Change Management WalkMe TeamOctober 29, 2020

The Mega-Guide to Change Management: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need

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The Mega-Guide to Change Management: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need

In this mega-guide to change management, we will cover everything there is to know about this business discipline, including basic definitions, change management models, best practices, and much more.

Organizational change, as many people know, has become common and necessary in today’s fast-paced economy.

To successfully implement change, however, it is important to take a structured approach to change management.

Below, we will cover everything there is to know about change management, including:

  • What change management is
  • Why change management is important
  • Enterprise change management
  • Change management principles, strategies, and best practices
  • Do’s and don’ts of change management
  • The most widely used change management models
  • The future of change management

To start off, we’ll cover the most important definitions and ideas related to change management (but feel free to skip ahead if these are already familiar).

Table of Contents hide

Change Management 101: Key Definitions and Concepts

Here is a high-level overview of change management and its role in the modern organization:

The Definition of Change Management

When discussing the definition of change management, it is important to understand a few basic concepts, beginning with change management itself:

  • Change management. Change management is the management discipline dedicated to designing, organizing, implementing, managing, and optimizing organizational changes.
  • Organizational change. An organizational change refers to any change intentionally undertaken by a business for a specific purpose, such as improving performance or reducing inefficiency.
  • Organizational transformation. An organizational transformation refers to a series of interdependent organizational changes that transform an organization from top to bottom.
  • Change model. Change models are, in most cases, step-by-step frameworks that managers can use to roadmap change projects, overcome barriers to change, and improve outcomes.
  • Enterprise change management. Enterprise change management refers to an organization’s change management capability, which can be either nonexistent or standardized and advanced.
  • Change leadership. Change leaders are responsible for envisioning a change, creating change stories, leading by example, and driving a change program forward.

Later, we will cover all of these topics in greater detail.

Before we look at change management, though, it pays to understand what organizational change is and why companies choose to invest in change.

Why Organizations Change

Organizational changes, like all business programs, are designed to further the organization’s strategic agenda.

Here are a few examples of why organizations change:

  • Pursuit of growth opportunities. The global economy has been evolving rapidly for several years now, and it will continue to do so for some time to come. While such a disruptive environment can present a number of difficulties to slow-moving organizations, those who pursue growth opportunities can become leaders. In this type environment, however, pursuing such opportunities often requires change.
  • Increase organizational performance. Organizational performance can always be improved, but significant improvements often require significant change. Performance-focused improvements can include a wide range of measures, such as digitization, software adoption, business process redesign, and product innovation.
  • Keeping up with competitors. The competitive landscape is constantly changing, so organizations must continually evolve in order to keep up. If new software becomes the standard for an industry, for instance, those who don’t adapt will be at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Improving the workplace. More and more, business leaders are beginning to realize the value of creating a positive employee experience. Among other things, better workplaces experiences improve employee productivity, innovation, and engagement, while reducing negative metrics such as turnover.

In short, there are a number of reasons that can compel organizations to adopt new changes, yet all of those are in some way supportive of the organization’s strategy.

Types of Organizational Change

Organizational can be categorized differently depending on the source.

One of the most basic ways to break down organizational change is by dividing them into changes that affect three areas:

  • People. Organizational changes that affect people can include organizational culture change, changes to workflows or the workplace, upskilling programs, restructuring, changes targeting the employee experience, and so forth. Changes that affect people can also include customer-centered changes, such as changes to products, services, marketing, and the customer experience.
  • Processes. A great many change projects affect business processes, protocols, and procedures. The implementation of new software, for instance, will often involve changes to existing processes and procedures.
  • Tools and infrastructure. The adoption of new technology is one example of organizational changes that revolve around tools, systems, and infrastructure. As with the other changes covered here, initiatives that affect tools and infrastructure will affect many other areas of the company, including people and processes.

In summary, organizational changes will often focus around a specific area, but they will often ripple out to impact other areas of the organization as well.

To streamline these changes, it is necessary to take a structured approach to change management.

Why Change Management Is Important

Change management, as mentioned above, is the management discipline dedicated to coordinating and executing change projects. When implementing change projects, it is not only a good idea to manage change, it is often necessary.

There are several reasons to invest in change management:

  • Managed change projects outperform unmanaged ones. Perhaps the most compelling reason to invest in change management is that change management improves the performance, efficiency, and outcomes of change efforts.
  • Change management decreases the failure rate of change programs. Organizational changes are not always successful, and a great many of them fail either partially or completely. Change management reduces the risk of failure by, among other things, tackling the most common obstacles that hinder change and bolstering change programs’ strong points.
  • Managed projects cost less and take less time. Effective change management can reduce errors and inefficiencies, which tend to crop up more frequently if change management principles are not applied consistently.
  • Employees are less likely to resist change. Change can often be difficult, time-consuming, and taxing for employees. As a result, many will resist change, which can reduce productivity and performance. In a worst case scenario, that resistance can even doom a change project. Change managers know this and take proactive steps to ensure that employees have the right tools, skills, and mindsets they need to drive change forward.

Today, continual change has become the norm, making change management more important than ever.

In fact, one could even argue that change management confers a competitive advantage.

The Human Side of Change

Change management places a heavy emphasis on the human element. After all, employees are the ones who must enact change and drive it forward, so it is only natural that managers should earn their support as much as possible.

Most change management models, therefore, focus heavily on areas such as:

  • Communicating with employees effectively. Communication, as well as other soft skills, are essential to successfully driving change. Since employees are the ones who must drive change, as mentioned above, change managers use communication strategies to understand employees’ needs, boost engagement, and improve productivity.
  • Boosting employee engagement and motivation. While communication plays a crucial role in engaging and motivating employees, it is not the only factor to pay attention to. Engagement also depends on factors such as skills, tools, workflows, and the work environment. Change managers often work closely with other stakeholders to find multiple strategies for improving engagement.
  • Identifying and overcoming obstacles. There are always a number of barriers to change, which can include everything from employee resistance to budget constraints to logistical problems. Change managers proactively address these issues which, if left unchecked, can do serious harm to a change program.
  • Skills training. Employee training and upskilling programs are common features in many organizational change programs. Adopting new digital tools, for instance, often goes hand-in-hand with organizational changes, especially in today’s digital economy. In the years ahead, as the technological revolution progresses, the need for employee training will only become more pronounced.

Incorporating these elements into a change strategy can significantly boost employee productivity and performance. Maximizing employee support can also significantly reduce negative emotions, such as fear, which can lead to resistance and disengagement.

The Organizational Side of Change Management

Employee support is certainly crucial, but it is critical to understand and focus on the organizational side of change.

Change managers will therefore need to work closely with stakeholders to:

  • Ensure that change projects meet the organization’s strategic goals. Every change program has a set of measurable goals and objectives. To the best of their ability, change managers must ensure that those objectives are met. This involves not only the management of employees, but also other change management objectives, such as business process design, restructuring, and software implementation.
  • Allocate resources, develop budgets, and outline project timelines. Change managers will also work closely with relevant parties, such as business leaders and department heads, to keep initiatives on track and on budget. Like project managers, they must coordinate communications and juggle resources to ensure that deadlines are met and the project proceeds smoothly.
  • Develop a change management strategy. Organizational changes are strategic initiatives that support an organization’s overall strategy. Yet at the same time, change managers must create strategies designed to maximize the performance of a change effort itself. For instance, a change manager may create a communication strategy designed to motivate employees and a digital adoption strategy designed to improve digital literacy.
  • Review outcomes and institute change. Only through the continual review of change programs can managers learn what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve in the future. Therefore, many modern change managers take a data-driven approach and continually evaluate their efforts, both during and after a program has completed.

Change management, in short, is a hybrid discipline that must take into account both the human element of change as well as data-driven business goals.

In the next few sections, we will cover these aspects of change management in greater detail.

Change Management: A Step-by-Step Guide to Implementing Change

So far, we have laid the foundation and learned what change management is, why it is important, and what change managers focus on.

Below, we’ll explore the change management process step-by-step and see how this process typically plays out in an enterprise setting.

Here is a general outline of the steps that organizational changes follow:

1. Assessment

Once a problem or need has been identified, change managers and stakeholders will need to learn where the organization stands. Then they will need to identify where it needs to be and understand the path that must be taken to get there.

Assessments will revolve around areas such as:

  • Change readiness. Change readiness assessments, as the term suggest, assess how capable, ready, and willing an organization is to change. These assessments look at several areas, such as employee mindsets, tools, infrastructure, processes, and any other factors that will impact an organization’s ability to change.
  • Employee skills. Workforce skills play a critical role in the performance of a change project, as we have already seen. Their skill levels will determine several things, including the starting point of a project, which training solutions should be invested in, how much outside expertise is needed, and so forth.
  • Digital maturity. Digitization and digital transformation are the drivers behind many modern change programs. An organization’s digital capabilities, therefore, will be an important consideration for most contemporary change programs, particularly those that are digital in nature.
  • Change management maturity. Change management maturity refers to how sophisticated a company’s change capabilities are. Mature change management functions have standardized change management practices that are integrated across the organization. Less mature change management functions, however, will implement change management only sporadically, if at all.
  • Financials. Budgets and financial outcomes will naturally be an important consideration when implementing change projects. Financials will help determine many aspects of the program, from the overall change strategy to choices around specific tools and programs.
  • Risk. Every investment comes with risk, including change management programs. Those risks should be assessed objectively, of course, but the risks of not changing should also be evaluated. After all, in such a dynamic environment, not changing may be riskier than investing in change.

Every project will have a unique focus, so the focus of these assessments will depend on the circumstances. This list, however, offers a glimpse of the areas that companies can focus on when starting any change project.

2. Strategy

After assessments and gap analyses have been performed, stakeholders will have a better idea of how to get from the current state to the desired “after” state.

When developing a change management strategy, stakeholders will:

  • Create an overarching approach to solving the core business need. An organization’s overall strategy will help determine the direction of the business change. If a company’s strategy revolves around digital transformation, for instance, that strategy will often dictate the type of changes it implements.
  • Design a change management strategy. While the organizational change itself plays a role in the business strategy, change managers also must create individual strategies for each change project. When choosing a change management strategy, directors must decide on a course of action that will help them implement change as effectively and efficiently as possible.
  • Develop a change vision and a change story. A vision for change paints the picture of what the organization will look like after the project has been successfully completed. The more compelling and emotionally gripping it is, the more it will capture the hearts and minds of employees. This vision can be grounded through the use of a change story, which is a narrative that describes the process of change and how it affects the workplace.
  • Clearly articulate and document the change strategies. Articulating strategies, either in a document or even a single sentence, ensures that all stakeholders understand the program’s direction. This can reduce communication problems, improve accountability, help teams stay on the same page, and more.

These strategies will act as beacons and guidelines that employees follow when implementing change.

Once the overall approach to a change initiative has been developed, then managers can move forward and transform that approach into specific tactics and plans.

3. Design

Next, change managers and stakeholders will develop actual plans, including:

  • A roadmap for change. Change plans follow a set schedule that includes deadlines, goals, milestones, and measurable objectives. These roadmaps should also include other information that change teams need to implement the program, such as a description of tasks, KPIs, and other relevant information.
  • Employee training plans. Most change projects involve the adoption of new workflows, tools, and processes. Employees, therefore, must receive sufficient training to ensure that they can gain become competent and productive as quickly as possible. For instance, a company pursuing digital transformation will implement digital training solutions such as digital adoption platforms.
  • Communication plans. Communication strategies will aim for specific goals, such as motivating employees, improving collaboration, and reducing resistance to change. Those strategies should then be turned into concrete plans that include agenda items such as meetings, email broadcasts, and so forth.
  • Guidelines and protocols. New performance expectations, business processes, and protocols will often be encoded into a reference document or an online portal. Having access to this information ensures that employees understand the change process, what is expected of them, and so forth.

As with any other business project, it is important to be specific and detailed when developing these plans. If the project scope and plan are too ill-defined, then they can cause big headaches further down the line, such as decreased productivity or miscommunications.

4. Implementation

Change managers follow a change project throughout its life cycle, from conception through implementation.

When overseeing a project’s implementation, managers focus on areas such as:

  • Meeting goals, objectives, and deadlines. Every business project, including change plans, include a set of deadlines and objectives, as mentioned above. And like project managers, change managers must work with teams to proactively ensure those goals are met, make schedule changes when needed, and coordinate team members.
  • Maintaining accountability and performance expectations. Change managers will often work closely with personnel such as department managers, team leads, HR, and training managers to maintain performance results. Since change programs involve the introduction of new skills and processes, standard accountability techniques, such as reviews, will often be mixed with training and other techniques.
  • Coordinating communication between stakeholder groups. Change programs involve multiple teams at different levels within the organization, from senior executives to frontline workers. All of these teams must work together effectively, which is why change managers must coordinate communication and guide those teams through the change process.
  • Staying agile and responsive. The agile methodology has become widespread in recent years, and it is also very relevant in change management. New data or circumstances can significantly affect a project’s trajectory, so it is important to have managers and project styles that can adapt quickly.

Generally speaking, the more closely a change initiative is monitored and managed, the better it will perform.

Another factor that can improve project implementation is the organization’s level of change management maturity, which we will discuss below.

5. Review

Reviewing a program’s performance can, as mentioned above, help managers understand what worked and what didn’t. That information, in turn, can be incorporated into and improve future change initiatives.

To actually evaluate a project’s performance, however, it is important to:

  • Take a data-driven approach to change management. Though change management is not traditionally a data-driven discipline, in recent years, data has taken a more central role. At the very least, data should be used to track the program’s performance through metrics and KPIs.
  • Create metrics and KPIs early on. All change efforts have specific aims, such as improving organizational performance. To gain granular insight into the program, it is important to quantify those goals and break them down into metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). These will provide a foundation of data that can be used to understand the program, its performance, and its bottom-line value.
  • Continually collect data and monitor the program’s performance. Once metrics and KPIs have been established, data collection mechanisms should be put into place. These can include employee surveys, software analytics, financial data, and any other source that offers insight into the target areas.
  • Analyze and learn from data, to understand what works and what doesn’t. Finally, data should be compiled and analyzed. Ideally, analyses should be performed periodically during the program, as well as upon its completion. This analysis will deepen insights and help managers understand why the program performed as it did, what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve.

In short, the more data-centric the approach – and the more actively managers collect and analyze that data – the more insight managers can gain.

6. Reinforce

Even after a change program has been completed, managers must continue to reinforce that change over the long term.

If change is not reinforced, then employees can easily slip back into old behaviors and even undo all of their accomplishments up to this point.

There are several ways to reinforce change, such as:

  • Performance reviews. Regular performance reviews are a mainstay of accountability systems. They can help reinforce changes if they are updated to match changed expectations and if extra reviews are held specifically to track post-project performance.
  • Rewards and recognition. Enthusiasm, as change management expert John Kotter points out, is key to earning employee support and maintaining momentum. It is also an excellent way to reinforce change and ensure that progress is upheld.
  • Incentives. Another way to improve the employee experience and uphold change is through incentives. While rewards and recognition are often offered after the fact, incentives, such as bonuses, are often offered at an individual level and based directly on employees’ meeting certain criteria, such as productivity.

Reinforcement ensures that companies can successfully institute and profit from a change program.

Not only does that ensure that the company can profit from the progress it has just made, it also enables the company to pursue future programs that depend on the current one.

3 Change Management Models to Drive Change

Above, we looked at a general process that covers many of the steps change managers follow when implementing change.

That process incorporates a number of steps and concepts that are drawn from other, more popular change management frameworks, such as those covered below.

Kurt Lewin’s Change Model

Kurt Lewin has been called the forefather of change management by some.

His ideas, after all, have had an extraordinary influence on the world of change management. Many of the ideas that he built into his own model for change, for instance, have gone on to inform and guide the development of other change models.

The Lewin change management model consists of three steps:

  • Unfreeze. During this stage of a change process, groups of people, such as employees, must unlearn old behaviors, skills, and ways of thinking. In the context of an organization, this may mean unlearning workflows, protocols, and procedures.
  • Transition. After old behaviors are unfrozen, there is a transition period, which has been described as being more chaotic or, at the very least, less orderly. In this stage, people must learn and adopt new behaviors, skills, and mindsets.
  • Freeze. Finally, behaviors must become frozen, or permanent. This step reflects the last step of the change process covered above, reinforcement. If the new behaviors are not cemented properly, then there is a risk that people will revert to old ways of thinking and behaving.

Kurt Lewin’s change model is a veritable classic within the change management field.

However, given its theoretical nature, it does not lend itself to direct application in the workplace. This is why many change practitioners prefer to use more modern models, such as those covered below.

Prosci’s ADKAR Framework

Prosci is a change management consultancy and training company that has developed its own proprietary change models.

These models are widely used and have a track record of success, which is perhaps one reason why they are so popular.

Prosci’s most well-known model is the ADKAR framework, a 5-step change model that is easy to understand and use.

The five steps in this model are:

  • Awareness. First and foremost, employees must be made aware of the change process. During this stage of the program, managers need to communicate what the organizational change is, why it is occurring, how it will impact employees, what their responsibilities are, and any other pertinent information.
  • Desire. Attempting to compel people to change would be counterproductive and result in feelings such as alienation and resentment. Instead, employees must want to change for themselves. To spark that desire, managers can make the change meaningful by, for instance, explaining the personalized benefits of the change or how the change will positively impact customers.
  • Knowledge. Without the proper tools and skills, of course, employees cannot actually implement a change program. For that reason, change managers must provide employees with the right tool set, as well as the skills and training to use those tools.
  • Ability. Knowing how to do something is not the same as actually doing it. Once they have acquired the proper skills, therefore, it is important for employees to put those skills into practice and demonstrate their abilities. This step helps boost confidence and ensure that employees can meet performance expectations.
  • Reinforcement. Finally, as mentioned, changes must be reinforced in order for them to remain in effect. Using the mechanisms covered in the last section, such as rewards and incentives, managers can help maintain momentum, enthusiasm, and change.

As we can see, the ADKAR model is a practical tool that presents a straightforward, step-by-step approach for change management.

Another popular framework that is just as practical is John Kotter’s 8-step model, which we’ll look at in the next section.

John Kotter’s 8-Step Model

John Kotter, one of the most well-known experts in the field of change management, has also developed his own change management model.

This model was originally introduced in his 1996 book, Leading Change, then updated in 2014. His consultancy claims that both models are still valid and relevant, though each has its own emphasis and objectives.

While the steps of the first model are designed to be executed sequentially, the newer model, 8 Steps to Accelerate Change, outlines a series of actions that can be taken concurrently.

These steps include:

  • Create a sense of urgency. The more engaged employees are, the more they will support and actively drive a project forward. One of the best ways to fuel that engagement, Kotter claims, is by highlighting the time-sensitive nature of the project and the need to pursue it now. That, in turn, will help to drive support and engagement.
  • Build a guiding coalition. Many change frameworks point to the need to have a core change team that will guide projects. This team should be a cross-functional group that can lead change from both inside and outside the traditional organizational structure.
  • Form a strategic vision and initiatives. The vision for change, as mentioned earlier, paints a powerful image of the end goal – that is, what successful change looks like after it has been completed. The best strategic visions, according to Kotter’s model, are communicable, desirable, flexible, feasible, and simple, among other things.
  • Enlist a volunteer army. While a guiding coalition will help to organize and direct a change project, a certain number of employees must actually embrace and drive the change forward. Like the ADKAR model, Kotter’s model implies that people must want to embrace change, otherwise engagement will remain low and change will be harder to enact.
  • Enable action by removing barriers. Old processes, behaviors, and norms can hinder change if they are not removed. These can act as restrictions that inhibit innovation and prevent change teams from accomplishing their directives.
  • Generate short-term wins. According to Kotter, “Wins are the molecules of results.” Ideally, these wins should be identified and replicated as early as possible. Doing so will offer an important boost to engagement early on in the process.
  • Sustain acceleration. Short-term wins are important, but they do not guarantee long-term momentum. In fact, if managers and change teams do not continue to drive the change forward, complacency can set in. Revisiting the sense of urgency and expanding the volunteer army are two ways to maintain acceleration during this phase of the project.
  • Institute change. Finally, reinforcement is needed to ensure that organizational changes remain permanent. To do this, managers should tie the change behaviors to the organization’s success and continue to embed those practices deeply over the long term.

There are several similarities between Kotter’s model and the ADKAR model. Both, for instance, are practical templates that can be applied in virtually any organizational change program, large or small.

These three models are certainly not the only change management frameworks, but they are three of the most well-known examples. And they offer a good representation of how change managers tend to approach organizational change.

Must-Know Topics in Change Management

Next, we’ll dive a bit deeper into change management by looking at a few of the most important concepts in the field.

Enterprise Change Management

Change management, as we have seen, refers to the discipline of managing and conducting organizational change projects.

Enterprise change management, however, refers to an organization’s formal change management function, or department.

Organizations with an enterprise change management function:

  • Dedicate time, resources, and human capital to change management
  • Have formalized change management procedures and best practices
  • Integrate new change projects with the organization’s strategy
  • Regularly implement change management in new organizational change projects

When building out and improving their enterprise change management function, however, business leaders often look for a way to accurately measure how advanced their capabilities are.

This is where concepts such as change management maturity come in.

Change Management Maturity

Change management maturity is a scale that measures an organization’s change management capabilities.

There are several different models that describe change management maturity, but they share the same fundamental characteristics – namely, these models place a company’s enterprise change capabilities on a scale from least to most advanced.

Prosci, for instance, outlines five levels of change management maturity:

  • Organizational competency is the highest level of change management maturity, where change management competency is fully and continuously integrated into every aspect of the organization
  • Organizational standards is the fourth level, and companies fall under this category who have adopted consistent change management standards for leading change programs
  • Multiple projects, the third level, applies to those organizations that have adopted and implement best practices across multiple projects
  • Isolated projects is the second level, and at this stage, different change management tactics are applied inconsistently across different projects
  • Ad hoc or absent, the lowest level of change management maturity, refers to companies that apply little or no change management in their projects

Higher levels of change management maturity, Prosci says, are directly correlated with better project performance, profitability, and responsiveness. Companies at the lower end of the scale, on the other hand, suffer from greater rates of project failure, turnover, and productivity loss.

Agile Change Management

In recent years, a number of new ideas and approaches have been applied to change management.

Among those is the agile methodology, a business approach that, at least in part, was designed to overcome problems with traditional business processes.

Regardless of which discipline the agile approach is applied to, it shares many of the same characteristics, such as:

  • A focus on collaboration, rather than processes and tools
  • User-centered design
  • Responsiveness and adaptability over static plans
  • Functioning processes and products over documentation

Principles such as these can serve change managers well, especially in today’s dynamic and fast-paced business world.

New data or circumstances, for instance, can significantly impact a project, and the ability to respond quickly can make a big difference in that project’s performance and outcomes.

Organizational Culture Change

Organizational culture change has become a popular topic in recent years and there are several possible reasons why:

  • Culture has a direct impact on an organization’s climate, its performance, and, often, its ability to implement change
  • Today’s workplace is evolving rapidly and as the workplace evolves, so too does its culture
  • Change managers and business leaders recognize that as their companies evolve, company cultures should stay aligned with the corporate mission and values

Culture does not always influence the outcomes of a change program, though it certainly can. And when it does, it is often in everyone’s best interest to implement a culture change program.

In the modern workplace, there are several traits that are desirable, such as:

  • Openness to change and new ideas
  • A pro-learning attitude
  • Data-centric and digital-first mindsets
  • Independence and self-reliance

While there is no such thing as one “perfect” organizational culture, traits such as these can be beneficial, particularly for companies engaged in frequent organizational change.

Digital Transformation and Change Management

Another topic relevant to change management is digital transformation, one of the main drivers of change in the modern organization.

To understand digital transformation, it is useful to understand how disruptive innovation affects the business world:

  • New technological innovations spur the development of new products and services
  • As those products and services enter the marketplace, old businesses and industries are disrupted
  • That disruption, in turn, fuels the need for industry-wide change and adaptation

Many of today’s largest technology companies are examples of this type of disruption.

Netflix and Amazon, for instance, were able to use the internet to radically disrupt the movie rental and retail industries, respectively. Companies that were able to react and change quickly enough stood a better chance of surviving, while companies that were too slow to adapt, such as Blockbuster and Borders, went out of business.

COVID-19, which accelerated digital transformation in many industries, presents another example of the need for digital transformation.

In early 2020, companies around the globe were forced to adopt remote working software – and those that could adapt the most quickly stood the greatest chance of maintaining business continuity.

However, the years ahead will be equally challenging and volatile, which will make change management even more relevant in the post-COVID “next normal,” as McKinsey calls it.

Change Management and the Post-COVID Era

According to many analysts, the novel coronavirus pandemic will have a permanent impact on the world and the global economy.

McKinsey, for instance, suggests that we can expect to see permanent changes to:

  • Customer sentiment and behavior
  • Global social and financial structures
  • Public healthcare systems and regulations
  • Supply chains

Accenture also claims that economic volatility and uncertainty will continue for years. And in such an environment, of course, change management will prove to be a major asset.

In short, we may very well be entering a new paradigm after COVID-19, one where adaptability and change management are not just beneficial – they are necessary.

5 Change Management Strategies, Tips, and Best Practices

Below, we will look at a few principles, strategies, and best practices that change practitioners can use to improve their change management programs.

1. Invest in structured employee training

Employee training has an important place in change management, as the ADKAR model demonstrated.

Without the right skills, after all, employees will not be able to enact change. And if they are inadequately trained, there is a greater chance that they will be unproductive, apprehensive, and even resistant to change.

Research from PwC has already shown that CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills. And research from the World Economic Forum has suggested that skills training will become even more important as the digital revolution continues.

To keep pace with these changes, therefore, change managers must ensure that their employees are properly prepared.

This means:

  • Leveraging modern digital training tools, such as digital adoption platforms, to streamline software training
  • Developing a goal-oriented, structured approach to training, then continuing to improve that program over time
  • Collaborating closely with relevant departments, such as IT and HR, to ensure that training programs meet all stakeholder agendas
  • Personalizing training content and programs to maximize employee engagement and minimize learning timelines

As we saw earlier, employee productivity also depends on their emotional engagement.

Yet it is crucial not to neglect employee skills and training, which are necessary for the workforce to succeed in the modern world of work.

2. Stay modern, data-driven, and digital-first

While change management is not traditionally a technology-driven field, it is important to reimagine change management for today’s digital world of work.

Change managers who exploit technology to its fullest extent will have a competitive advantage over those who don’t.

Here are a few ways that change managers can benefit from technology:

  • Data-driven methods, such as using analytics to track employee performance or for talent selection, can significantly improve efficiency and program performance
  • Digital training solutions, as mentioned above, can decrease learning curves and boost employee productivity
  • Tools such as change management and project management platforms can streamline workflows for change managers, improving productivity, efficiency, and more

The contemporary workplace is quickly becoming digital-first, as we have seen above. This means that change managers must not only train employees in digital skills, they must also be able to thrive in that type of digital-first environment.

3. Learn how to manage change in a remote workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized the workplace in many ways.

One of the most noticeable is the rapid transition to a remote workforce, noted above. In just a few weeks, companies around the globe transitioned entire workforces to a remote-only schedule.

At the time of this writing, there are conflicting opinions as to exactly what the post-COVID workplace will look like.

However, research has shown that many employees prefer to work remotely.

Research from the social media automation tool Buffer, for instance, surveyed remote workers and found that:

  • 98% of remote workers would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their career
  • 97% would recommend remote work to others
  • 70% were happy with the amount of time they spent working remotely
  • 19% would like to spend more time working remotely

Since this survey only polled remote workers, their answers may be understandably biased. Yet other research has corroborated these findings.

For example, one from Morning Consult found that the pandemic made them feel more positive about remote work – around three out of four would like to continue working remotely at least once a week after the pandemic ends.

The takeaway for change managers is this: the future of work will involve a workforce that is at least partially remote.

Change managers, therefore, should adapt their change management style accordingly and learn how to manage remote workers, projects, and business initiatives.

4. Don’t just manage change, lead it

Change managers supervise and coordinate organizational change and transformation initiatives.

However, it is equally important to learn how to lead a project.

Even if one is not the executive sponsor or the head of a program, leadership skills can help motivate employees, improve communication, reduce resistance, and more.

Here are a few ways to not just manage a project, but lead it:

  • Instead of just explaining a change project, lead by example and embody the change first
  • Craft a compelling vision for change, then translate that vision into a change story
  • Be present and available, and continually engage with change teams throughout the project
  • Listen to employees, learn from them, and invite total participation

There is no shortage of learning material that covers leadership skills, so these recommendations should just serve as a stepping stone to perform further research.

The most important takeaway is that management alone is not enough – to get the best results from their projects, change managers should become leaders as well.

5. Take a multidisciplinary approach to change management

Change management is a discipline that requires a variety of skills, including:

The more skills that change managers can bring to the table, therefore, the more value they will add to their organization.

It is also useful to study specialized sub-disciplines and methodologies within change management, such as:

  • Agile change management
  • Lean change management
  • Data-driven change management methods

Learning skills such as these can be very beneficial for those interested in pursuing a career in change management. Next, we will cover a few more recommendations for those interested in a career as a change manager.

Change Management as a Profession: Jobs, Education, and Opportunities

A career in change management can be very rewarding, but, like all business disciplines, it takes dedication and hard work.

Here is a summary of change management as a profession:

Change Management Jobs

Change management professionals can find work in a number of roles, such as:

  • Change management consultants who provide services to other organizations, either as an independent consultant or as part of a consultancy
  • In-house change managers who work in an enterprise and manage change projects internally
  • Trainers and educators who teach change management to others

The actual job titles associated with change management positions will also vary from organization to organization.

Here are a few examples of potential job titles to look for:

  • Change management consultant, director, or leader
  • Organizational change manager, lead, leader, or director
  • Organizational development specialist, manager, or director

Typically, organizational change management positions will include the keywords “organizational change management” or “change management,” which will make it easy to narrow down these positions when performing a job search.

However, as with many jobs, positions in this field require a combination of experience, skills, and education – and in many cases, it can take years to build up a proper background.

Next, we’ll look at a few possible routes to becoming a change manager.

Change Managers: Required Experience and Background

To become a change manager, most candidates must already possess experience working on organizational change projects. Naturally, this presents a barrier to entry for those who lack that experience.

Those wishing to gain that experience, however, can pursue a few options.

For instance:

  • Certain managerial positions, such as HR managers, training managers, and project managers, often work closely with change teams to implement organizational change projects
  • Managers who want experience working in organizational change projects can proactively volunteer to work on those projects in their own company
  • Employees at any level who want to implement change can promote projects of their own and then volunteer to manage or lead those projects

These are just a few examples of proactive approaches to obtaining experience in change management. Over time, these types of projects could add to one’s resume and help one to accrue the right experience.

In addition to experience, however, it is necessary to gain the right skill set and training, which we will cover next.

Change Management Certification and Training

Change management certifications can be an excellent way to boost skills, credibility, and the performance of organizational change initiatives.

There are a number of training options available for professionals of any experience level.

Here are a few of the most reputable change management courses:

  • Prosci’s change management courses train students on their own proprietary change management methodology, including the ADKAR method, their approach to organizational change, as well as other specialized topics, such as agile change management
  • The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) has a reputable certification in change management, the CCMP, which certifies that the holder understands their own change methodology, “the Standard.”
  • A number of academic institutions, such as Northwestern and Cornell, also offer change management certificates, though the course content and quality will vary from institution to institution
  • Private educational institutions, such as the Association for Trade Development, offer training and certification in change management, as well as other courses that may be beneficial for the change management professional

Some of these classes, such as Prosci’s change management training, are open to anyone interested in learning more about change management. Others, such as the CCMP exam, are only open to those with a certain amount of experience in the field.

It is important, therefore, to research each option carefully before making a decision.

Change Management FAQ

In this section, we will cover a few frequently asked questions about change management that weren’t covered above.

What are the biggest barriers to successful organizational change?

Every organizational change program is unique, but most follow the same fundamental process, as we saw above.

As a result, change managers will often run into many of the same obstacles, most of which can be overcome with proper preparation.

A few of the most common include:

  • Resistance to change. Employees will often resist new changes, which can dramatically decrease a project’s performance and outcomes. This is why, as we saw above, many change models make a point of addressing and minimizing resistance to change.
  • Poor management or communication. Change management communication strategies make a major difference in employee performance, engagement, and teamwork. Poor communication can increase friction and hinder collaboration, which is why managers must develop a strategic, goal-oriented change communication plan.
  • Budget constraints. Financials are always a concern for any business initiative, including change programs. In some cases, budget constraints cannot be overcome, but in others, investment in change can be rationalized by demonstrating the bottom-line ROI of a proposal.
  • A lack of executive sponsorship. According research from Cloudbakers, executive sponsorship is one of the most influential factors affecting the outcomes of a change project. Earning that support, therefore, is an important step to take at the outset of any change project.

It is important not to underestimate obstacles such as these, since they can seriously hinder a program’s outcomes.

In fact, a great many change projects don’t succeed, which is one of the most compelling reasons to address these obstacles head-on and invest in change management.

What is the best change management methodology?

There are several popular change methodologies in use today, as we saw above. For those new to change management, this variety can make it difficult to know where to invest one’s efforts and resources.

Since there is no such thing as a “best” change methodology, it is best to choose an approach based on one’s own circumstances and needs.

Here are a few points to consider when evaluating different approaches to change:

  • The track record of the change approach
  • Whether the change method covers individual change, organizational change, or both
  • Whether the organization in question has a preference for a particular method
  • One’s own personal goals and how much they weigh into the decision-making

Questions such as these will also play a role in determining whether it is best to hire consultants, train staff internally, or both.

What is the best way to minimize employee resistance?

Employee resistance, as mentioned above, can become a major obstacle to change if it is not handled properly.

Fortunately, with the proper planning, that resistance can be significantly mitigated or even transformed into engagement and support.

Here are a few tips for reducing that resistance before it becomes a barrier to success:

  • Understand the causes of employee resistance. Edgar Schein, an expert on organizational development, suggested in one of his books that fear is a major cause of resistance. The fear of inadequacy or incompetency, for instance, can breed negative emotions and resistance. Other causes of resistance can include poor communication, poor management, and inadequate skills training – understanding these causes can help managers choose appropriate solutions to these problems.
  • Create an awareness of and a desire for change. If employees don’t understand the reason why a change is occurring, they will be much less likely to support it. This is almost certainly why Prosci makes “awareness” the first step in their ADKAR model and “desire” the second step.
  • Build confidence through skills training. One of the best ways to remove fears of incompetence is by building skills. The more quickly employees can learn and demonstrate their skills, the more confident they will become. And, when employees are competent and confident, they will be more likely to support change and drive it forward.
  • Persuade employees of the personalized benefits of a change project. Employees, like all people, want to know “what’s in it for me.” Explaining how a change program will benefit them on an individual level can spark a personal desire for change – a key ingredient for engagement and support.

Resistance can stem from different factors.

Therefore, before beginning to overcome that resistance, it is best to open up communication channels in order to understand what is causing it in the first place.

Once that is complete, managers will have a much better chance of mitigating or even avoiding resistance completely.

What is the best way to design a change communication plan?

Since change management is a discipline centered around people, communication is one of the most important elements of a change initiative.

Here are a few points to consider when developing a communication strategy:

  • Be goal-oriented, systematic, and data-driven. Communication plans should be built around a specific purpose or a set of goals. One example is to improve employee support and reduce resistance. A plan with this agenda could design communication messages aimed at, for instance, building awareness and desire, then measure the outcomes through surveys and performance metrics.
  • Communication is two-way. Listening to employees offers several benefits to change managers. On the one hand, listening to frontline workers makes them feel more included and less alienated, which can improve engagement and decrease friction. On the other hand, employees can offer useful input and ideas that can be directly applied to the change project.
  • Productivity depends on frequent and open collaboration. Frequent reviews and team meetings usually correlate with better project performance. They can also help employees stay more flexible and responsive, since decisions can be made in sync and closer to real-time.

In short, like any other business initiative, it is important to understand and quantify the effects of communication on the outcomes of a change project.

Once those goals have been set, a communication plan can be customized and built around those needs.


Change management is one of the most important disciplines in the modern work world. This is especially true in today’s business landscape, which is being disrupted by digital technology, innovation, the novel coronavirus, and more.

To keep pace with such disruptive changes, organizations must implement a structured approach to organizational change management.

Those that do will be able to execute their change programs more efficiently, more effectively, and more quickly.

In this article, we have covered these ideas and many more, including change models, frequently asked questions about change management, barriers to change management, and change management communication planning.

For more in-depth articles on topics such as these, be sure to visit our change management blog.

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