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BPM often goes hand-in-hand with the art of change management--and with good reason. After all, every process-improvement initiative involves some kind of change.

But while BPM provides the methodology and support, it isn’t, in and of itself, the change agent. That role involves two factors: people and planning. And while BPM and change management work toward common goals of increasing organizational performance--including in such key areas as productivity and collaboration--the two functions aren’t synonymous.

Consultant Andrea Evans sums up the differences this way: BPM enables organizational workflow to be more effective and efficient while continuously improving support for business goals and objectives. Change management, in turn, supports organizations and resources throughout the transformation process to embrace and sustain new ways of working.

Understanding these two roles is the key to developing a BPM change management strategy, notes Evans, a manager with MorganFranklin, a business and technology consulting company.

Evans cites three common categories for change management:

--Process change is the modification or redesign of internal workflows to increase business efficiency, reduce costs and improve quality.

--Structural change focuses on realigning organizational structures, reporting relationships, centralizing functions or managing integration following a merger or acquisition.

--Cultural change focuses on organizational shifts in behaviors and attitudes.

These three types of change typically have the greatest impact at different levels of an organization, she says.

For example, process changes are most common in the lower levels of an organization, where larger-scale re-engineering might meet with strong resistance. Structural changes tend to involve large groups and cover a greater span within an organization. And cultural change permeates at many organizational levels, as any change could drive the need to address both overt and covert behaviors.

Parsing the subject a little differently, consultant Robby Slaughter looks at change management from two primary vantage points: from a perspective of philosophy and a perspective of control.

“The engineering point of view is that change management is about understanding details and dependencies,” notes Slaughter, principal with Slaughter Development, a consulting firm focused on organizational change. Indeed, he says, many technical managers will produce lengthy and elaborate documents with enormous flowcharts to explain a change process.

On the other hand, people with human-relations backgrounds may focus more on the emotional aspects of change, considering questions such as: How will people be affected? How can an organization create consensus? What should be done if people resist a change?

“As you might imagine, technical approaches tend to place authority over the change at the top of the hierarchy,” Slaughter notes. “This allows the change to be efficient but often creates friction and frustration.” On the other hand, he says, approaches rooted in psychology tend to be more “bottom-up” but can require much more time.

How should an organization choose between different options for different kinds of BPM projects? In Slaughter’s view, one good place to start is simply realizing that there are many ways to manage change. “But the best thing to do is to try and push against the usual organizational culture,” he advises. “If your company is authoritarian, try being inclusive. If your company tends to be impulsive, try being obsessively cautious.”

However, Elise Olding, a research director at Gartner Inc., takes a more jaundiced view of change management, even challenging the term’s validity. “I don’t believe in calling it ‘change management’ because it says a few things: One is that you can manage change. And second, from a leadership perspective, it sounds like something that would be delegated to others to manage,” she explains. Instead, Olding suggests thinking of it as simply organizational change.

Gartner analysts are currently seeing many BPM programs that are successful at the project level, Olding notes. However, once they start looking at process in larger, cross-function terms, the picture isn’t always as positive. She theorizes that the problem has to do with the idea that change management is inflexible and directed, involving set deadlines for accomplishing specific actions with little relationship to other realities. In addition, many people may view the process as something requiring training.

She recommends engaging people early in the process initiative, and keeping them engaged during subsequent waves of change. And she recommends using terminology that reinforces the idea of continuous improvement—for instance, referring to the “next” change rather than to the “new” one. Why? Because” ‘new’ implies that you get there and stop and rest, but that is not reality,” she says. Instead, organizations should be constantly ready to move to the next goal—and the next, and the next.

She also advises helping employees improve their skills to better sense leading indicators, identify needed changes, align those changes with organizational goals and adapt as easily as possible.

Finally, she recommends two tactical approaches for successful organizational change:

Assess stakeholder impact. Impact assessment is a standard tool used in many kinds of organizational change and planning activities, Olding says. The process assesses the potential impact of change on functional roles such as HR and sales. It also gauges the effects for executives, midlevel managers and lower-level employees.

“We find that workers want to do what needs to be done and executive management is usually behind the change,” Olding says. But those in middle management may find the change tougher to swallow. “For them, it’s like changing a plane engine in flight,” she explains. “They must keep the business running while changing things on the go, and they have the most to lose.”

Use peer advocacy groups to create top-down, bottom-up and "middle-out" change. Peer advocacy can play a major in garnering support for change efforts among different groups of employees. Peer advocates work with the project team, bringing all necessary information back to their own employee groups. Then they collect their colleagues’ concerns and comments and take those back to the project team.

That kind of grassroots involvement often resolves many fears about changes. As Olding notes, when people seem to be resistant, that’s often not a case of being unable or even unwilling to change—it’s a question of wanting to be heard.

READER FEEDBACK: What are your biggest change-management challenges? We'd love to hear about them. Please e-mail Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Alan Earls, a journalist who specializes in writing about technology and business, is based in the Boston area.

More by Alan Earls, ebizQ Contributor



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