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The Psychology of Change: Understanding the guiding principles of effective change management


Most change management models in use today are in the form of a process or set of steps. In fact, the most effective processes or methodologies are based on research and the experiences of change management experts from years of trial and error in the field. However, the underlying lessons and principles that produced these change management processes and tools are not always clear to the practitioner (especially if you are new to the field of change management). In many cases, the guiding principles and lessons-learned are not even discussed as part of the model or tools.

The result: you learn the 'how' but not the 'why'. The years of practical experience and knowledge that formed the basis for these processes are not readily available to a person trying to make them work in a specific situation.

This tutorial series goes beyond the activities and tasks of managing change for one simple reason: understanding the 'why' makes you better at doing the 'how.'

Change management is not a matter of simply following steps. No two changes are exactly alike, nor are any two organizations. Following a recipe for change management is insufficient to drive business results. The right approach will be specific to the situation. If you do not understand the 'why' behind your actions as a change management practitioner, changes can fail even when reputable change management processes are followed.

In this tutorial series, we will examine some common activities and strategies that are used by change management professionals, and uncover 'why' these activities or strategies are used. For example:

  • Why do business leaders need to communicate directly with employees instead of using the "communication cascade" or the normal chain of command?

  • Why are change management practitioners not the best people to manage resistance with employees?

  • Why are the "designers" of the change often the worst at managing the people side of that same change?

  • Why are supervisors and managers preferred communicators, even more so than the project team?

  • Why do background conversations and the rumor mill sometimes carry more weight with employees than the "official" communications?

  • How do the values of an organization impact the approach to managing change?

  • Why do employees resist change, even when the change is a "good" idea for everyone?

The net result is this: to be effective at leading change, you will need to customize and scale your change management efforts based on the unique characteristics of the change and the attributes of the impacted organization.

Copyright Prosci and Bill Cigliano


The application of change management should never become so automatic and rote that it is akin to a "recipe" of tasks. Cooking, in fact, is a good example of how understanding the 'why' makes you better at the 'how.' The difference between a cook and a chef is really a fundamental understanding of why things are done. When following a recipe, a cook will do exactly as the recipe calls for, and in most cases they produce a predictable result. But, have you ever followed a recipe only to be surprised at the outcome (and not always pleasantly surprised)? Changes in temperature, humidity and elevation can affect the results dramatically. Even small changes in the amount of certain ingredients can throw off a recipe. Since a cook rarely knows 'why' the recipe works, they also rarely know why the recipe failed. Following steps is just that, following steps. A chef, on the other hand, understands the chemistry of what is occurring, and knows the 'why' behind each element of the recipe. When variables change, chefs can adjust to create the outcome they want. Most importantly, a chef can taste the result and tell you what is missing. They have the ability to assess and correct as needed.

Change management shares this simple principle. Understanding the 'why' makes you better at the 'how.' When you apply change management tools and techniques to a change, you should strive to be a "chef" in that you are not blindly following a recipe or formula, but you are carefully crafting a change management strategy and approach that meets the needs of your situation. You are able to assess and correct, constantly adjusting your tactics to match the evolving conditions. Managing the people side of change involves one of the most unpredictable variables that you will ever encounter: people. Our ability to understand the foundational elements or the 'why' that underlies change management tools and processes will ultimately determine the success of our changes, and our own personal success. This does not mean that we don't need a recipe as a starting point - a methodology based on proven methods combined with understanding the 'why' is the most powerful combination.

To accomplish this customization, an understanding of the psychology of change and the key guiding principles is vital. You will then be able to work with many change management tools and adjust your approach according to the size and nature of the change, ultimately making your change a success.

The guiding principles that will impact your change management activities are shown in Figure 1. The overview of principles and ideas presented here is not intended to be an in-depth psychological analysis. Rather, the focus will be on the key insights from these principles that impact effective application of change management.

Figure 1 - Seven guiding principles of effectively managing change


In this tutorial series, we will investigate each of the areas and find out how they impact the successful application of change management. Next week we will begin with the concept of "Senders and Receivers" - addressing why our communications do not always have the impact we desire.


In this tutorial series:

  • Module 1: The psychology of change - understanding the guiding principles of effective change management
  • Module 2: Senders and Receivers - understanding why some communications work and others don't
  • Module 3: Resistance - understanding a phenomena that is natural to all of us
  • Module 4: Authority for change - the role of leadership during change
  • Module 5: How do the values of an organization impact the approach to managing change?
  • Module 6: Incremental vs radical change
  • Module 7: The right answer is not enough
  • Module 8: Change is a process




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Order online - secure server Order the Change Management Toolkit or Change Management Pilot for complete change management assessments, templates, guidelines and plans



Prosci Change Management Certification

Program highlights:
  • Apply the methodology as you learn it on a real project
  • Learn from experienced executive instructors
  • Become part of a change management community
  • Earn 2.4 CEUs, 24 PDUs and 23.5 HRCI recertification credits
  • Walk away with products and course materials worth over $1000

Download the certification program brochure

Upcoming sessions:

  • December 10 - 12, 2013: Portland, OR area - OPEN
  • December 10 - 12, 2013: Chicago, IL area - OPEN
  • December 10 - 12, 2013: Denver, CO area - FULL
  • December 10 - 12, 2013: New York, NY area - FULL
  • December 17 - 19, 2013: Washington, DC area - OPEN
  • December 17 - 19, 2013: San Francisco, CA area - OPEN
  • December 17 - 19, 2013: Orlando, FL area - FULL
  • January 7 - 9, 2014: Chicago, IL area - OPEN
  • January 7 - 9, 2014: Washington, DC area - OPEN
  • January 21 - 23, 2014: Orlando, FL area - OPEN

Visit the certification training page

Email a certification inquiry or call
970-203-9332 to register today.

"The best training class I have had in years. Goes way beyond the strategy and framework and focuses on real world problems and the tools to solve them."
- Jennifer J., April 2009 participant

"This was the most effective and engaging course I've ever taken. I feel that I can truly use this knowledge in my personal and professional life immediately."
- Lisa S., February 2009 participant

"Awesome - truly one of the most beneficial programs I have ever attended - immediate application on the job!"
- Robin S., March 2009 participant

"This program absolutely over-delivered my expectations. I now feel more prepared and better equipped to do my job."
- Paul S., January 2009 participant



Offerings for applying Prosci's change management methodologies:


  • Change management certification ($2800)- 3-day program where you bring a project you are working on and apply all of the assessments and tools as you learn them - taught by former fortune 500 executives at locations across the US - includes over $1000 in products, including the Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report, the Change Management Toolkit and the Change Management Pilot Pro 2012
  • Train-the-trainer ($3500) - learn how to teach Prosci change management training programs in your organization
  • Onsite training - bring Prosci to your location for 3-day certification programs, 4-6 hour executive briefings, 1-day manager programs or 1-day employee programs - call +1-970-203-9332 for more information

Methodology tools:

  • Change Management Toolkit ($389) - hardcopy 3-ring binder presenting Prosci's change management methodology, includes templates, checklists and assessments for managing the people side of change (includes USB drive)
  • Change Management Pilot Pro 2012 ($489) - online tool including Prosci's change management methodology, eLearning modules and downloadable templates, assessments, presentations and checklists
  • Change Management Guide for Managers and Supervisors ($189) - tools to help supervisors engage and coach their direct reports through change (includes 4 copies of the Employee's Survival Guide)
  • PCT Analyzer ($149/$349) - web-based tool for collecting PCT Assessment data, analyzing results, identifying risks and developing action steps

References and books:

  • Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report ($289 / quantity discounts available) - journal-style report with lessons learned and best practices from 650 participants, presented in an easy-to-use format - reads as a checklist of what to do and what not to do
  • Change Management: the people side of change ($18.95 / quantity discounts available) - a primer for anyone involved in organizational change that addresses why manage change, individual change management and organizational change management
  • ADKAR: a model for change ($18.95 / quantity discounts available) - the definitive work on Prosci's ADKAR® Model
  • Employee's Survival Guide to Change ($14.95 / quantity discounts available) - a handbook to help employees survive and thrive during change, answers frequently asked questions and empowers employees to take charge of change



*** Prosci also offers leadership packages - groupings of products at discounts that offer you some of the most helpful and common combinations of Prosci change management resources



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