by Sergio da Silva

Today’s Environment

Change management is a growing professional discipline because it works. Organizations are embracing the methodologies, tools and expertise of change management. They’re sending staff to change management courses, partnering with change management consultants to bring knowledge in-house, and hiring experienced change management professionals. As organizations develop this expertise in-house and apply it to specific initiatives, the next logical step for many is to capitalize on the momentum and build a competency by establishing an internal change management support organization, or office.

Where does such an enterprise-wide change management office belong within an organization? In our experience with a wide array of organizations, the answer varies—but there are common factors worth considering.

Point B’s Perspective

It’s our experience that establishing a change management office in the right place within an organization optimizes its effectiveness every day. Conversely, the wrong location can do as much harm as good—causing uncertainty, friction and mistrust, and compromising a change management office’s potential before it starts. The following considerations will help your organization find the right home for your change management office.

Aim for cross-enterprise exposure.

A key function of a change management office is monitoring the portfolio of organizational changes—everything from system and process changes to people/performance change. This calls for understanding the impact of change on each audience, identifying the potential risk of change saturation, and influencing decisions related to the timing and sequence of changes. This cross-enterprise function is key to helping the organization optimize change adoption, realize plannedfor benefits, and get the best possible return on investment.

Some organizations have strong IT groups that are viewed as driving much of the change. While such groups may be strong influencers, they don’t necessarily have exposure to other organizational changes that are not driven by technology. Without such cross-enterprise exposure, it’s difficult to grasp the organization’s capacity for adopting changes.

Look for leadership support.

Leadership support is essential to change—and to a successful change management office. Give it a home with a vocal and visible sponsor who will tout the benefits of the discipline and enable it to grow and thrive. One caveat: strong executive support does not in itself ensure success; it must be coupled with the respect of the organization. The leader must be viewed as effective, not a cowboy, in order for the organization to view the office as an essential function and not a temporary flight of fancy.

Locate with a bias toward action.

A change management office needs to combine strategic planning and leadership with an operational, “roll up your sleeves and get it done” mentality. It requires performance monitoring of planned-versus-actual change benefits. And it requires a governance component that monitors adherence to methodologies, policies and protocols. Success lies in the ability of the change management office to execute its strategies and deliver the benefits expected from change.

Organizations that have a strategy group often propose it as the home of a change management office because it has an organization-wide strategic view of all change. But many strategy groups are not set up to execute the actions needed to deliver on the strategy. This ability to take action and deliver results is critical. In order for the change management team to take hold, the organization needs to trust that the services it offers will meet or exceed expectations.

Build on your current expertise.

If your organization already has a critical mass of change management expertise, it may be the natural foundation on which to build the office. Assuming that it has respect within the organization, this repository of knowledge and skills may have already gained traction in proving the benefits of change management while creating trust and demand for its services.

It’s often assumed that change management should live within HR, which is associated with organizational development, training, communications and other people-oriented activities. In one company, the HR department attempted a grassroots effort to create a change management discipline. But the HR department was going through a time of instability. Even if it had the expertise, it was not positioned to be a successful champion of change management, leading to our next point.

Serve from a position of trust and respect.

Successful change management professionals are partners in change. They must be trusted in order to effectively facilitate and support other leaders through tough conversations about topics such as resistance to change. They need fellow executives and managers to understand that change plans continuously evolve —not to be blamed when something doesn’t go according to plan.

Some organizations incorporate change management in projects run by their PMOs. So it may seem a natural progression to place the change management office within the PMO. Again, the reputation is crucial. In some organizations we’ve worked with, the PMO was not viewed as a leader or partner, and it was brought into projects begrudgingly. You don’t want to burden your new change management office with any other group’s troubled past.

The Bottom Line

Change management is an emerging discipline that is still finding its way in many organizations. In order to identify the best home for it within your organization, the above factors are worth considering.

In the case of one nonprofit organization, the answer to location was “none of the above.” Instead, a new organization was created that rolled up directly into the senior leader’s operations. This new department had leadership support, was empowered to do what was needed without the baggage of past failures, and was able to create its own identity.

Assess your organization. Understand your vision, culture and abilities. Be open to what really works, even if it runs counter to status quo expectations. Finding the right home for your change management office will go a long way to ensuring its success.