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How-To: 7 Keys for Successful Change Management

The need to change is a universal requirement for successful companies.  The stark truth is 70% of attempted changes fail!  Whether you are making a small change, like your mailing address, or a big change, like a new ERP system, there are things you can do to put yourself in the successful 30%.
Keep in mind that people differ in their acceptance/resistance to change.  However, there are proven steps you can do to help change-resistant people.  These same steps will help people who profess to welcome change.

Key 1 - Understand the Change
Truly understanding what will change and who will be affected is the starting point of successful change management.  Too often, a change initiative starts with a great concept and then during implementation (or worse yet, after implementation!) the company discovers an unexpected impact in what they thought was an unrelated part of the business.
A great tool for understanding the change is to map the business process – both Current-State and Future-State.  First, start with what exists today (Current-State), and document each step of what happens throughout the process.

Key Steps:
  • Understand the change
  • Plan for the change
  • Communicate the change
  • Get everyone involved
  • Selling the change
  • Manage resistance
  • Course corrections
Change management chalkboard

Next, document what the process will look like once the change happens (Future-State).  Then, compare the Current-State and Future-State processes.  This shows you the specific areas the change will impact, and also gives you a list of the people affected.  Also, by creating a map of the process, you will have a valuable means of communicating the change and documentation for the future for training purposes.
Key 2 – Plan for the Change
Now that you know what will change and who will be affected, next key is to put together a plan for implementing the change.  There are many ways to do this, although they divide into two camps.  First is the traditional waterfall method, where you figure out all the tasks before you start, determining dependencies (“X has to happen before Y”), assign resources to each task, and execute.  Second are iterative methods, where you break down the change into a series of rounds, taking a first set of tasks, figure out how to do them, execute, then re-evaluate the remaining tasks, take the next set of tasks, and repeat this process until everything is done or the remaining tasks do not provide enough value for the effort they will take.
Both types can be successful, if applied appropriately.  Usually the waterfall method works best where a change has been done so many times or is small enough that you have high confidence you can define every task.  Iterative methods work well when the change has grey areas, is likely to have changing requirements, or is large and new for the organization.  Unless the change is small, including milestones will give you opportunities along the way to incorporate as you learn more and to make course corrections.
Often a large change, like a new ERP system, will involve an outside vendor who will have a pre-defined plan for implementation.  Since you went through a solid selection process and chose a vendor who has a proven methodology (you did, right?), this will be a good starting point.  Be sure to review their plan thoroughly and add in tasks that are missing or weakly defined.  These will usually be in areas you, not the vendor, need to do: gathering existing information, backfilling for team members’ current duties, internal communication plans, supporting the change after it is implemented, and so on.
Key 3 – Communicate the Change
As soon as you decide to make the change, start communicating!  The better and more accurate information everyone hears, the less time you will spend trying to quell rumors and their ill effects.  Every time you communicate about the change, keep in mind that each person wants three questions answered: (1) What does the change mean to me? (2) Why is it changing? (and why is it a good thing for me), and (3) When will the change happen?  Notice that all three questions have one thing in common – your audience wants to know how the change will affect them personally.  WIIFM is the underlying principle (What’s In It For Me).
Communicate differently to different groups.  High-level information is good for your intranet, company newsletter, or the bulletin board, where everyone can read it.  Managers need information where the change affects their team, regarding project tasks, responsibilities, or procedures.  Project team members need very specific information on what they are expected to do.
Most importantly, be honest in all communications.  Even a small fib will eventually be discovered and will damage your credibility when you need it most.  This doesn’t mean you have to tell everything to everyone.  However, whatever you determine you should communicate must be accurate.
Key 4 – Get Everyone Involved
All levels of the company need to be involved in the change.  This is more than just knowing about the upcoming change – if you get them actively involved, your change will have unstoppable momentum!
Top management needs to understand how the change contributes to the company strategy, and support the change when allocating resources and speaking with various areas of the company.  Middle management should send out some of the communications to their teams and incorporate the change duties as part of the feedback and evaluation process for their teams.  End users will be most intimately involved with the change, helping you to map the process, testing the change, and ideally being champions of the changes to the rest of the company.
Key 5 – Selling the Change
Even with frequent communication and widespread involvement, people often will not want to adopt the change unless you sell the change and get the company motivated.  People need to understand why they need to change before they be willing to change.  And the best way to sell the change and generate motivation comes in two pieces – practical advantages and strategic considerations.
When you decided to make the change, you did it because of the good things that would happen – right?  Now is the time to pull those good things into a list of practical advantages, and use them as you communicate them through the lense of WIIFM (from Key 3).  Be sure to tie the practical advantages to how they contribute to the company strategy, showing how the change benefits both the individual and the company.
Key 6 – Manage Resistance
The first law of change: resistance is normal.  What is important is to recognize and respond to resistance.  All changes will encounter resistance.  If responded to quickly and in a positive way, resistance can even improve your results!
To recognize resistance, watch for changes in behaviors.  Suddenly showing up late to meetings, starting to only point out potential problems, not making eye contact, moving from comfortable to guarded – all these are possible indications of increasing resistance.
To respond, the first step is to listen!  As Stephen Covey wisely said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Often, resistance occurs when the person thinks their concerns are not being heard.  Once you understand the concerns, your response usually falls into one of two areas – sharing more information or incorporating new information.  If the concern stems from not having the complete store, share it with them!  The change is going to do good things, and once they understand the whole story, they will usually become a champion for the change again.  Sometimes, the person develops resistance when they discover a genuine obstacle.  Thank them for bringing it to light, and incorporate it into your planning.
Key 7 – Course Corrections
By definition, a change is something new.  Whenever we try something new, we may not get it right at first.  Develop channels for measuring your progress, and mechanisms for making adjustments.
During initial planning for the change, figure out metrics that will show whether you are on course.  These should be based on results, not efforts.  For example, measuring the percentage of people scoring at an acceptable level after training is a good metric; the percentage of people attending training is not.  Also, set specific milestones for doing a thorough review.
As the change is implemented, regularly evaluate the metrics and also talk with everyone involved.  Do they feel that things are on-track?  If you see something not quite right, you can make minor changes, although do not make any major decisions without reviewing all the factors.  A milestone review is the time to decide if any significant corrections are needed, such as a change in scope, schedule or budget.
In conclusion, managing change is often challenging.  Keep in mind that if it was easy, your competitors would have done it!  By following these 7 Keys for Successful Change Management you can put yourself in the successful 30% of changes!
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