Selecting the right employees to attend change management training

Not every employee is the ideal candidate to attend formal change management training. This article presents a few considerations organized by role.

Change by Conal Gallagher is licensed under Creative Commons | Attribution 2.0 Generic

I’ll always remember my first experience being on the receiving end of an enterprise software replacement project that occurred without a formal change management strategy. I had just returned from a week’s vacation and discovered the introduction, rollout, and three (and only three) software training sessions for the new system all occurred the week I was away. The system adoption results were abysmal.

Change management, defined as a formal plan to help reduce a human’s natural resistance to some form of change, is more widely embraced today than five years ago when Internet searches on the topic yielded few results. Part communication and part training plan, change management is about balancing the “sell” versus “tell” by iteratively addressing questions like:

  • What is going to change?
  • Why is it going to change?
  • When will it change?
  • Who is impacted by the change?
  • What specifically do I need to do differently?

It’s becoming clear that many organizations are now embracing formal change management. Compared to five years ago, an Internet search will now provide curious project managers and leaders with free templates and guidance on how to implement some basic change management principles. But more than that, member and training organizations like Prosci, Association of Change Management Professionals, and Change Management Institute offer frameworks and certifications to better ensure successful change acceptance.

Change Management Training:  Who should attend?

When an organization is ready to sponsor and pay for a cohort to attend change management training, it’s important to recognize that not every employee is the ideal candidate to attend. Here are a few considerations organized by role:

Senior Management

Large organizations tend to select seasoned leadership—senior managers and directors—to attend change management training because these roles typically champion the organization’s large change efforts. Be cautious if individuals in these roles have broad responsibilities in the organization that prevent a deep focus on one specific effort. Strongly consider whether these individuals will have the bandwidth to draft, execute, and adapt change management plans while driving other major responsibilities. Further, leadership tends to be somewhat removed from watercooler talk happening among more junior staff, which can limit effectiveness of addressing appropriate concerns of the target audience.

Program/Project Managers

Program/project managers are generally successful change managers, but there’s often difficulty performing the two roles simultaneously. Project management activities will always take precedence to change management and communication activities, as do business analytic activities that sometimes fall to the project manager. Take an honest assessment of how your project management office is organized. If each project manager is assigned to multiple complex projects or is required to function as a subject matter expert or business analyst in addition to their role as program/project manager, the change management effort will be least effective.

Managers and Individual Contributors

Managers and individual contributors who typically have more than five years of work experience and have served in a project management, business analysis, or technical writing capacity in the past can make excellent change managers. Their experience usually has afforded them an opportunity to have experienced at least one failed change effort in a professional environment. Once trained as a change manager, the organization can rotate these individuals in and out of different projects to gain exposure to other aspects of the business, reducing boredom or burnout for individuals in roles that are generally operational in nature. Unlike some technical certifications, the organization will benefit from the training as long as the employee remains within the organization. Change management training is not department-specific.

At the end of the day it’s up to an organization to select the appropriate staff members to attend change management training. There are pros and cons to each type of employee in the organization, and the correct answer isn’t always clear-cut. The training is effective and the materials and experience will serve the individual well in their career, but it’s up to the organization to ultimately leverage the training.