How to write a change management strategy

A change strategy or a change plan? What’s the difference and which do I need?

This is a common query when it comes to managing business change, and an important, if often overlooked element to spend time on. Ultimately change strategy and plan are interchangeable terms and many people will use them to denote the same thing.

However, there is a useful delineation to make here, particularly for significant transformation programmes.

A change strategy sets out the overarching approach you are going to deploy when it comes to managing change and should provide:

  • A digestible overview of your approach to managing the change in terms of the principles you’ll be led by, the context and requirements of the business, the likely impacts, and your proposed change activity
  • A high-level timeline describing the core phases of work and the outcomes delivered (usually at a phases level as opposed to week by week)
  • An initial perspective on key dependencies and risks (to be further validated as part of your detailed change plan)

You can use the model below as useful guidance as to the areas you should focus on when writing your change strategy:

A change plan is a detailed breakdown of milestones and activities with workstreams and corresponding resource models, and should provide:

  • A detailed breakdown of the change workstreams and their respective areas of accountability
  • A comprehensive list of key milestones and the activities required to achieve them, aligned to detailed timeframes
  • A trackable plan for key stakeholders to review progress against

Your change plan can only be fully completed after change impacts are understood, and your change strategy should be a prerequisite for your change plan in that it gives you a clear sense of the direction you need to head in, the resources you need from a change perspective, and how to complete your change impact assessment- a critical element that enables the writing of a change plan.

With most business change activity, there are things you know, or can assume from the outset, such as what’s got to be delivered and any key deadlines or timeframes, who is most likely to be impacted by the changes, and the biggest risks or challenges the business will need to overcome in making the changes successful. Your change strategy is a way of capturing all of this key information upfront in order to:

  1. Align key stakeholders on the challenge ahead to ensure leaders are on the same page
  2. Help you understand the effort and capability needed from a resource planning perspective for your change team
  3. Inform detailed change planning activity, particularly your change impact assessment- as per above, you cannot write a detailed plan until you’ve understood all the impacts fully

The key difference between your change strategy and plan is that your strategy ultimately informs your detailed change plan in that it provides a useful, indicative view of the type of change activity you’ll need, the effort and investment required from the business, and the likely impacts. From here you can write an effective change plan.

Do I need both?

For significant transformation, both a change strategy and a plan are advisable, as your strategy is a great way of engaging key stakeholders in conversations upfront which help you to validate what your change plan is likely to need to include. At the beginning of large-scale programmes of change, a change strategy also allows the change team to bring something of value to the table from the beginning- something that has often been a challenge when other programme workstreams are deep into design and the change team are potentially struggling to add value (yet!). The change strategy allows the change team to share an initial view of what’s likely to be required, which has the added bonus of engaging other workstreams to input and understand where they might need to feed in as things progress to detailed planning.

For tactical, smaller-scale change you can most likely just move straight to the creation of your change plan, with a light-touch change impact assessment and limited need for significant leadership alignment upfront. However, the real answer to this question will very much depend on your business context.  

For easy to use and accessible, change management training, resources and templates, visit Change Proud:

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