Change Management: What Does It Mean to You?

June 2, 2020

During my career, I’ve heard varying definitions of change management ranging from the tactical to the esoteric. Perhaps more important than its definition is the role of change management in the transformation process. For purposes of this article, I will focus on transformations that focus on complex restructuring, reorganization, globalization, and mergers and acquisitions.

How Do You Define Change Management

I have been involved in many transformation programs of various size, scope and complexity over the past 35 years and have a healthy respect for all definitions of change management and their relative role in progress and success. Of course, every discipline has its own definition of change management.

If you are an IT professional, you likely think of change management as that well-defined ITIL service management discipline intended to ensure that all changes to production and test environments are approved and follow standard methods and procedures intended to minimize negative impacts. If you are an HR professional or people manager, you may think about the techniques and processes by which the people aspects of transformation are managed to ensure successful adoption of any kind of change.

The role of change management

We’ve all witnessed project successes and failures. It’s hard to dispute that effective change management and communication play a key role in reducing risks and costs and, in turn, increase the probability for success. In fact, some research shows well over half of all projects fail when organizational transition issues aren’t properly addressed. In other words, people issues need to be recognized and effectively managed to enable successful change.

These “soft factors” must be balanced with other program management factors including level of effort, speed, and degree of change. Additionally, please note change management is not the panacea for addressing all project risks/issues. However, effective change management, coupled with robust program/project management, is a critical enabler of successful transformation.

Where to start

So, where do you start?  Start with people. The importance of the individual in achieving the organization’s transformation goals cannot be underestimated. It’s critical to acknowledge that people will have individual and collective reactions that will differ according to:

  • Their ability and willingness to understand the change
  • Their ability to cope with/adapt to the change
  • The benefit they will realize from the change
  • The loss they may experience as a result of the change

What I’ve witnessed in every program is that until a person has answers to these “me” questions, it’s unlikely they will follow leadership on the transformation journey. All the cool strategies and lofty goals will not convince someone to get onboard until they understand the impact on them, individually. Therefore, it is critical to understand, plan for, and implement necessary and practical steps to support people through the transition starting with answering the “me” questions.

Have a solid plan

People are naturally resistant to change and a combination of techniques can help overcome this hurdle. This next step focuses on  creating an effective change readiness plan to manage the people side of a transformation by addressing and continuously revisiting the following questions:

  • Stakeholder and Executive Alignment
    • Is there awareness, understanding, support and commitment for the program?
    • Do the stakeholders understand their role in managing the change and in communicating to team members?
  • Organizational Readiness
    • What do we need to do to get ready for the change/transition?
    • If interfaces and touch points are changing, what do they need to do to prepare?
    • Is the organization trained/prepared to manage in the new environment?
  • Knowledge and Capabilities
    • Do the team members understand their new role, and do they have the right capabilities and skills to make the journey?
  • Communications
    • Are we deploying the right messages to the right populations using the right channels to increase awareness and understanding of changes?
    • Have we provided the appropriate notifications internally and externally?
  • HR Planning
    • Whose roles will be changing?
    • What is the plan for each individual teammate?
    • Who is critical to retain?
    • What are effective retention plans?


The last step is execution excellence. This is not to say there won’t be mistakes along the way. What I am suggesting is that it’s critical not to  short change any elements of the change management plan. Be sure to measure the effectiveness of the plan and course correct as necessary. With the right tools and metrics in place, you can effectively target areas of the organization with more tailored change and communications efforts. All the transition planning and executive alignment won’t matter if the organization is not fully aware and willing to take the journey.

Developing a Culture of Change

Way back around 500 BC, an ancient Greek philosopher was credited with saying “The only constant in life is change.” Did he foresee the Internet, deregulation, globalization, a pandemic, robotics, artificial intelligence? Probably not, but this is nevertheless an insightful observation about the human condition.  If change is a known constant in life and business, why is it that I often hear from clients, “we don’t do change well.” And what does that really mean? Are the leaders not aligned? Are change programs associated with layoffs?  Is there a history of abandoned programs? Perhaps all of the above.

However, I find that some companies have a healthy culture of change. They tend to be in highly competitive industries dependent on their ability to bob and weave with market/consumer changes.  They are agile, resilient, nimble and get jazzed about change – whether it’s a new market, a new product or a new way of working.  It’s part of their corporate DNA and it starts at the top. Having spent the early part of my career in a highly regulated industry with few degrees of freedom, instigating and managing change was a challenge. Being a change agent meant poking into every corner of the business, challenging the status quo and celebrating the successes. Regardless of your industry or the size of your company, you are no doubt experiencing unprecedented changes. How we respond to it and manage it will chart the course for the future. Change can be defined in a positive light; change can be embraced, and change can lead your business to new and successful outcomes.