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Examining the definition of change management

The phrase "change management" can mean many things to many different people. Some may see it as simply communications and training. Others may see it from an IT perspective as the process for managing hardware and software version control. In the project management world, the phrase has sometimes been used to describe the steps for addressing a change in schedule or scope. And, some in the change management community have entertained other words as a label for managing the people side of change. This tutorial provides a definition for change management and then examines the three components of the definition.

The need for a common and shared definition

While some might argue that this is purely semantics, a clear definition of change management and the underlying meaning of the definition is important for practitioners working to support projects and initiatives and for organizations looking to build a competency in effectively managing change. The goal here is to put a "stake in the ground" - providing a context and definition that practitioners can use when they discuss change management with others in the organization. Many of the myths associated with change management result from: 1) change management not being connected to delivering value to the organization, and 2) confusion or misunderstanding about what change management really means. By communicating about change management with the three elements of the definition below, change management professionals can address these myths and better position themselves within the projects they work on and the organization as a whole.


Definition foundation: finding a place for change management

There is a simple logic flow that leads us to the definition of change management and to why change management is necessary for the many transformational and improvement efforts underway in organizations today. The logic flow is presented below:

  • Projects and initiatives in the organization
    …are launched in order to cause…
  • Improvements in performance (why)
    …by making changes to…
  • Processes, systems, tools, job roles, organization structures (what)
    …which ultimately require…
  • Individuals to change how they do their jobs (how)

The "why" for projects and initiatives taking place in an organization is to improve performance. There can be many reasons to launch a project or initiative, including: customer demands, competitive response, internal performance (or lack of), regulation or legislation, market shifts, etc. Each of these triggers present an opportunity or an issue the organization needs to address. Improvements in performance result from the "what" in the logic flow - changes to processes, systems, tools, job roles or organization structures. These are the targets of the solution that is developed to address the opportunity or issue. The ultimate "how" shows up at the end of the logic flow - any change to processes, systems, tools, job roles or organization structures ultimately impacts how some people in the organization do their jobs. It may be a dozen people in a work group, several hundred people in a particular department or division, or thousands of people across the entire enterprise. In the end, projects or initiatives require some individuals to change how they do their jobs. If these individuals do not adopt the change to their day-to-day work, the project will not succeed.


This is where change management fits in - at the bottom of the logic flow. There are many approaches for identifying where to improve performance and for managing solution designs for processes, systems, tools, job roles or organization structures. Change management is the approach for supporting individuals through the changes required in how they do their jobs.



Prosci's definition of change management is shown below:

Definition: Change management is the [application of] the set of tools, processes, skills and principles for managing the people side of change to achieve the required outcomes of a change project or initiative

The definition has three distinct clauses that will be addressed in more detail in this tutorial:

  • the set of tools, processes, skills and principles

  • for managing the people side of change

  • to achieve the required outcomes of the project or initiative

For this tutorial, we will examine the clauses in reverse order, from the last to the first.

Change management is:


Clause 1:

The last clause of the definition, but the first we will address, is "to achieve the required outcomes of the project or initiative". Many who are new to change management, or perhaps skeptical of what is called "change management" might be surprised by this part of the definition. The clause, in no uncertain terms, connects change management to the ultimate value or objectives that the organization is looking to derive from implementing the change (the project or initiative).

Benchmarking data clearly shows the connection between managing the people side of change and achieving the required outcomes of the project or initiative. Prosci's correlation analysis of data from the 2009 and 2007 benchmarking studies shows that projects with excellent change management are six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management. And, projects with good change management in place are five times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management. The analysis goes one step further, though, showing that effective change management also increases the likelihood of staying on schedule and on budget. The 2002 McKinsey Quarterly article "Helping employees embrace change" draws a similar conclusion based on data from forty projects. The bottom line is, the better the people side of change is managed the more successful a project will be.

Not only does the data suggest that a connection exists between change management effectiveness and project success, it is important for change management practitioners to have this clause be part of their own definition of change management. Change management is not applied on a project simply to keep change management professionals busy, or because it seems like a good idea. Change management is a tool for enabling project success, and it is important that this focus be part of the change management discussion and definition.

This clause is particularly important when change management is being discussed with project managers, project teams and senior leaders. When having a discussion about the value that change management delivers, it is important to focus on what the audience cares about. Project teams care about being on time and on budget, and creating a measurable improvement in how the organization operates via the project or initiative. Senior leaders care about financial and strategic objectives. Change management professionals who can directly connect change management effectiveness to these objectives are more likely to receive the commitment and support they need.

Adding this clause to the definition moves us away from change management as a "soft" disciple to change management as a crucial component of successful change. In the end, there is only one goal of applying change management on a project or initiative - meeting objectives and delivering value to the organization.


Clause 2:

The "people side" of change refers to the reality that when a new process is introduced or a new technology is implemented, individuals will have to do their jobs differently. Think about these two rhetorical questions:

  • What value does a new process deliver if no one follows it?
  • What value does a new technology deliver if no one uses it?

The answer to both questions is: none.

Projects and initiatives that impact how people do their jobs need structure and planning to address that "people side" of their changes. And, most of the strategic and important changes in an organization ultimately impact people and how they do their jobs.

Prosci's exercise for connecting change management to business results presents a simple framework where you identify the Project, the Purpose (why we are changing), the Particulars (what we are changing) and the People (who are changing). By building this context and connection, you can help project teams and senior leaders begin to identify the people change required for a project or initiative (read more about the P-P-P-P exercise).

A key component for managing the people side of change is understanding how one individual makes a change successfully. In the end, organizational change occurs one person at a time. Said another way, the individual is the unit of change. Even for very large and complex changes, the ultimate success of the initiative is tied to how successfully each individual who must adopt the change makes their own personal transition from their current state to their future state.

Prosci's ADKAR® Model presents a simple but powerful framework for describing successful change at the individual level. ADKAR states that for an individual to make a change, he or she needs:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge on how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change

Changes are successful when each employee who must do things differently has Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement (read more about applications of ADKAR). ADKAR describes the "ends" of successful organizational change. Change management, as a disciple, provides structure for helping individuals change, since those individuals are the "people side" of the change effort.


Clause 3:

The final clause, which is actually the first in the definition, is "the set of tools, processes, skills and principles". Change management requires structure and intent. It is no longer enough to simply have a communication plan or a training plan. The people side of change plays too important of a role in meeting objectives to approach it in an ad hoc manner.

Tools: Effective change management draws upon a number of tools to enable successful individual change. Some of these tools are familiar and used readily on projects - namely the communication plan and training plan. In Prosci's methodology, there are five major plans created - Sponsorship Roadmap, Coaching Plan, Resistance Management Plan, Communication Plan and Training Plan. Each of the plans have a particular element of individual change as their focus; for example a Communication Plan aims at creating Awareness and Reinforcement, a Resistance Management Plan focuses on Desire, and a Training Plan addresses Knowledge and Ability. The plans are the levers or tools available to bring about personal transitions and represent concrete deliverables that can be woven into a project plan. However, to be most effective these plans are built within a holistic process.

Processes: A change management process provides the structure for managing the people side of change. Like processes for managing the technical side of a project, the change management process describes the sequence of activities that a change management practitioner would follow on a particular project or initiative. Prosci's organizational change management process has three distinct phases: Phase 1 - Preparing for change; Phase 2 - Managing change; Phase 3 - Reinforcing change. In Phase 1 - Preparing for change, a series of readiness assessments and analysis provides the situational awareness required to manage the change at hand. The outputs of Phase 1 are a customized change management strategy, the necessary supporting structures (sponsorship and team model) and special tactics for the initiatives. In Phase 2 - Managing change, the five change management tools or levers described above are created and integrated into the project plan. In Phase 3 - Reinforcing change, mechanisms are established for gathering feedback, identifying resistance, correcting gaps and measuring adoption and compliance. This holistic process ensures that best practices are incorporated, important steps are not missed and lessons learned are applied to speed up the change management

Skills: Change management is not done by a single individual, or even a team dedicated to change management. The "face and voice" of change management are found throughout the organization. Executives and senior leaders must fulfill the role of "sponsors of change" in support of a project or initiative - demonstrating their commitment, authority and support. Frontline supervisors and middle managers play a key role in communicating with direct reports, coaching them through the change process, building support and managing resistance. In times of change, employees look to the person they report to and the person in charge for direction. From a skills perspective, this means that effective change management requires competencies in leading change throughout the organization. Change management professionals are enablers, but the "employee facing" roles in change management are the executives, leaders, managers and supervisors (read more about roles in change management).

Principles: Finally, there are key guiding principles for change that are evident in the tools, processes and activities of change management. For instance, the notion that change happens as a process, and not as a discrete event, is a key principle for how change can be successfully managed. A second principle is "the right answer is not enough" - that employees need a compelling case for change above and beyond a perfect solution. Value systems in organizations also play a key role in how changes are introduced and managed. These, along with other guiding principles, shape how change management is applied on a project or initiative.



Change management is a holistic and structured approach for enabling and supporting individual change. It requires tools, processes, skills and principles to be effective. In the end, the degree to which the people side of change is effectively managed determines the value a project or initiative delivers to the organization. By working to bring about a clear and shared definition, change management professionals can be more effective and credible within the organizations and projects they support.




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Prosci Change Management Certification

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  • Apply the methodology as you learn it on a real project
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  • Earn 2.4 CEUs, 24 PDUs and 23.5 HRCI recertification credits
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Tools for applying change management:

  • 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
  • Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report ($289) - 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 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 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)
  • Change Management Pilot ($449) - online tool including Prosci's change management methodology, eLearning modules and downloadable templates, assessments, presentations and checklists
  • Change Management Pilot Professional ($559) - the content of the Change Management Pilot plus additional benchmarking data and an online version of the Change Management Guide for Managers and Supervisors
  • Change Management: the people side of change ($18.95) - a primer for anyone involved in organizational change that addresses why manage change, individual change management and organizational change management
  • Employee's Survival Guide to Change (14.95) - 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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