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A guide to understanding the change management process

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

Change management is the process by which organisations support people and processes moving from one way of working to another.

It’s human nature to seek out comfort. Nobody wants to crawl out of a warm bed to get up for the day — especially if it’s cold outside of the cozy covers. Change is hard! That’s why it’s also human nature to resist it.

However, change is happening all the time — from technology, to regulations, to the internal processes that define how an organization operates. The need for change can seem obvious and sometimes even appealing, but that doesn’t make it easy.

The frequency of change is only going to increase as the technology and business landscapes evolve. That’s why it’s common and advisable for organizations to implement some kind of change management process.

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What is change management?

Change management is the process of preparing for and executing a smooth transition or transformation at the organisational level.

When teams or businesses implement sweeping changes to processes, strategies, tooling, etc., they use a change management process to ensure adoption and measure the effects of those changes across the organization.

What does successful change management look like?

Given that change is so important, you might be surprised to learn that most change initiatives don’t work. According to Gartner, approximately 50 percent of change processes are unsuccessful.

A 5-step process for change management

Harvard Business Review published a great breakdown of five critical steps to execute a successful change management process. I encourage you to read it in full, but I’ll summarize the main points below:

1. Prepare the organization for the change

To prepare for change, you need to look at both cultural and logistical elements. Remember, organizations are people at their core; making people aware of the need for change and gaining that initial buy-in is critical.

2. Craft a vision and plan for change

You know where you are today; this stage is about how you get to where you want to be.

Setting out a vision helps people see what the future may look like. The plan should include:

  • Strategic goals — Why is this change happening in the first place?

  • Key performance indicators (KPIs) — How will you measure success?

  • Project team and stakeholders — Who is responsible for each task? What needs to be signed off on and when? What governance is needed?

  • Project scope — What is part of the change and what will fall outside the remit of this project?

3. Implement the change

This involves following the plan and taking the steps that will take you from where you are now to where you want to be.

Sounds easy, but no plan ever accounts for everything. You will need to adapt as you learn along the way.

Remember, communication is crucial to keep people aware of how the change is progressing. Also, as much as possible, empower your people to take charge of the change they are responsible for.

4. Embed changes within company culture and policies

Again, HBS advocates for a holistic approach. Think about the behaviors that make up cultures as well as processes and policies.

It is during this transitional stage a lot of hard work can be undone if people slip back to what is comfortable for them.

5. Review progress and analyze results

Change is rarely ever undertaken just to make a change. A goal is set out to be achieved and agreed upon as part of the project planning.

Once the plan is complete, review whether the goal was achieved and any lessons learned through the process.

Promote individual change using the ADKAR model

Change management professionals use the ADKAR model to understand the components necessary to make changes successful.

Jeff Hiatt developed the ADKAR model after studying the change patterns of more than 700 organizations. ADKAR is an acronym that stands for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement:

  • Awareness — You need to build up an appreciation of the need to change within your organization so people know that a change needs to take place

  • Desire — Even if people are aware of the need for change, they might not want to change. It’s an important distinction; without that desire people are unlikely to buy into the steps required to make the change successful

  • Knowledge — Change often means embracing alternative ways of doing things, but do you have the requisite knowledge to execute these new approaches? This is often a source of stress for employees and a high barrier to change

  • Ability — You also need to consider tools and equipment; making sweeping changes to how employees use these tools (or which tools they can use) can be jarring if not approached tactfully

  • Reinforcement — This part is the responsibility of leaders. Do they set a good example and carry out the behaviors needed to make a change stick?

If you neglect even just one of the components described above, the change will not stick. For example, without reinforcement from leaders, people will inevitably regress back to what was comfortable before the change went into effect.

How to implement the ADKAR model

So, how can you use the ADKAR model as part of a change management process? For one, you can link it to the activities in your plan. Have you included training for the team? Do you need to budget for new equipment? Does your communication plan include senior leaders? If so, what do you expect of them?

You can also use this model as a self-assessment tool. I have found it particularly useful for gathering the team's perspective on the change. After one such session, we realized our training plan was nowhere near good enough. So, we threw it out and worked with the team to design a new change management that helped them get comfortable with the system.

Support your people using the Change Curve

Organisations are collections of people and, at the end of the day, it’s people who will experience any change you implement. Your ability to support them is one of the most critical success factors when managing an organizational change.

The Change Curve is based on a model originally developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s to explain the grieving process. Today, it is widely used by change management practitioners to explain the process people go through when a change happens.

When used for change management purposes, the Change Curve features recommended steps and approaches for leadersh to take at each stage. There are lots of different versions of the Change Curve, but here’s a typical example of how the model applies in practice:

Source: Insights

As we go through the Change Curve, the type of support required evolves.

Getting through to the acceptance stage is critical for successful change. If people are not supported, they’re liable to get stuck at a certain stage and never advance.

Consider a change that has happened in your organization recently. Where did your people fall on this Change Curve?

Change: A necessary evil

Change is hard. As humans, comfort is not just the default, but a position we actively seek.

Cold? Put a jumper on. Hungry? Eat some food.

However, change is constant and required to stay competitive and compliant.

When making a change in your organisation, make sure you have a plan, ensure you have all the ingredients that make up successful change (e.g., as per the ADKAR model), and do everything in your power to support your people.

Want some help making change in your organisation? Get in touch to see how I can help.

This blog post was orignally published on the LogRocket blog and you can view it here.

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