Setting up a Change Management Office

Change Management Offices, or CMOs, are becoming increasingly popular, alongside the growth of the PMO or Project/Program Management Office. Is a CMO something you’re currently implementing? Or perhaps you wish your organisation would implement one?

A CMO can be a terrific way to centralise change management efforts in your organisation. It can further legitimise change activities, ensure consistent approaches to change, communications and training, and manage resources effectively across changing priorities. It can manage organisational change reporting and ensure the focus is appropriate to the executive audience and other stakeholders.

Centralising change management provides a layer of management responsibility to better coordinate relationships with business, ICT and other stakeholders. It can support integrated/holistic approaches to communication activities across the organisation and can provide broader organisational context when change managers – who are often squirrelled away in project land – need such support.

But be careful. If you’ve been given a mandate to build a CMO, that’s a terrific recognition of the importance of change management in your organisation, but in your eagerness to succeed don’t try to do too much at once.

Give yourself the best of chances. There are existing channels, activities, reports, approaches that may (or may not) currently be thought of as “change management” (but you know are). These other ways are valid, and these other ways may be working just fine. Understand the existing lay of the land before you start to centralise too much. Work with these people, appreciate existing capabilities, and be careful not to break what is already working.

Particularly if you are new to the organisation, don’t be too forceful in implementing new ways unless management has articulated a clear and present sense of urgency, and has publicly given you a strong mandate that is understood and supported across the organisation. Otherwise, take it slowly. Frankly, the most important thing about setting up an effective CMO is building effective relationships with stakeholders. This will then build the strategic partnerships to support the goals of the organisation as you go forward.

Don’t worry too much about the templates you are using, or the governance approach, just do what makes sense given the lay of the land and the skills of the existing staff, and work within existing approaches as much as possible. Don’t try too hard to move people currently working on change management activities to your team if there are concerns. Of course you need to put these mechanics in place but don’t judge your success on whether there is 100% adoption of those templates or governance processes across the organisation. If that is what your management wants to use as a KPI to judge your work as successful, you’ll need to educate them a little.

Initially, your success should be assessed on your ability to help stakeholders understand the value of enterprise change management. That would be reflected in the numbers of requests your team receives to assist in organisational change initiatives, the seniority level of meetings that you are invited to attend, the briefings you give, the spread of your networks across the organisation, the operational links you have created that have helped others succeed. Success will come when your stakeholders understand the benefits you can bring their end users, and the benefit of their working within an organisational framework.

Focus on projects that will get you some early wins to gain visibility and show people your style. Not all management (including executive) are likely to understand change management, in fact probably only a minority do. These early projects will give you valuable stories to use.

Work out who your key relationships will be with, work towards understanding their business and their challenges, and find out what they need from you (they may not yet know what that is). Help them succeed and they will be your strongest advocates.

Alongside this “softly, softly” approach I’m prescribing, I need to counter that with saying you must be a strong change agent for the enterprise change model. Don’t budge an inch in your broad philosophy. Be a strong and vocal advocate for your team, for your goals. Be principled and clear, but pragmatic – pick your battles. Ensure your voice is a positive one at meetings, that your contributions are valuable and appreciated. Keep the big picture in mind. Build strong formal and informal networks. Become someone whose advice and presence is missed when you aren’t around.

Keep your goals realistic. Take the long term view.

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