation often hits during or after a challenging project, where a stellar change management (CM) professional guides IT and the company through a minefield of user rejection. Although some channel companies offer CM services, there’s something to be said for those specialising in the field. As enduser businesses navigate the turmoil of the pandemic's rapid digitisation, both they and channel providers lean more on those specialists.

Understanding tech

"Change management is no longer a nice-to-have," says Nichola Berner, director at Up Time Consulting. "It has become an integral part and priority to have change management on your projects to ensure people remain engaged, focused and motivated, while feeling emotionally heard and supported."

Change managers can be both qualified professionals and self-taught experts (see sidebar). But the foremost consideration for any CM client these days is often whether they understand technology.

“When working on a technology implementation,” says Growth In Motion's director, Mary Hutchison, "the change practitioner needs to be a super user of how the application works and how it connects to the business processes within which the technology will be deployed. Connecting the technology that we implement to the business context and culture is a key element for successful execution."

Other considerations include the CM's ability to anticipate and manage change risks before they derail the change initiative. Understanding technology is a must, including the analytical skills to comprehend processes and tec hnology solutions. CMs don't have to understand everything about the technology, but they must grasp the processes involved and how those changes will affect users.

Post-pandemic

Companies engage CM professionals when they can't achieve that change internally. Nothing demonstrated this need more than the sudden moves prompted by lockdowns according to Monique Mann, director at The Change Lab. 

"The change to remote working was so fast and so critical that there was hardly time to prepare teams for it. As change managers, our focus has been on optimising online collaboration and new ways of working and helping organisations motivate their teams. Towards the end of 2020, we also saw an increase in the number of companies needing to restructure and redeploy or retrench staff. This was both in response to pressure on margins as well as for companies that had pivoted their business models and required a new or different skill set." 

One of Change Lab's recent projects covered exactly such a situation. It helped a non-profit define planned changes to align with the post-pandemic environment, along with what this meant in practice for staff. 

 "We also helped establish a network of change ambassadors, who would be responsible for championing the change and supporting their colleagues throughout the journey. This support structure, along with a shared vision for the future, provided a solid foundation for managing both the current and evolving changes within the organisation. The organisation is currently optimising remote working through the introduction of a new online platform and developing the online meeting facilitation skills of their staff," says Mann.

Initially, companies opted to save money and tried managing the change themselves, resulting in a slump for CM demand. But as the realities of remote working's impact hit home, demand rose again "We’ve experienced a good rise in the demand for change management services – especially in the areas of technology, organisational culture, and the re-evaluation of office space usage and optimisation," says Tlale Mosimane, managing director at Change Agility. "The clients' needs are different from the previous years as well, more urgent, shorter engagement with specific outputs."

Changing change management

Nobody could predict or fully prepare for what the past year had wrought, and the CM industry has had to adapt as well. 

"Traditionally, the bulk of our work was done at our client sites with a strong focus on face-to-face engagement," says Debbi Scheun, ChangeFolio's CEO. "The pandemic has turned that on its head, and we have had to reassess how we still provide effective change management services without being physically immersed at our client sites."

ChangeFolio developed new software platforms to facilitate the new demand. CM also needed to adjust culturally and adopt agile methodologies, and adapt how they get their customers to engage.

Working remotely often means that we don't have the same access that we would potentially get if we were physically in an office working with the leadership team and impacted individuals. Some companies are better at giving us access than others," says Mann. 

Channel companies have good reason to partner with CM specialists. Companies have to slay the dual beasts of rapid digital shifts and cultural disruption. The channel provider that includes a complete and relevant CM experience will be appreciated the most. How should channel companies evaluate their potential CM partners?

"Technology companies can establish their own change management capabilities, partner with a change management consultancy, leverage the change managers at the client, or use a combination of these options," says Scheun. "Ultimately, change should always be sponsor- and leader-led. We have seen highly disruptive organisational changes land successfully because of great sponsorship and great leaders. Work closely with clients to agree on how leaders will play a role in managing the change throughout the journey and beyond adoption into proficiency."

For a snap CM evaluation, look at agility and the CM professional's ability to shift between the three crucial ingredients that combine to create the value expected by the market, says Hutchison.

"A good change manager will find it easy to move seamlessly between systems, process and people intervention projects. Understanding the business context, past failures and successes and the desired future state all play a key role in preparing the change journey."

 -- WHAT QUALIFIES A CHANGE MANAGER?

Change management is as much an art as it is a science. Thus, the ideal CM professional can emerge from various backgrounds because, says Change Agility's Tlale Mosimane, "like many skills, this skill can be learned and developed through exposure and experience."
But there are ways to narrow the field.

"Change management professionals all come from a background in the social sciences and have degrees in psychology – industrial psychologists, social workers, sociologists, culture strategists, communication specialists, etc. We have, over the years, found that professionals from the social science field have an understanding and appreciation of human and workplace behaviour. They also have the type of empathy required in a change manager."

Other valuable skills include communication and creativity, project management, strategy development, coaching, facilitation, problem-solving and general management consulting skills. Several qualifications reinforce a change manager's credentials, a sought-after one being the Prosci Change Management Certification.

 Above all, a good change manager cares about people, adds Nichola Berner from Up Time Consulting: "If you have a passion to see people thrive within organisations as well as personally, then change management could suit you."
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