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5 Core PM Behaviors for Managing Change

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For Project Managers, Change Management isn't Always About the Big Plan

11 July 2018
image underscoring flexibility in a changing organization

Managing change is part and parcel of Project Management in an IT organization.  Granted, organizational impact of a given project might be minuscule, but it nevertheless must be given its due consideration.  Even infrastructure projects which presumably are (should be) transparent to end users still involve some degree of change to operations personnel if nothing else. 

Formal Change Management Plans will specify the particulars of any given organizational change scenario in order to make new technological transitions digestible.  This regimen is indispensable.  However, the focus of this article is the identification of less formal, deliberate behaviors that enable Project Managers to act as change agents.

Specifically, we’ll discuss the Project Manager behaviors that will help mitigate the psychological impacts of organizational change.  While change is increasingly a part of everyone’s job, the Project Manager must own a successful change campaign.  Part of this responsibility is to help others adjust to incoming change and try to eliminate the potentially negative impacts if there is a failure to effectively adapt. 

But your role includes more than that – with the proper demeanor a PM can be the spark that ignites excitement about change and stirs commitment to implementing and achieving it.   Project Managers can be a catalyst for change and inspire people to initiate change themselves.

Formal Change Management Plans will specify the particulars of any given organizational change scenario in order to make new technological transitions digestible.  This regimen is indispensable.  However, the focus of this article is the identification of less formal, deliberate behaviors that enable Project Managers to act as change agents.

Employing the following 5 behaviors requires that a PM know the lay of the land.  Specifically, all of the project stakeholders, their attitudes, work environment, how well a given group can absorb change and the specific nature of the changes impacting them. 

A good PM organizational change guru looks not only forward to the final state, but what the organization’s current state is and what it takes to transition to the end-game from the user’s perspective - including any intermediate points.  Let’s examine these behaviors:

Behavior 1 - Maintain or Enhance Self-Esteem.

Always try to acknowledge the skills, abilities, and expertise that users bring to the table in the current and target environments.  This can sometimes be challenging for PMs with extensive domain experience in a given area of change - being in his or her comfort zone can lead to under-appreciation of the current system expertise and process. 

Provide accurate and timely information regarding the changes and make the team and users a part of the change.  This goes beyond process and button pushing training that is organic to an implementation. Instead, consider the nuances of a specifics affecting a particular change effort and get community input.  

Becoming informed about a prior successful change effort that was implemented within a group and correlating it with the current effort can develop trust and familiarity between PM and the subject user group. 

Behavior 2 - Listen and Respond with Empathy.

Make objective determinations about how individuals feel about the change by asking them – don’t assume that you know.  Acknowledge others’ feelings and concerns without being judgmental.

5 behaviors for managing organizational change

Show that you understand their point of view, even if you don’t agree.  Try to allow time for everyone to adjust.  There may not be time for a long honeymoon with the users - so start as early as possible.  The PM is the great empathizer, visionary and taskmaster.

Behavior 3 - Ask for Help and Encourage Participation to Gain Involvement.

Any initiative that involves organizational change will require inputs from the users at various stages and to varying degrees.  Seek as many ideas and inputs from as many people as is reasonably possible.  There will no doubt be times when a decision point is reached which requires an end-user commitment – this is your time to shine. 

Break down barriers by discussing areas of concern, but keep your focus and their attention on moving forward.  When the opportunity arises, help people identify where they can provide the most valuable input based on skills, ability, and/or motivation.

Behavior 4 – Using and Sharing Rationale, Thoughts, and Feelings about the Change.

Rationale is the reason behind the change, including the expected benefits as well as any supporting historical information.  Thoughts are the insights and perspectives about the change, whether based on an experiential, professional or academic understanding of the organizational change situation.  Feelings are the emotional reactions to the change.  Ability to share on all three of these levels fosters an environment of trust and ‘open borders.’

Behavior 5 - Provide support without removing responsibility.

We have to be careful that the efforts are supportive, open and honest and do not become an actual or implied attempt to take over responsibility for the thinking that’s required to put an action plan in place.  Likewise, don’t take over the doing either; people will feel a loss of ownership and you’ll have less time to provide the support only you can provide.  Axelerate's considerable Change Management experience and success is embodied in our Case Studies.

Practicing these 5 principles will not solve all of the challenges involved with organizational change – but they will situate the PM to be a more trusted partner to the business throughout the exercise.

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Written By:
Kerrie Gill, PMP, ITIL
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