A stakeholder assessment, during times of organizational change, is a great way to identify and capitalize on key people and influencers within your organization. Being able to gather commitment and desire to change from these key influencers can do wonderful things to the effectiveness of an organization to change overall by monitoring change impact.

These key influencers, also referred to here as stakeholders, are the people who become mission-critical to the success of change implementation. Assessing the impact of change on these people is a useful practice to uncover barriers to change, resistance from employees, and the overall impact that change will have on your organization in terms of operational duties.

When creating this stakeholder assessment, it is a useful practice to begin your assessment by analyzing the impact change will have on the end-user. The end-user will likely be the person at the lowest level of the organizational hierarchy who will be affected by this change. It is the most operational, day-to-day, aspect of organizational change.

For example, consider I run a retail organization that will require updated ERP systems. The end-user will likely be the employees in my stores who utilize these systems to aid customers in their day to day tasks. I would then begin my assessment by monitoring or predicting the impact that change has on them, and how it may affect others.

The importance of doing this is revealed as you travel from operational tiers of management (employees) to strategic tiers of management (executives). After all, every organization does not function solely as a hierarchy, rather, most organizations are really a well-integrated web of relationships.

Once you have identified the end-user, follow their methods of communication and various “touches” to any and everyone else in your organization. Doing this will allow you to assume the impact that change has which is secondary (communicated) by the end-user themselves.

Change causes ripples to occur in this way. Changing the nature of one tier of management will inevitably result in a change to others. It is your job to assess this change, find your key stakeholders, and monitor the impact of change based on the following key points that I have laid out here for you!

Step 1: Create a Change Impact Hypothesis

Creating a change impact hypothesis will allow you to assume the generic and overall impact that change has on every stakeholder, that is, everyone who is affected by the change efforts.

A hypothesis becomes one of the most important parts of consulting because it allows consultants to focus first on the largest parts of an issue, the parts that make most of the difference. This benefit is recognized by anyone who creates a change hypothesis regarding impact.

The Pareto Principle states that 20% of your action can cause 80% of the results. Therefore, when you create a change-impact hypothesis (as to how the change will affect your organization) you must focus mainly on the operational duties that provide the bulk of value to your organization.

It is beneficial to create a change hypothesis for every single hierarchical tier within your organization. Refer to this picture.

In this case, a “system” as you see in the picture is what I refer to as a hierarchical tier. (the structure is a cumulation of tiers) Ultimately, it is the cumulation of people that are brought together by similar practices, duties, and relationships. As you create your hypothesis, acknowledge the main tasks and duties that every affected hierarchical tier has and logically assume the way an organizational change might affect it.

This kind of hypothesis can provide useful early insight into the need for change efforts, the scale of change efforts, and the various resources (coaching, training, etc) that may be needed during the change which the organization will have to prepare.

Step 2: Break Down your Hypothesis

When I say “break down your hypothesis” I don’t mean disprove it. What I mean is that you must now take a detailed and comprehensive view of change to determine exactly how each hierarchical tier in your organization will react to change within the minutiae of their daily tasks.

For example, it is not uncommon for HR representatives of an organization to spend time reviewing and adjusting job descriptions due to the alterations that organizational change will have on its employee base. These changes will result in a shift in their daily operations and procedures. It is critical when performing a change assessment on stakeholders that you consider the opportunity costs of these shifts in procedures.

What do I mean opportunity costs? Well, many organizations attempt to implement change by adding duties to the daily procedures of their employees. This is difficult to maintain, however, because employees have become accustomed to a habitual amount of work that they are required to perform. By attempting to supplement this work, you will inevitably face varying degrees of burnout unless you consider the actions or duties that they will have to sacrifice to implement new ones.

This is why I consider immediate change a factor of opportunity costs. You will have to decide, in minutiae, just what comes and goes from the daily operations of your employees or managers. Prioritizing these key characteristics and communicating them with your stakeholders is a great way to ensure that, despite whatever issues might occur, the most important things are still being accomplished.

During difficult times in change management, when money or time is tight, the importance of setting priorities over certain operational tasks is paramount to the organization’s ability to focus on what matters. By doing this, an organization is set to maintain adaptability and competitiveness due to its prioritized focus.

Step 3: Hypothesize Secondary Impacts

Secondary change impacts are the inevitable ripples that change has throughout the organization.
Secondary change impacts are the inevitable ripples that change has throughout the organization.

After setting priorities on the main duties of your organizational tiers of management and operations, it is time to monitor the secondary impacts within your organization that change can bring to light. These secondary impacts are often the result of the unintended consequences of change, and are, by nature, difficult to diagnose beforehand.

By taking the time to ask yourself, “What can go wrong?” Most people are able to prepare despite inherent positivity or confidence. The truth is, most people don’t consider the issues or impacts that change will have on others until implementation is underway, and by that time, change must be managed quickly and efficiently, or the organization risks much more in terms of time and costs.

By considering the secondary impact (that is a result of “touches” or relationships with those primarily affected by the change) your organization develops the ability to remedy and adapt to necessary issues before the change may be in a critical state.

You can monitor these secondary impacts in the following ways.

1. Follow detailed points of contact between primary change stakeholders and their relationships with others.
2. Consider your organization in terms of departments, how will changing one affect the others?
3. Consider your organization in terms of your consumer base. How will change alter the way you provide value to them?
4. Consider your organization in terms of public image. How is this change aligned with your organizational goals or strategic vision for the future?

Following points of contact can help you get a grip on those who may be secondarily affected by change efforts, either by communicating with primary change stakeholders or through a shifted transfer of information.

Considering your organization in terms of departments allows you to compartmentalize change efforts and the way that your departments, as a whole, communicate within your organization.

Considering your organization in terms of consumers allows you to assess the impact of your business as it relates to your ability to provide value, the most important aspect of a healthy and well-received business.

And, finally, considering your organization in terms of its public image will ensure you consider change as it relates to the strategic mission and market placement.

Step 4: Assess the Severity of Change Impacts

Once priorities, roles, impacts, and secondary impacts have been analyzed, it’s time to consider the actual severity of the impact change may have on people within your organization.

Impact-severity will be a function of complexity and coverage. Complexity and Coverage are the ways in which you can measure change-impact severity as it relates to employee’s job descriptions, duties, and organizational roles.

For example, a change that affects a large majority of employees, but simplifies their workload may be deemed low in terms of complexity but high in terms of coverage. This is because the simplicity of new procedures leaves little for employees to have to adjust to, yet the full scope of coverage requires them to alter most of their previous operational duties.

You can use these two measures of change severity to analyze the full scope of change among all organizational tiers as well! For example, complexity, in this case, is a result of secondary change efforts, unintended consequences, and the nature of the new procedures or systems to be more complex or simple.

Coverage, in terms of organizational impact, can refer to the spread of change among organizational levels, between departments, or the widespread secondary changes as a result.

The overall impact is the combination of complexity and coverage to determine the nature of the change impact over the scope of the entire organization. Being able to gauge the overall impact is necessary for determining the scale of change effort and resources needed to enforce change from the get-go.

Conclusion

Change impact assessments are a useful and necessary part of the change process. Properly performing a change impact assessment on the stakeholders for change is a great way to determine how the change will impact your organization in terms of procedures and operations.

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-Austin Denison is a change management consultant from Southern California and founder/CEO of Denison Success Systems LLC. He is the author of The Essential Change Management Guidebook: Master The Art of Organizational Change as well as The Potential Dichotomy: The Philosophy of a Fulfilling Life.