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Change management

When I Googled the term “Change Management”, this was what I was presented with:

“the management of change and development within a business or similar organization.”

I hate the term “Change Management”, change is going on all around us all the time. A better term in the business context would be “Embracing Change”. For businesses to thrive in the 21st century and beyond they need to embrace change like it’s a friend. Learn to love change and make it the norm. Your employees and colleagues shouldn’t be thinking “what does this change mean to me?” they should be thinking “how can we change this to make it better?”. It’s a cultural shift, a change of mindset and possibly the most difficult change to implement in an organisation. So instead of changing the entire organisation’s mindset, here is a realistic view of change management.

What is change management?

Change management is a way of managing the journey from the current state to a new desired state. That journey can affect individuals, teams, resources and organisations. The changes they experience along the way need to be managed or controlled to ensure the change is successful.

Changes can be triggered internally or externally, and they can vary in scale from minuscule to radical overhauls of an organisation. For example, your organisation may be subject to a regulatory change, which forces you to radically overhaul your entire organisation. Or your organisation may see value in adopting a new piece of software functionality for a small team.

Whatever the scale and scope of the change, you should still manage it. Of course, that scale and scope will determine the amount of change management needed, and maybe also influence the change management model you choose to use.

How do you determine if a change is successful?

Success is a very difficult thing to measure, I like to think of success as achieving potential. So if the driver for change was to improve some performance by an amount, and at the end of the process your change has resulted in that desired outcome then it’s probably been successful. However, the amount may have been conservative and not the full potential for the change and in that case, it may not have been successful if you only improved by the conservative target.

Why change management is important

Put simply you want the change to be a success. So you manage that change in a controlled way to try and ensure that success by removing blockers, resistance and friction along the way.

Change management models

There are many change management models, most are essentially the same thing with slightly different labels and some aren’t even models they’re just observations. It doesn’t matter which one you pick, so long as you pick one and use it. Here’s a list of the most well-known change management models.

  • ADKAR from Prosci
  • Bridges’ Transition Model
  • Kotter 8-Step Process
  • Kubler-Ross Change Curve
  • Lewin’s Change Model
  • McKinsey’s 7-S Model
  • Nudge Theory
  • PDCA Model
  • Satir Change Management Model

For my money, I like the ADKAR model because of its simplicity, and even then I simplify it further. I tend to merge the Awareness and Desire stages, and the Knowledge and Ability stages. That means I tend to go from A.D.K.A.R. to AD.KA.R and make a three-step process, but if the change was broader and over a longer term, that’s when I would certainly split out to the full five-step process.

ADKAR Successful Change

Where to start

Ahead of starting with the change model, I like to put a lead-in to the model too. Before starting the change management process it’s vitally important that the instigator of the change has a thorough understanding of the drivers for the change and what the change is going to look like before, during and after it’s implemented.

I refer to this as a leap of faith hypothesis. As a business leader, you make decisions all the time to help drive your business forwards toward its strategic goals. Those decisions inevitably lead to change in some form, but they’re almost always a leap of faith hypothesis. Before you implement that hypothesis you need to test it to fully understand what its potential may be.

The key to change management success

One thing, above everything else, is key to making a change successful. That “one thing” is communications. Effective communications are essential. They ensure that everyone affected by the change is on the same page, knows what is happening, understands why it’s happening and realises that the change must happen for the long term survival of the organisation.

The difficulty comes with identifying what communications channels are going to be effective in your organisation. That depends a lot on the number of people involved and the organisational culture. In general, the smaller the organisation, the easier change is to manage, because it’s easier to ensure everyone is communicated with, effectively.

Whatever the size of your organisation, the change needs to be managed in the same way, going through the same stages. In this case, smaller means quicker, and that’s mostly because there is less delay in communicating with everyone involved.

Putting communications into the change management model

The stages start with awareness, you need to make everyone aware that changes are coming. What they are, what business needs are driving the change and what individual needs are being met. Deliver a compelling business case that your employees and colleagues can relate to and see that it means better, easier or faster ways of working for them. That’s going to help with the next stage, where you want to build desire. Change is far easier to manage if everyone wants it.

After you’ve built awareness and desire, the next step is to give individuals the knowledge and understanding about the change, equipping them to work in a new way through training and guidance.

Finally, you need to reinforce the change to ensure that the new tools and ways of working become embedded in your organisation.

Your communications toolbox

Now, let’s take a look at some of the most effective ways of communicating with the people in your organisation. Not all of these will be suitable and the effectiveness will vary depending on the culture, nature of what your organisation does, how the people work and the tools you have available.

Starting with the very analogue way of working, in-person group meetings. These are very effective for small groups or teams, but as the groups and teams get larger their effectiveness drops off quite rapidly.

  • In-person meetings 1-2-1 to group
  • Online meetings 1-2-1 to group
  • Broadcast email
  • Tailored or personalised email
  • Webinars
  • Video casts
  • Audio podcasts
  • Animated screencasts
  • Instant messaging
  • Internal social media
  • Intranet
  • Pop-up messaging on devices
  • Screensavers and wallpapers
  • Digital champion networks
  • Top-down leadership cascades

Putting those tools into the context of change management

You don’t need to use all of the tools, but you do need to pick an appropriate selection that will enable you to get your message across to everyone who needs it.


For meetings, you should have them hosted by a senior leader or team member who the participants know, like and trust. There’s no point in putting someone abrasive or divisive in front of a change audience, it will immediately cause resistance and that’s hard to eradicate.


Broadcast emails are ok for a general invitation to attend some other communication channel. But don’t use them to introduce a complex change, it’s not personal and it’s not interactive in any way. It sets you up for misunderstandings, misinterpretation and resistance. Another time it’s ok to use broadcast emails is when some action is happening or required, but use them as part of a broad mix of other channels.

Even tailored or personalised email is difficult, many organisations send out too many “notifications” or internal newsletters. So, firstly it may well get lost in the inbox clutter and again it’s not interactive and sets you up for misunderstandings, misinterpretation and resistance.


Webinars are a great way to get the message out in a consistent way. Enabling you to deliver the whole message, but it’s absolutely essential you have a good proportion of the session dedicated to Q&A. That can be either by typed questions or by an open discussion. Ultimately, it depends on your organisational culture which one would work best. Many people like the ability to raise questions anonymously, and you’re more likely to elicit honest and open discussion if you structure it that way.

Broadcast media

Now we come to the “casts” – broadcasts, video, audio and animation. These can deliver the messages in a much less ambiguous way than purely with text. Depending on the way you deliver them you can use the delivery mechanism to enable a Q&A discussion. Video and animation allow you to deliver a show-and-tell message. Reinforce that by introducing a podcast, video podcast and an intranet page to keep everyone updated for the duration of the project.

Instant messaging and social media

Instant messaging and internal social media are great for Q&A, and if you can integrate that with your broadcasts all the better. That way you only have a single place you need to address questions, and can deliver additional broadcast messages to explain areas that you identify are causing issues or worries.

Interference messaging

As changes start to be rolled out, turned on or deployed that’s when to use pop-up messages and desktop wallpapers. Use them in conjunction with broadcast instant messaging, personalised or tailored emails and now’s the time to get your digital champions and leadership teams mobilised.

Champion networks

A network of digital champions, digital heroes, change champions or change agents, whatever you want to call them is invaluable when managing change over a larger organisation. They give you a point of contact presence at the front line, in a way that leverages their personal networks in the team or area they work in.

Building your change plan

So that’s a reasonable menu of options, but you should build an end-to-end change plan. It should go from the earliest possible moment, through to T-zero, the day the change is implemented, and then onwards to the end of the change project and transition to business as usual.

Create a separate plan for each cohort of employees or colleagues. That way you can tailor and flex the plan to suit their ways of working or workstyle. It’s a good idea to use personas for this. For example, the way you communicate with your field operatives may be very different to how you communicate with a customer service desk or a management team.

Then within your master plan, you can refer to each cohort plan and either run them in parallel or staggered in whatever way suits your particular change. For a change plan I like to put dates across the top of a spreadsheet, and then rows for each of the channels.

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