Change Management

Change management is the discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes. While all changes are unique and all individuals are unique, decades of research shows there are actions we can take to influence people in their individual transitions. Change management provides a structured approach for supporting the individuals in your organization to move from their own current states to their own future states.[1]

Change Management is effectively leading an individual, team or organization through change. Action and change take place at an individual level - defining each role, recruiting the right person, expert or leader - orienting and preparing each person for their role; calibrating each contribution so that it leads to team success. Moving from the current to the future state requires marrying both the technical and people sides of change.[2]

What is Change Management
Figue 1. source: Tekara

Change Management Types

Different Types of Change Management[3]
To first wrap your head around change management models, it’s important to distinguish change as occurring in three distinct categories. By breaking the large subject of change into small subsets of change it immediately becomes more manageable.

  • Individual Change Management: People are the root of all change. You can change systems and procedures, but if you don’t address the human in the room, then you’re not changing anything. To get people to change, you must know your subject. What do they need to hear to become open to change? How and when should training be offered to help them with the transition? The tools of this trade are psychological; even neuroscience can help with finding the right angle to steer a person from one behavior to another more productive one.
  • Organizational Change Management: While the people on your team are the core target to effect change, there are also larger, more organizational issues you must address if you want to create real change in a project. To do so requires first identifying the groups that require change and how they must change. Then, create a plan that addresses these components of the project, which includes making everyone aware of the change, leading that change through coaching or some other method like training, and then driving that change in congress with the management of the whole project.
  • Enterprise Change Management: Taking a step up from the organizational change is to address the entire enterprise. It’s basically taking change management writ large to encompass all aspects of an organization, meaning roles, structure, process, projects, leadership, etc. By approaching change on the macro-level you’re more likely to implement change on the micro-level, as a strategic engagement with change has been applied to the very workings of the organization. It creates a nimbler organization, able to stay flexible and adapt quickly to changes as they occur.

Change Management Model

Elements of a Change Management Model[4]
Figure 1 depicts the elements of a change model and the sequence in which they occur.

Change Management Model
Figure 2. source: ASQ

In the center of the change management model figure, all changes move from the current state, through a transition phase, and into the desired improvement state.

  • In the beginning, it is important to create, or affirm, a broadly understood need for the change (creating a shared need)
  • It is equally important to create and share an idea of what the outcome will look like (shaping a vision)
  • Throughout the change effort, there must always be sufficient resources dedicated to it (mobilizing commitment)
  • There must be a way to track the change efforts (monitoring progress)
  • A person or team must assure that the change reaches completion (finishing the job)
  • From the very beginning until the end, the change effort must have the backing of management, and leadership from an accountable person or people (leading change)

Guiding Principles for Change Management

Principles of Leading Change Management[5]
No single methodology fits every company, but there is a set of practices, tools, and techniques that can be adapted to a variety of situations.

  • Address the “human side” systematically. Any significant transformation creates “people issues.” New leaders will be asked to step up, jobs will be changed, new skills and capabilities must be developed, and employees will be uncertain and resistant. A formal approach for managing change — beginning with the leadership team and then engaging key stakeholders and leaders — should be developed early, and adapted often as change moves through the organization. This demands as much data collection and analysis, planning, and implementation discipline as does a redesign of strategy, systems, or processes. The change-management approach should be fully integrated into program design and decision making, both informing and enabling strategic direction.
  • Start at the top. Because change is inherently unsettling for people at all levels of an organization, when it is on the horizon, all eyes will turn to the CEO and the leadership team for strength, support, and direction. The leaders themselves must embrace the new approaches first, both to challenge and to motivate the rest of the institution. Executive teams that work well together are best positioned for success. They are aligned and committed to the direction of change, understand the culture and behaviors the changes intend to introduce, and can model those changes themselves.
  • Involve every layer. As transformation programs progress from defining strategy and setting targets to design and implementation, they affect different levels of the organization. Change efforts must include plans for identifying leaders throughout the company and pushing responsibility for design and implementation down, so that change “cascades” through the organization. At each layer of the organization, the leaders who are identified and trained must be aligned to the company’s vision, equipped to execute their specific mission, and motivated to make change happen.
  • Make the formal case. Individuals are inherently rational and will question to what extent change is needed, whether the company is headed in the right direction, and whether they want to commit personally to making change happen. The articulation of a formal case for change and the creation of a written vision statement are invaluable opportunities to create or compel leadership-team alignment.

Three steps should be followed in developing the case: First, confront reality and articulate a convincing need for change. Second, demonstrate faith that the company has a viable future and the leadership to get there. Finally, provide a road map to guide behavior and decision making.

  • Create ownership. Leaders of large change programs must overperform during the transformation and be the zealots who create a critical mass among the work force in favor of change. This requires more than mere buy-in or passive agreement that the direction of change is acceptable. It demands ownership by leaders willing to accept responsibility for making change happen in all of the areas they influence or control. Ownership is often best created by involving people in identifying problems and crafting solutions. It is reinforced by incentives and rewards. These can be tangible (for example, financial compensation) or psychological (for example, camaraderie and a sense of shared destiny).
  • Communicate the message. Too often, change leaders make the mistake of believing that others understand the issues, feel the need to change, and see the new direction as clearly as they do. The best change programs reinforce core messages through regular, timely advice that is both inspirational and practicable. Communications flow in from the bottom and out from the top, and are targeted to provide employees the right information at the right time and to solicit their input and feedback.
  • Assess the cultural landscape. Successful change programs pick up speed and intensity as they cascade down, making it critically important that leaders understand and account for culture and behaviors at each level of the organization. Companies often make the mistake of assessing culture either too late or not at all. Thorough cultural diagnostics can assess organizational readiness to change, bring major problems to the surface, identify conflicts, and define factors that can recognize and influence sources of leadership and resistance. These diagnostics identify the core values, beliefs, behaviors, and perceptions that must be taken into account for successful change to occur. They serve as the common baseline for designing essential change elements, such as the new corporate vision, and building the infrastructure and programs needed to drive change.
  • Address culture explicitly. Once the culture is understood, it should be addressed as thoroughly as any other area in a change program. Leaders should be explicit about the culture and underlying behaviors that will best support the new way of doing business, and find opportunities to model and reward those behaviors. This requires developing a baseline, defining an explicit end-state or desired culture, and devising detailed plans to make the transition.
  • Prepare for the unexpected. No change program goes completely according to plan. People react in unexpected ways; areas of anticipated resistance fall away; and the external environment shifts. Effectively managing change requires continual reassessment of its impact and the organization’s willingness and ability to adopt the next wave of transformation. Fed by real data from the field and supported by information and solid decision-making processes, change leaders can then make the adjustments necessary to maintain momentum and drive results.
  • Speak to the individual. Change is both an institutional journey and a very personal one. People spend many hours each week at work; many think of their colleagues as a second family. Individuals (or teams of individuals) need to know how their work will change, what is expected of them during and after the change program, how they will be measured, and what success or failure will mean for them and those around them. Team leaders should be as honest and explicit as possible. People will react to what they see and hear around them, and need to be involved in the change process. Highly visible rewards, such as promotion, recognition, and bonuses, should be provided as dramatic reinforcement for embracing change. Sanction or removal of people standing in the way of change will reinforce the institution’s commitment.

Change Management Process

3 Phase Change Management Process[6]
The change management process is the sequence of steps or activities that a change management team or project leader follow to apply change management to a change in order to drive individual transitions and ensure the project meets its intended outcomes. The below elements have been identified from research as key elements of a successful change management process.

Change Management Process
Figure 3. source: Prosci

From a process perspective, change management is the set of steps followed by a team member on a particular project or initiative. For the given transformational effort, it is the strategy and set of plans focused on moving people through the change.

  • Preparing for change (where readiness assessments help guide the formulation of a strategy)
  • Managing change (where five change management plans integrate into the project plan)
  • Reinforcing change (where compliance audits and mechanisms deploy to cement the change)

Successful Change Management

Factors of successful change management[7]
Successful change management is more likely to occur if the following are included:

  • Define measurable stakeholder aims and create a business case for their achievement (which should be continuously updated)
  • Monitor assumptions, risks, dependencies, costs, return on investment, dis-benefits and cultural issues
  • Effective communication that informs various stakeholders of the reasons for the change (why?), the benefits of successful implementation (what is in it for us, and you) as well as the details of the change (when? where? who is involved? how much will it cost? etc.)
  • Devise an effective education, training and/or skills upgrading scheme for the organization
  • Counter resistance from the employees of companies and align them to overall strategic direction of the organization
  • Provide personal counseling (if required) to alleviate any change-related fears
  • Monitoring implementation and fine-tuning as and when required

Some Change Management Models

3 Change Management Models[8]
Change is hard as-is. There’s no need to go in blind when you can follow the change management models that have been developed and proven by experts.

  • The ADKAR Model

“ADKAR” is an acronym that represents a successful change management process in terms of the phases your employees will go through along the way: It stands for:

  • Awareness of the need for change.
  • Desire to implement change.
  • Knowledge of what must be done to achieve successful change.
  • Ability to implement the new way of working.
  • Reinforcement of the new methods by continuing to implement them in the longer term.

For a successful change management process, you’ll have to lead your employees through each step.

  • Lewin’s Change Management Model

According to Lewin, we can sum up change management by seeing it as a process consisting of three phases:

  • Unfreeze: A block of ice has a fixed shape. Just as you would melt ice if you wanted to form it into a new shape, so you need to “unfreeze” people’s mindsets out of the old way of doing things. Again, it comes down to recognizing the need and being willing to try something new.
  • Change: Now that people are ready to change, you can begin with implementation. But there will be pressures and unforeseen difficulties. Now is the time when your people need lots of support to help them get the change right.
  • Freeze: The hectic implementation phase is over. You have made any necessary adjustments to your plans, and you are ready to finalize the new “shape” of your business. The “new” way of doing things is now the way they will always be done.
  • The Kubler-Ross Five-Stage Model or Change Curve

This model differs from the others and deals primarily with the feelings of your employees as they go through a change process. Understanding this model will help you to be ready for their reactions as you embark on and finally complete your change process.

  • Denial: “No! We don’t need to change!”
  • Anger: “After all these years, I hear I have to change! It makes me angry!”
  • Depression: “I see that change is inevitable. I am sad that everything will be different now and I feel insecure and a little frightened.”
  • Bargaining: “Can’t we keep just this or that thing the same as it was before?”
  • Acceptance: “I will try this change, and I will do my best to make it work.”

The Challenges of Change Management

Why is change management difficult?[9]

  • Change management is not deterministic. Unlike computer programs, people can be unpredictable and illogical. Organization Change Management (OCM) activities that are effective with one group may be ineffective with another. Messages may resonate with some people but not with others.
  • Change management is a contact sport. The OCM team needs to interact one on one with individuals who will need to change. Emails, videos, and other mass communication can reinforce a message, but these don’t make people feel the enterprise cares about their difficulties. Change is personal; sometimes people whose jobs have been transformed need someone else to listen to their frustrations before they will accept the new reality.
  • Midlevel and frontline staff must be engaged. Midlevel and frontline staff can make or break a major program. Since they understand the operational details of the current processes, they can anticipate potential problems and likely customer reactions. Individuals who are not sensitive to the disruption that major change can create often believe it is more efficient to involve fewer people early in the process. While involving more people in the change process creates additional work for the OCM team, it also builds commitment. Midlevel and frontline staff who see their suggestions accepted are more likely to support the final result.
  • Cultural differences can make OCM difficult. Cultural norms are different around the globe. The OCM effort needs to be aware of local customs even with a global system intended to standardize enterprise operations. Care needs to be taken to be sensitive to these and other cultural norms:
    • Communications style. Denmark, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, and U.S. are very direct. India, Japan, Pakistan, and the Philippines tend to be indirect and believe it is very important for both parties to save face. In these cultures, individuals avoid saying no, and frequently mean, “I understand” rather than “I agree” when they say “yes.”
    • Time orientation. Meetings in Germany, Switzerland, and the U.S. start and end when scheduled. Little time is dedicated to introductions, even when some attendees are meeting each other for the first time. Spain, Thailand, Brazil, and the Caribbean are less concerned about time. Things can wait until later in the day or even tomorrow. In such countries it is impolite to rush into a business discussion; only after the host and the visitor have shared refreshments and pleasantries can business begin.
    • Egalitarianism. Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, U.S. have little hierarchy with almost everyone on a first-name basis. Conversely, hierarchy is very important in India, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other countries. Junior staff in these countries invariably defer to the senior person.

Violating cultural norms can cause great resentment. The best OCM teams are very sensitive to local cultural norms even when the people at headquarters demand a standard project rollout and standard OCM program globally.

  • Change management may be an afterthought. With major IT efforts, the project team is often consumed by business process changes, interfaces to other systems, data cleanup, etc. If the OCM effort is not started concurrently with the rest of the program, it may only be started when the program team experiences resistance from end users. Even enterprises that assert that OCM is critical sometime reduce or eliminate the OCM budget if the overall program gets too expensive.
  • Change management can be started too early. The OCM effort needs to be tightly coupled to the rest of the change program. This is particularly difficult with major IT programs when the OCM efforts begin before new system details have been finalized. In the absence of tangible information about the new system, the OCM team either sounds vague or describes what they hope the new system will do. When the new system fails to materialize quickly or has less functionality than anticipated, supporters often become disillusioned.
  • OCM and the change program may be disconnected. The rational and emotional cases for change need to be integrated tightly. Frequently, executives communicate a rational, logical case for change that lacks emotional appeal. People respond to calls to action that make them feel they are part of something that is more important than any single person and are energized by visions that capture their hearts as well as their minds.

Change Management Benefits

Benefits of Change Management for the Organization:[10]

  • Change is a planned and managed process. The benefits of the change are known before implementation and serve as motivators and assessment of progress
  • The organization can respond faster to customer demands benefits of change management employee
  • Helps to align existing resources within the organization
  • Change management allows the organization to assess the overall impact of a change
  • Change can be implemented without negatively effecting the day to day running of business
  • Organizational effectiveness and efficiency is maintained or even improved by acknowledging the concerns of staff
  • The time needed to implement change is reduced
  • The possibility of unsuccessful change is reduced
  • Employee performance increases when staff feel supported and understand the change process
  • Increased customer service and effective service to clients from confident and knowledgeable employees
  • Change management provides a way to anticipate challenges and respond to these efficiently
  • An effective change management process lowers the risk associated with change
  • Managed costs of change: change management helps to contain costs associated with the change
  • Increased return on investment (ROI)
  • Creates an opportunity for the development of "best practices", leadership development, and team development

See Also

Organizational Change
Organizational Culture
Organization Design
Return on Investment (ROI)
Corporate Strategy


  1. Definition: What Does Change Management Mean? Prosci
  2. What is Change Management Annette Martell
  3. What are the Different Types of Change Management? Project Manager
  4. Elements of a Change Management Model
  5. 10 Principles of Leading Change Management Strategy+Business
  6. Elements of the Change Management Process Prosci
  7. Factors of successful change management Wikipedia
  8. 3 Change Management Models Tallyfy
  9. Why is change management difficult?
  10. Benefits of Change Management for the Organization: CGC

Further Reading