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How to Win at Organizational Change Management in 2022

Organizational change management (OCM) strategy, design, and execution—buzz words that now garner a new respect level from growth-focused companies.     

For good reason. Companies in the U.S. are still contending with issues surrounding workforce scarcity and the Great Resignation, as well as global market pressures and continued merger and acquisition activity. These external variables are prompting companies to initiate large-scale tech transformations and personnel reorganizations to help keep them competitive.    

Propeller wants all change managers to be successful. For initiatives to stick and create sustained business benefits, your people need to buy in. For inherently difficult and complex organizational changes like bringing on new VPs, merging or eliminating departments, a cultural overhaul, or the introduction of a new enterprise-wide performance evaluation system—you need an approach that makes it possible to move your people from where they are—to where you’d like them to be. Especially critical since all those employees were not involved in the strategy and planning of the change. It is effectively news to them. That’s a leap—and you can help them make it.

How a Change Cohort Program Can Be Your Power Play   

Over the past two years, Propeller has partnered with a growing list of Fortune 500 companies to help them assess the level of change management (CM) needed and guide them through the implementation and governance of that change.

If the strategy involves reorganizations that necessitate role shifts, management reorganizations, operational or technology process transformations, or enterprise-wide skill and capability initiatives, for example, we often use a Change Cohort Program. The power of this program lies in how it combines a clear stakeholder and communications structure with a highly engaging employee behavioral change approach. This tandem strategy helps every level of employee move through the transformation with less friction, increased productivity, and faster results.  

In this first blog in the series, we look at how you can use an optimal Change Cohort Program when initiating change with significant organizational realignment outcomes.

In our second blog, we cover how to marry your Change Cohort Program with a set of tried-and-true behavioral science best practices to help you ensure change management success.           

“How you go about your reorg is as important as—and sometimes more important than—what you do.” - Harvard Business Review, Getting Reorgs Right  

The Change Cohort Program Unpacked   

A change cohort is a temporary group of cross-functional experts brought together to advance the changes at a local level. Outside of change management, they are often referred to as Tiger Teams. While the concept of using change cohorts, a governance structure that enables a thoughtful strategic and tactical execution through the change, is not novel—it is powerful. And results-producing. 

Here is what a sample framework could look like. Below we describe the four best practices you can take to create your own program for your organization.   

Change Cohort Program Structure

First, determine if you are a change cohort candidate

This is important pre-work because it helps you assess the complexity and magnitude of your end goal. It’s also where you determine whether you have leadership alignment around even developing a change cohort. Use the questions below to help guide your need for a Change Cohort Program and determine whether it makes sense to advocate for the requisite leadership and project sponsor support. 

  • Does the change affect a broad set of stakeholders?
  • Is the general tenor toward the change neutral or negative?
  • Is the impact of change varied across teams and functions?
  • Would the CM approach be similar enough across teams and functions?
  • Do you have change champions already engaged as advocates?  
  • Does your overall impact assessment signal this as a medium or high-impact change? 

If “yes” is the answer to most of these questions, then a change cohort approach can help you land the change successfully.

Define the work to be done

Imagine you have the approval to proceed. Next, you’ll want to garner leadership alignment around the work to be done and the workstreams needed to get you there. Ask yourself, what should the change cohort help facilitate? Cohorts should act as liaisons and serve as connectors to the broader project team, as well as the folks on the ground who are dealing with the change.

  • This strategic workstream assessment involves a closer examination of critical factors, potentially including: 
  • Teaming and onboarding initiatives
  • New processes required
  • The identification of desired employee capabilities
  • Project and knowledge management transitions
  • Work culture changes needed to optimize the change 

From this work, you choose the workstreams that each cohort is responsible for owning. For example, in the model above, we include:

  • Ways of working
  • Learning and development
  • Change management
  • Business transition planning 

Choose your local change cohort team

With that centralization of workstreams established, each stream is then assigned an owner. This is where cohorts come into play. Each function or team within the organization should have its own cohort, with a senior leader as the cohort captain. Captains from each function attend weekly meetings to help align the efforts of the workstream owners. They also serve as the champion, enabler, and communicator of that work to their local cohort team members.

Other valuable team members include, for example, HR partners, functional leaders (inclusive of those in both the old and new organization), and subject matter experts who were involved in your company’s strategic organizational design effort. When making these selections it’s important to recognize that this work is in addition to their regular daytime job. Creating clear expectations and aligning on the time investment required are important steps during team formation.


Execute cohort best practices

Once organized, cohorts must be effectively project managed. This involves setting up and aligning on communication cadence, shared expectations, feedback mechanisms, roles and responsibilities, and reporting. The effort also determines the frequency and sequence of the captain, workstream owner, and local cohorts' meetings—including the tactical implementation of key transition activities.   

Due to the matrixed nature of this setup and the involvement of lots of stakeholders, knowledge management becomes critical. Maintaining a savvy database, organizing communications, creating a weekly scorecard and report-out, and prioritizing workstreams are all vital for getting the most value out of cohorts.  

How following this cohort program approach sets you up for success   

You are building change muscle. Through a Cohort Program approach, you are creating an influential multiplier effect around future reorganizations. This is because your cohorts are now equipped to act as a central body for providing change support for change communications, facilitation best practices, and teaming strategies, to name a few. You are building up your change muscle and training leaders at the same time.

You are deploying trusted agents. Change cohorts are an advantage because they offer a trusted, flexible, and personal influence for change. In other words, it’s not the program's change manager relaying important change information down the ranks, it is the leader of respective teams communicating important messaging to their people. This program essentially enables leaders to enable their teams—increasing change adoption. 

You can pivot as you learn. Conversely, change cohorts can return on-the-ground, frontline feedback up to the central project team. This is essential in making sure the pace and impact of the change matches the capability of leaders and teams to deliver it. Consider it a vital temperature check; a reliable gauge that can help you iterate as needed to keep the momentum going.    

Read our next blog in this series: Using Behavioral Science to Impact Org TransformationIn it, we offer tips for how to layer the Change Cohort Program with behavioral heuristics in a way that can accelerate change. Propeller was invited to present at this year’s ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals) Global Connect on the same topic.

Propeller Consulting partners with companies before a reorganization, during, and following implementation. Reach out to us today and let us know how we can help you meet your reorganization goals.