Change is a process
Change occurs as a process, not as an event.
Organizational change does not happen instantaneously
because there was an announcement, a kick-off meeting or
even a go-live date. Individuals do not change simply
because they received an email or attended a training
program. When we experience change, we move from what we
had known and done, through a period of transition to
arrive at a desired new way of behaving and doing our
Although it is the last of the seven principles of change management
presented, treating change as a process is a central component of
successful change and successful change management. By breaking change
down into distinct phases, you can better customize and tailor your
approach to ensure individuals successfully adopt the change to how they
Understanding change as a process
It is easy to see changes in nature occurring as a process. Whether
it is a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, or winter shifting into
spring, we can easily appreciate the process of change. But when we
begin changing our organization with projects and initiatives, we often
forget the fact that change does not happen instantaneously.
The easiest, most basic approach to understanding change as a process
is to break change down into distinct, understandable elements. The three states of change
provide a powerful framework: the
Current State, the Transition State and the Future State.
The Current State - The Current State is how
things are done today. It is the collection of processes, behaviors, tools,
technologies, organizational structures and job roles that constitute how
work is done. The Current State defines who we are. It may not be
working great, but it is familiar and comfortable because we know
what to expect. The Current State is where we have been
successful and where we know how we will be measured and evaluated.
Above all else, the Current State is known.
The Transition State - The Transition State
is messy and disorganized. It is unpredictable and constantly in
flux. The Transition State is often emotionally charged - with
emotions ranging from despair to anxiety to anger to fear to relief. During
the Transition State, productivity predictably declines. The Transition State
requires us to accept new perspectives and learn new ways of behaving,
while still keeping up our day-to-day efforts. The Transition State
The Future State - The Future State is where
we are trying to get to. It is often not fully defined, and can
actually shift while we are trudging through the Transition State.
The Future State is supposed to be better than the Current State in
terms of performance. The Future State can often be worrisome. The
Future State may not match our personal and professional goals, and
there is a chance that we may not be successful in the Future State.
Above all else, the Future State is unknown.
The three states of change provide a way to articulate how change
actually occurs. Whether the change is an Enterprise Resource Planning
application, a new performance review process, a new piece of machinery
on the production line, an optimized and managed set of business
processes or a new reporting structure - there is always a Current State
(how things are done today), a Future State (how things will be done)
and a Transition State (how we will move from point A to point B).
Think about a project you are working on or a project that is
impacting you. Using the following table, try to define each of the
three states of change and come up with three adjectives that
describe that state.
||Adjectives describing that
To take the understanding of change as a process one step further,
think about who in the organization spends their time focused on the
Current State, the Transition State and the Future State. The table
below looks at three audiences and how they view the states of change.
|What I need to change
and why I am trying to
implement the change
|A necessary evil to get me where
I want to be
that I have
decided to move my
||What I'm starting with
and must improve
focus of my daily
work and what I'm
charged with solving
|Where we ultimately want
to end up
|Front line employees,
day-to-day work that
I do to deliver value to
|A disorganized inconvenience
to me doing my job
|An unknown that may or
may not be good for me
Executives and senior leaders live in the Future State. That is what
they are responsible for and compensated for - deciding how the
organization should function in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, etc. Project
teams live in the Transition State. They investigate alternatives,
decide on a path and develop a solution to change the organization.
Employees, managers and supervisors live in the Current State. They
cannot simply stop their work to implement a change. They are
responsible for keeping the organization functioning while a change is
The disconnect here can have significant ramifications when it comes
to communicating about change. Senior leaders tend to focus on and speak
vision, almost detrimentally in some instances. Project teams tend to
focus their communications on the details of their solution and the
milestones and timeframes when change will happen. Employees want to
know why what they are doing now (the Current State) needs to be changed
in the first place. Change management practitioners play a key role in
bridging the gap between the three states of change.
Managing change as a process
Once you have started thinking about change not as a singular event
but as a process, the question remains: how do you manage the process of
change? Managing change as a process takes place on two levels:
- Individual level
- Organizational level
Each individual employee or manager who is impacted by a change must
go through their own, personal process of change. If the change impacts
five people, then each of those five must move from their Current State
through their Transition State to their own Future State. If the project
impacts 500 people then there are 500 Current-Transition-Future
processes that must occur. If the initiative impacts 5,000 people, then
there are 5,000 individuals moving from a Current State to
a Future State. This is the essence of change management, supporting
individuals through the required personal transitions necessary in order for
a project or initiative to improve the performance of the organization.
Prosci's ADKAR® Model provides a more detailed description
of how an individual successfully
moves from their Current State to their Future State. ADKAR
describes the five building blocks of successful change:
- Awareness of the need for change
- Desire to participate and support the change
- Knowledge on how to change
- Ability to implement the required skills and behaviors
- Reinforcement to sustain the change
Whether it is a change at home, in the community or at work -
individuals are successful at change when they have Awareness, Desire,
Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement™. This results-oriented description
of the individual change process gives change management
practitioners a new focus. For example, instead of seeing their
job as "creating a communications plan," an effective
practitioner with a focus on the individual change process sees
his or her job as "creating Awareness" and so forth.
Two final observations about change as a process at the
individual level. First, people will start the change process at
different points in time. A team that is part of a pilot program
may learn about a change and start the change process months
before other larger groups of employees. Second, individuals
take different amounts of time to move through the process
themselves. For one, Awareness of the need for change may only
take a few hours where for another it may take days or weeks to
arrive at the point of saying "I understand why the change is
Once we begin viewing and managing the individual change
processes associated with a project or initiative, we will be
more successful at enabling those individual transitions that
together will result in successful organizational change.
When it comes to managing change at the organizational level,
viewing change as a process helps determine the sequencing and
content of the change management effort.
First, organizational change management itself should follow
a process that parallels the process of change associated with a
project or initiative. Prosci's 3-Phase Process for
organizational change management lays out specific activities
for Phase 1 - Preparing for change (occurring during the Current
State), Phase 2 - Managing change (occurring during the
Transition State) and Phase 3 - Reinforcing change (occurring
during the Future State).
Second, research shows that change management practitioners have five
tools or levers they can use to help move individuals forward
through the change process -
communications plan, sponsor roadmap, coaching plan, training
plan and resistance management plan. Depending on if we are in
the Current State, the Transition State or the Future
State, different tools will be more effective and the content
will change. Two examples:
- The training plan - a training plan is a key component
of a change management effort. Employees typically need new
skills and competencies when adopting a change to their
day-to-day work. But the training plan must be effectively
sequenced based on where employees are in the change
process. A training program that occurs right when employees
learn about a change - when they are standing firmly in the
Current State - will not be effective (this is an
unfortunate reality in many cases, however, where the first
response to a change is "send them to training"). Training
should be delivered after employees have already started to
move out of the Current State and into the Transition State.
- The communications plan - the content of an effective
communications plan parallels or matches where employees are
in the process of change. Early communication efforts should
focus on explaining why the Current State is not working and
must be changed. Communications later on in the change
process can begin to focus on details and the eventual
results the project or initiative is aiming to deliver. If
the first communications to employees focus on the details,
milestones and vision of the change, employees are left with
unanswered questions that cloud their ability to process the
details - namely "why?".
Managing change as a process from an organizational viewpoint
helps to ensure that the right activities are occurring at the
right time, and that employees are receiving the right
information they need to move through their own personal process
Key lessons for change managers:
Treat the changes you manage as a process, and not
as a single event or series of events.
Individuals experience change as a process.
Evaluate and focus your change management activities based on where
individuals are in the change process.
No one experiences the process the same.
Your organizational change management efforts need
to be tied to where you are in the change process.
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
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