Change Management: Definition, Principles and Examples


Key Takeaways

  • Organisations embark on change management to improve their mission, technology, structure, strategy or culture.
  • Managers must educate every stakeholder in the organization about the need for change as well as the process that will be employed. Once the reason for the change is clearly understood, stakeholders will willingly provide support for the transition.
  • More than half of change management initiatives implemented in organisations turn out to be unsuccessful. This instigates the need for business leaders and managers to master the skills of planning, coordinating, and implementing change management.



What is Change Management?

Change management is an organized technique that business leaders utilize to effect an improvement in work processes in an organisation. It employs a structured process because people need to transition into new behaviors, which are oftentimes difficult.

 Change management is important for businesses and organisations because every organisation is affected by the constant change happening in its internal and external environments.

 Every day, new technologies emerge; in addition, market and government regulations change, as do other factors that may keep organizational leaders on their toes.

For example, a recent change in a financial policy in one African country affected some businesses in the Fintech industry. The affected organisations were forced to end their operations in the country.

 In situations like this, when an organization’s business is threatened because of a new policy, technology, or consumer trend, it will need to adapt quickly to the change. It does so by finding new markets for the same product or new products for a different market. Otherwise, it will go out of business.

 The process of implementing change in an organization and adapting to it, is what is called “Change management.”

The Process of Implementing Change Management

 Implementing change management in organisations is often compared to teaching an elephant how to dance. The reason? It’s slow and takes so much effort to make it happen.

Change management is a difficult process because it needs people to be successfully implemented. Attitudes and behaviours will need to change first before processes, systems, or procedures. One C-level executive explained that it is much easier to guide people towards learning technical skills than it is to influence their behaviour.

 Change management requires that people adapt to new ways of doing things. But change is often met with resistance. People resist change because change is characterized by uncertainties. It will involve leaving their comfort zone. “Will I lose my job?” is one of the questions employees struggle with when the issue of change management arises.

 Leaders who successfully implement change management in their organisations are often hailed because bringing about transformation in organisations is no small feat. McKinsey surveyed 3000 executives to find out how their change management initiatives fared. Over 60% were unsuccessful, the survey finds.

 For change management to be successfully implemented, effective communication is needed to prepare the minds of employees or workers to support their transition.


Principles of Change Management

 If anything, the recent COVID-19 pandemic, was an uncontrollable factor that disrupted many businesses. This has further deepened the need to master the principles of change management. Even after all strategies for implementing change management have been fully implemented, not every change initiative implemented will fly. All the more reason why the principles for implementing change should be flexible enough to accommodate any changes or volatility that will affect smooth implementation.

 The following are principles of change management that lead to successful transitions and transformations.


Understand Change

Understanding change helps you to know why change is happening so you can communicate it clearly and bring others on board. It entails asking pertinent questions such as why change is needed, how it will benefit or positively impact the organization and its employees, and what behaviors are required for successful change implementation.


Communicate The Need for Change

Communication plays a huge role in ensuring the smooth implementation of change initiatives. It is an important component of effecting change management transitions. If change and the need for change are not communicated effectively, efforts to implement change will be unsuccessful.

 Communicating change should begin from the top. The reason is to allow top management to properly digest the information before disseminating it to those who report to them. Approaching change in this manner eliminates confusion. However, one recurring problem with this approach to implementing change is that, oftentimes, leaders forget the people at the bottom.


Communication is a two-way dialogue.

Keep employees in the know about the change initiatives being implemented and seek to hear how they feel about the new developments. When they can contribute to the process by making suggestions and contributing ideas, they will take ownership of it.

 For example, to get support from the congregation on a new church building project, the leadership invited members to participate and give feedback at every stage of the construction project. As a result, people felt like they were a valuable part of the process, which led to an overwhelming support for change. As the church and its leadership celebrated success, “around me I could hear whispers of, ‘I was there,’ I did that,'” the leader of the congregation writes.

 Opening the line of communication or having continuous conversations around the new developments will inspire acceptance rather than resistance.

 Choosing the right communication tool should also be considered in communicating change. For example, research by Smarp shows that “29% of employees say poor internal communication is the reason projects fail.”

 The research also reveals that the majority of millennials prefer other easy channels of communication that are mobile-friendly to emails. Smarp’s research concludes that many important pieces of information get lost because they are not being opened and read.

 One of the most widely used models of change management that can aid in communicating change is the ADKAR Change Management Model. The model shows five aspects of change you should deal with in your communications:


Change management model

  • Awareness (of the necessity for change).
  • Desire (to contribute in and support it).
  • Knowledge (of how to bring about change).
  • Ability (to change).
  • Reinforcement (to maintain the change in the long term).


Identify Key Actors That Will Drive Change

It is important to identify the key leaders who will be effective at driving change. Failure to choose agile leaders to drive change will sabotage your efforts.

When employees don’t see key leaders modeling the behaviours that are necessary to effect the change, it is unlikely that they will adapt to the change. For example, PWC, in a report, cited a case study of one of its clients’ change initiatives that got stalled because the leadership team was not committed to the change program. But after the leadership team aligned with the initiative, results began to pour in.

 Key leaders must walk the talk from the beginning. This will inspire other stakeholders that change is happening because key leaders are taking the lead and modeling the behaviors necessary for change.

 Again, choose agile leaders by looking for informal influencers within your organization. They are at every level of the organization. According to David Grossman, influencers are big on turning strategy into action. They are key to making change happen quickly because they are seen as very knowledgeable about things going on in the organization. “Influencers are peer-nominated, which is why they have this gravitas to spark movements and start to drive change more efficiently,” says Laura Jameson, an award-winning Senior Engagement Specialist. They create experiences that instigate others to follow them.

 Picking leaders who will be positive role models throughout the whole process cannot be overemphasized.


Education and Training Should be Provided.

Providing the right information, education, or training empowers individuals to change. Education is important because people need to know why change is occurring. Education also helps to eradicate any rumors that may have spread that are contrary to the intentions of management. For example, to prevent employee backlash, John King of British Airways explained to workers of the need for job cuts to increase efficiency beforehand.

Educate every stakeholder about the change about to occur and the expected outcomes. Again, because change involves new processes, employees will need to be trained so they can become familiar with the process.

Have Realistic Expectations 

Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that change will always go as expected. Some change initiatives may bring the expected results, while others may not go as planned.

It doesn’t matter if the project or initiative is long-term or short-term, internal and external volatilities still occur. It is better to prepare for them than to assume that change will occur smoothly. Even when a previous winning strategy is repeated, always expect the unexpected.

Being realistic means employing a flexible approach so that you can navigate the uncertainties that will be encountered effectively.

Measure Success

Take the time to determine how well your change management initiative has worked and what still needs to be improved. Develop mechanisms to effectively measure and monitor success. The data and insights will help you make further adjustments to conform to the reality you are faced with.


Change Management Examples

Common examples of areas where change management is implemented include times of crisis, an organization’s culture, leadership, technology, consumer trends, and preferences. Successful change management initiatives always provide information and insight into parts of the initiative that will need further modification.

 Examining the data from successfully implemented initiatives engineers an outlook on what is possible. Here we will look at some examples of successful change management initiatives.


Microsoft (Culture Shift in the Organization)

 Satya Nadella, the current CEO of Microsoft, is credited with turning the Microsoft corporation culture around. Before Satya’s ascension to the helm of management affairs, Microsoft was one of the worst places to work in. It was a divisive and rigid culture. Employees strived to prove who was smarter. Its stock price has taken a quantum jump as Satya’s leadership at one of the world’s largest corporations focused on cultural shifts.

 The MIT management professor says Satya Nadella “brought in a new culture, a new enthusiasm,”, reports the Associated Press.

 How did he do it? “Anything is possible for a company when its culture is about listening, learning, and harnessing individual passions and talents to the company’s mission. Creating that kind of culture is my chief job as CEO. The culture change I wanted was centred on delivering a growth mindset, being customer-obsessed, diverse, and inclusive, and working as one Microsoft to get us there.” Satya says.

 Microsoft proved that a large corporation can implement change management in its culture.


Coca-Cola (Adapting to Consumer Preferences)

 In response to its biggest rival, Pepsi, Coca-Cola developed a sweeter version of its coke product, but the product launch wasn’t a success. It quickly switched back to its older version to suit consumer preferences. It later created more products like diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero, and Enviga to respond to its health-conscious market segment.


Blockbuster vs. Netflix (As Consumer Trends Change)

Blockbuster, a video rental service, didn’t make a swift change when its rivals came into the scene of America’s movie industry. Netflix, one of Blockbuster’s rivals, introduced an easier way for consumers to order movie titles through subscriptions by mail. It also introduced “no late fees,” unlike blockbuster, which charged late fees. This was so enticing to consumers.

As always, perceiving that DVDs would soon become outdated, it continued to innovate its offerings to suit consumer trends and preferences. But Blockbuster didn’t take their competition seriously. Netflix shifted gears to online video streaming and, later on, to online streaming content creation.

Blockbuster realized its mistake of not adapting to consumer trends too late. The once-dominant movie rental service, which grew from a single store to 9000 stores globally, declared bankruptcy in 2010 with a $1 billion debt. Meanwhile, due to its agility in responding to changes in its environment, Netflix is now the number one subscription service worldwide.

Change in the business environment is inevitable. Therefore, business leaders must develop strategies to respond swiftly to change.

Change management is always difficult for any individual, organisation, or process. Organizations that can garner the support of their stakeholders will experience fewer hurdles in the implementation of their change initiatives.

Change management is a crucial part of any business entity. A clear understanding of the need for change, effective communication, and planning will help leaders navigate the process of change to produce positive business outcomes.

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