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11 Insights for Managing Change Better

5th February 2015 | Mike Green

The initial challenge for us all is to realise that managing change is not that easy. We can see here that many change efforts fail to deliver.

For example, one research study looking at IT projects concluded:

  •          28% are abandoned before completion
  •          46% are behind schedule or over budget
  •          80% are not used in the way they were intended to be or not used at all six months after installation

And the impact on people can be quite dramatic leaving people frustrated, anxious, confused, fatigued … and that’s when the projects are seen as successful!

1. Lessons Learned

The first trap starts before you even begin the change. Let's go back to your previous projects. Who captures the lessons learned in a post-project review? If you are good change or project managers I am sure you do. However how many people actually review or refer to those at the beginning of the next project? In one recent group of twenty delegates no one did. In a second group of twenty, one person actually did.

Now we know the type of change and the context might be different, but I would encourage you to retrieve the learnings. It can give you insight not only to how to approach the change but also valuable information about the process, the organizational culture, the different stakeholders involved. Of course how you capture lessons learned is important and says something about your organizational culture of learning – the use of technology for archiving and retrieval or the enabling of real time communication.

2. Start Earlier, Finish Later

The next point is to differentiate between managing the project and managing the change, and to recognise that managing the change needs to start before the project begins and continue through to after the project ends. The project might be the systems implementation, the organizational restructure, the office move. The change is the human side – readying the people, moving them into a new way of doing things and ensuring this is embedded into the culture after ‘go live’.

3. Conscious Change

This next point highlights the research I did into effective change management. I looked at seven different organizations – different sectors, different sizes, different changes, different contexts – all of whom had been acknowledged as managing change well, either through external audit or assessment or internal survey and review.

I found that successful change needed all of the following:

  •          A clear rationale and compelling reason to change
  •          A clear direction, end point and motivation for change
  •          A clear sense of how the process will be managed
  •          On-going visible sponsorship
  •          Demonstrable engagement with stakeholders
  •          A credible effective dedicated change management team
  •          A well planned & organized approach
  •          On-going, focused, tailored communication of direction and progress

Attention to:

  •          Task
  •          Process
  •          People
  •          Integration of the changes into fabric of the organization

4. Framework for Change

There are many models or frameworks for change in the literature and practitioner websites. I would encourage you to explore a number of frameworks – some more detailed than others. An agreed upon framework for change will assist in a number of ways:

– It requires discussion beforehand between some of the key players – perhaps the change team, the sponsor, the senior management;

– It is the framework through which you and stakeholders can make sense of the change and focus your attention on;

– It signals seriousness, professionalism and the prospect of capability; and

– It generates a common language for communication across the organization.

5. Readiness for Change

This piece of research focuses on some of the perceptions which staff have when entering the change process. The more they are convinced of each of these, the more likely the change will be deemed to be successful.

They need to know that:

  •          The change is necessary
  •          The change is implementable
  •          The change is going to be organizationally beneficial
  •          That the leaders are truly committed to the change
  •          The change personally beneficial
  •          Managers and staff are in it together

6. Sponsorship

Visible, demonstrable sponsorship is key to successful change management. Someone who has sufficient power and authority to address any issues which arise during the change is crucial. A sponsor as part of the governance structure is obviously important.

However there are also other aspects:

– Kotter’s Powerful Guiding Coalition is another way of saying that an overseeing individual or group is key; and

– Prosci’s research suggests that both the CEO and the local line manager have a part to play in communication and management of change

7. Mobilisation & Communication

Stakeholder management as we all know is key, but often, if the change is treated like a project then the task focus can sometimes win out at the expense of the people focus. The greater the sophistication of the stakeholder identification, mapping and strategy the more time and effort is needed to communicate. Tailored communication to address specific stakeholder requirements is essential, with a preference for it being two way and ‘richer’ rather than shallow, unless the stakeholders themselves only require minimal communication.

8. Transition

This highlights the fact that change happens ‘one person at a time’ and in reality we need to focus on not just the external tangible change but individuals’ psychological reorientation or Transition, in response to the change. In addition to individuals experiencing what can be a rollercoaster of emotions, the organization needs to recognise that before people can move forward they need to experience the ending of the old status quo. And of course psychological reorientation doesn’t happen overnight (unlike a system going live, or a new structure put in place). People will experience a period of time where the old certainties have gone and the new way of working hasn’t yet been fully established. This is Bridges’ ‘neutral zone’. This is a period of not knowing before the changes can be really embedded.

9. Resistance

We haven’t got time to fully explore resistance to change, though implementing some of the key messages already mentioned will go a long way to reducing resistance. Some key points are that it pays to know the advantages and disadvantages that the change brings to individuals and groups, and also to recognise that different personalities experience and respond to change in different ways and at different paces. The more you can enable people to learn how to step into the new way of doings things and reduce their fear, the smoother it will be. And always remember, those people you label resistant to change might have valuable advice and feedback for you – so protect those voices from below.

10. Leadership

We have already mentioned sponsorship but I would also like to mention the sorts of things that leaders need to be doing during times of change and the roles that are necessary for them to play. They need to focus on what needs to change and create some discomfort around them; they need to have developed a well-thought through plan; they need to be able to articulate a vision of the future and engage people’s hearts and minds. They have to be able to spot and align different interest groups and connect their agendas to the overall change agenda. And finally they need to maintain focussed attention on delivering this change before flying off to initiate other changes.

11. Integration

It is important not to declare victory too soon. The reality is that change management (as opposed to project management) can take longer than you think. So it is useful for you to be able to answer the following questions:

  •          Are the systems, structures, staff, strategy, etc all aligned?
  •          Have the necessary connections been made between the different parts of the organisation?
  •          Are there on-going effective monitoring and evaluation processes and feedback loops in place?
  •          In what ways have the changes become business-as-usual and what is still left to do?

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