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Level up your change management with 15 dos and don’ts from experts

Regardless of industry, specialization, or career stage, change is inevitable.

Change itself is also changing, happening faster and even less predictably than ever — and Celonis has been right at the center of it, using process intelligence to help iron out and optimize change management for our clients. We’ve picked up on a lot about what works (and what doesn’t) along the way.

So, during times of change, what can we do to keep people happy, processes well-oiled, and progress moving forward? Here are our suggestions, including tips from industry experts and exclusive first hand advice from our Celosphere 2023 Changemaker Panel, which won’t be released online.

"Spend the time understanding what realities they have to deal with day in and day out."

Five “Dos” for Creating a Change-Confident Company Culture 

1. DO: Emphasize empathy to ensure people feel valued. Leaders across industries have told Celonis again and again that kindness, honesty, and individual attention go a long way to combat uncertainty during change projects. Invest compassion, time, and resources to demonstrate what your changes will improve for all in the long run — help people see how your changes will make their own work less stressful, their team more effective, or their role in the organization’s success more meaningful.

DON’T: Paint past practices as personal critiques. People can sometimes interpret changes as criticisms of how they used to do things. To combat this, work on seeing changes through the lens of the people impacted by them, developing your team’s autonomy, and building confidence in any new processes.

2. DO: Encourage people at all levels to offer feedback, voice concerns, and speak honestly. Though change management often involves new practices and processes handed down from senior leaders and change experts, don’t forget that people with recent, real-world experience in a role can flag blind spots. Change experts have told Celonis that listening to diverse viewpoints gives a fuller look into how your transformation is going — and how much ground it has left to cover.

DON’T: Disregard the insights of the people on the job. If you’re not getting input from on-the-ground workers, you may miss out on advice, potential roadblocks, and a better understanding of how changes impact daily tasks. Celosphere 2023 Changemaker Panelist Silke Lehmann (Managing Director of Business Process Management, Accenture) agrees: “Spend the time understanding what realities they have to deal with day in and day out.”

3. DO: Tap converts to become internal change advocates. The Celosphere 2023 Changemaker panel emphatically agreed: people who change their minds about changes often become the most ardent supporters. In the words of Lehmann and fellow panelist Steve Carpenter (Executive Director, GBS Digital Services, Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD)), converted skeptics will become your “fiercest and bravest change sparkers” and “very strong advocates for you.” Carpenter added that one of his change projects’ initial skeptics is now one of its biggest champions — unexpected allies like these can help you flip other anti-change holdouts.

DON’T: Rely only on change enthusiasts for project support. Our Changemaker panelists know that it can seem simpler to focus on people who are excited about the changes (and absolutely recommend leveraging them, too). But spending the time to get “nos” to the “yes” side can help you see what it will take to get everyone on board.

4. DO: Offer frequent, varied training for team members to learn about changes and develop necessary skills. To set different types of learners up for success, offer many formats of training, and repeat periodically to make sure new competencies last. Creative strategies like gamification have helped Celonis clients like Skoda support learning and org-wide adoption. You can also leverage in-person training sprints, like Whirlpool, who partnered with Celonis to drive process mining uptake by holding an offsite, cross-functional hackathon (fun fact: Whirlpool’s teams uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars hidden in their processes during that single training).

DON’T: Assume everyone has the bandwidth for self-guided learning. Many people don’t have the time, patience, or desire to manage extensive self-directed training. Dropping virtual modules into a learning portal and hoping for the best might not yield the best results.

5. DO: Share information about changes frequently and honestly throughout the change management process, across levels and roles. The more people know about the changes’ rationale, implementation details, and progress, the more natural change adoption will feel. Top-down transparency is key, from the executive level to the departmental level.

DON’T: Gate-keep information about changes. It may feel easier to keep information close, especially if you’re concerned with teams feeling confused or overwhelmed. But not knowing where the organization is heading — or worse, feeling like secrets are being kept — can lead to stress and distrust.

"Start small with something you can quickly turn around and show value, because that’s how you’ll capture the hearts and minds of the organization."

Five “Dos” for Using Processes to Support Changes

1. DO: Start small, both with stakeholders and initial changes. It’s easier to start with a small group when planning your changes, and, according to our 2023 Changemaker Panelists, it’s also easier to start your change process with smaller projects. Carpenter and Stromberg both emphasized that small wins help build enthusiasm and gain buy-in for bigger changes. Per Carpenter, “Start small with something you can quickly turn around and show value, because that’s how you’ll capture the hearts and minds of the organization.” Later on, a newly-widened group can learn from your initial successes, identify areas in need of a different or more focused push, and contribute to the change project’s expansion.

DON’T: Begin with too many cooks in the change-management kitchen (or too many pots on the stove). In your change project’s early stages, trying to serve too many POVs and priorities can stymie the process. Instead, get a handful of key initial supporters, then build momentum and support gradually.

2. DO: Get endorsement from highly-visible executives. Our Celosphere 2023 Changemaker Panelists were unanimous: your change project needs C-suite support. Said Carpenter: “Work your network…get into that executive sponsorship…strive to get to as high a level as possible within your structure.” Fellow panelist Alexander Stromberg (Co-founder and CEO, Apolix) concurred that “...executive buy-in is important.” Messaging from executive champions should be recurring and enthusiastic, easing the changes’ rollout by ensuring everyone understands the why behind the changes and the how of their implementation.

DON’T: Overlook non-executive power players. The people who are best at strategizing for and executing changes are not always positioned to popularize the changes, so Stromberg recommends bolstering goodwill and communication by leaning on leaders “...on both the lower levels and higher levels who actually want to change.” Lehmann similarly advises to “...look for informal influencers — not always the highest-ranked people, but the people who others are asking for advice behind closed doors.

3. DO: Create a change-management center of excellence (CoE). Whether you’re rolling out new tech (like Celonis process mining tools) or restructuring common processes, changes cascade throughout an organization. A CoE gives a centralized, expert perspective on how it’s all going and how it’s all connected, plus expertise to help the project run much more smoothly. Many of Celonis’ most successful clients have invested in CoEs for their process mining transformations, and report that the CoE structure has had a significant positive impact on transparency and savings, among other things.

DON’T: Divvy up changes to people working independently, responsible only for accomplishing their tasks. While it can be important to divide and conquer complex changes, silos can be the kiss of death, especially when communication isn’t frequent or clear. Ensure your change workers are connected, supported, and communicating frequently.

4. DO: Consider following an established change management model. The great thing about change management? People have been studying it for years, and there are proven systems for planning, preparing, executing, and measuring changes. Explore different change management theories and choose one that works for your organization. And if you’re still overwhelmed? Many consultancies specialize in change management, so call in the pros if you need them — and make sure your consultant is using Celonis to help your change effort succeed.

DON’T: Try to invent a change management process from scratch. Simply knowing where to start with a complex change management process can be difficult, especially for those newer to the practice. To keep your change effort from becoming part of the 70% of change projects that fail, build it atop a foundation of established best practices and change expertise.

5. DO: Supercharge your change project with process mining. According to the Changemaker panel, Celonis process mining has been revelatory for change projects. If transformation is a journey, Lehmann says, process intelligence is an ideal travel companion, useful “...before the journey even starts to help you plan…identify value, prioritize, and develop a road map; during, to make the right decisions, to implement process improvements, to inform how you design systems…and after, to measure outcomes and continuously run your processes the way you’ve designed them.” Celonis enabled better prioritization, more data-driven decision making, and more accurate measures of change progress for all of the panelists.

DON’T: Plan your project without deeply understanding your processes. In a global survey of 1200+ industry leaders, 80% agreed that processes are the lifeblood of an organization, and 99% said optimizing processes is key to meeting organizational objectives. Processes can be your greatest lever for change — so use them as a tool in your project’s arsenal.

"Decisions are made based on information, and better decisions are made based on better information."

Five “Dos” for Measuring, Sustaining, and Learning from Changes

1. DO: Build patience into the change framework. Changemaker panelists mentioned that companies frequently give up before a change project has time to take hold. Per Stromberg, perseverance is key for sustained change: “Many companies get excited, then get stranded, even though their desired result was right around the corner.” Carpenter agrees: “Long-term, sustainable change is that: long-term. You have to work at it, put energy in it, and have a good strategy to go get it.” His advice? Keep momentum up by finding a balance between quicker, showier wins and longer-term value.

DON’T: Expect major changes to happen — or stick — after a short-term effort. Overpromising on ambitious deadlines may get execs and stakeholders excited, but adhering to more realistic timelines for changes serves everyone better. If possible, set expectations for a lengthier implementation and long-term post-project support.

2. DO: Establish unique, clear, responsive parameters for measuring success. Our Changemaker panelists agreed that clear goals were instrumental to a change project’s success, and to the larger organization’s perception of the changes. “Always have value in mind, make sure you’re tracking it, make sure you know what your targets are and what’s standing in the way of you getting to your target,” said Carpenter. Think beyond quick wins like training completions or project deadlines (which panelists considered important first steps) and tack on longer-term goals like incremental increases in productivity, efficiency, process adherence, compliance, and utilization. Embrace granularity in your goals, get stakeholder approval, and reevaluate at project milestones.

DON’T: Default to generic or rigid goals for your changes. Your goals help you guide your change management project, measure success, and convince people that the effort is worthwhile — so think critically when setting them, and adjust them if circumstances change.

3. DO: Review progress often and with a consistent cadence. Echoing the advice of our panelists, studies have proven that a drawn-out change process that’s reviewed often has a greater chance at success than a shorter process that’s reviewed less often. Start with the advice of the inventors of the DICE change management framework: for trickier projects, review at least every 2 weeks, and for more familiar initiatives, at least every 6-8.

DON’T: Delay reviewing your progress until the end of the change process. Waiting to check in on your changes until a later date could compromise your project’s success. Changemaker panelist Stromberg also suggested using early data (especially small changes that have successful, quantifiable results) to help build support for later changes among executives: “Once you can show senior management what the impact is…they can really use this to drive change.

4. DO: Consider your CoE a permanent lever for successful change within your organization. Continue to use your Center of Excellence to monitor adoption and provide ongoing support. Other change initiatives will arise, and the legacy expertise your CoE builds increase chances of success. In the process mining realm, a 2022 survey of Celonis customers found that companies utilizing a CoE were nearly 9X more likely to get a positive return on their investment. Creating and maintaining a dedicated team of experts is a proven way to get projects done more consistently and drive lasting value.

DON’T: Dissolve your CoE  to save money. Starting and staffing a CoE can be seen as an ad-hoc compromise, and your organization may want to cut costs by shutting it down or using CoE team members’ talents elsewhere. But letting a CoE continue to build its capabilities over time, both in analysis and execution, will serve the company well in future change projects. Consider it a savvy investment in something inevitable: change.

5. DO: Use insights from this round when change comes knocking again. Make sure to always include a postmortem step so your team can celebrate wins and analyze issues. This is another opportunity to use the power of process intelligence: Changemaker panelist Lehmann reports that Accenture uses Celonis for fact-based findings before, during, and after change projects, in combination with other, more qualitative measures (like surveys). “Decisions are made based on information, and better decisions are based on better information,” says Lehmann.

DON’T: Deprioritize the postmortem if the project went poorly. If you’ve been working on a stressful endeavor, it’s tempting to wrap things up and walk away. But formal postmortems are just as (if not more) important than more active parts of the change process, whether the changes went as well as you’d hoped or not. And when you use process mining to see how your change project impacted or evolved your processes, you’ll be able to identify where any issues arose and replicate or tweak things next time around. 

No matter what your change management endeavor is, Celonis is here to support you. To quote one of our Changemaker panelists, Silke Lehmann, once more:

"It’s never too early and never too late to think about process intelligence. No matter where you are on your journey, if you’re asking, when should I start thinking about process intelligence…the best time is now."

Ready to optimize your own change-management projects using process intelligence? Read more about process mining in change management on the Celonis blog, watch an expert speak about it, or skip straight to talking with a representative.

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Kelly Fritz
Senior Content Creator

Kelly Fritz is a Senior Content Creator at Celonis. When not writing, she spends way too much time searching for vintage dresses, underpriced houseplants on Facebook Marketplace, and ever-faster bike routes between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

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