Why change management?
1 preview from the new edition of
Change Management: the people side of change
The Foundational Tenets for Change Management: Connecting
people with results.
This excerpt from the soon to be released revision of
Prosci’s book Change Management: the people side of change
provides a solid connection to why we change in the first place,
and makes the link between business results and people simple
and easy to explain. Stay tuned for the full release later this
The results and outcomes of workplace changes are
intrinsically and inextricably tied to individual employees
doing their jobs differently. A perfectly designed process that
no one follows produces no improvement in performance. A
perfectly designed technology that no one uses creates no
additional value to the organization. Perfectly defined job
roles that are not fulfilled by employees deliver no sustained
results. Whether in the workplace, in your community or in
government, the connection between a quality solution and
benefit realization is individuals embracing and adopting the
Change management enables employees to adopt a change so that
business objectives are realized. It is the bridge between
solutions and results, and it is fundamentally about people, and
our collective role of transforming change into successful
outcomes for our organizations.
But what does it mean to manage the people side of change and
what exactly is change management? How does change management
drive successful change? To answer these questions, it is
necessary to establish the foundational tenets for change
management. This grounding in the reality of how change actually
happens enables a better understanding and more robust
application of the tools and processes for managing the people
side of change. Each of these tenets will build on the other,
and together they form the basis for the “what and why” of
To begin, we need to have an anchor point that you, as a
reader, can agree with and that acts as a starting point for
this discussion: We change for a reason. As simple as this
sounds, an underlying principle for managing change is that a
future state that is different than today can be envisioned, and
that we are changing to that future state to achieve a specific
and desired outcome.
Saying we change for reason does not mean that the reason for
every change is the same, only that there is a specific reason
or objective for any particular change. The reasons for change
are as varied as the change itself: revenue growth, improved
customer satisfaction, reduced costs, better product or service
quality, reduced risk exposure, improved quality of life and so
on. Projects and initiatives are undertaken not because they are
fun and exciting, but because there is an opportunity to capture
or a problem to solve. Most importantly, there is a chance to
improve performance in a meaningful way. A fundamental
assumption of change is that something different is possible.
This gives us our anchor point and the first tenet for change
Tenet #1 - We change for a reason.
To establish the second tenet, consider what makes a change
“come to life” and produce a desired outcome. Is it the new
technology or processes? How about new tools or new
organizational structures? While these are necessary components
of change, their presence alone does not create the change we
are looking to achieve. Change has only truly occurred when
individuals in the organization begin working in new ways:
displaying new behaviors, using new tools, adhering to new
processes and adopting new values. Individual shifts in behavior
are the cornerstone of change. When numerous individual shifts
are taken together as a whole, the desired future state of the
organization is achieved. This leads us to the second Tenet:
Organizational change requires individual change.
It is easy to think about change from an organizational
perspective: the optimization of business processes; a new
enterprise resource planning (ERP) application; electronic
medical records; new accounting systems; the release of a new
software tool; the move to a new office complex; the
installation of a new piece of equipment in the manufacturing
process; the shift toward paperless operations. These are all
examples of changes that organizations are undertaking to
improve performance, capture an opportunity or resolve an issue.
But each of these changes ultimately requires certain
individuals in the organization to do their jobs differently.
This is not to say that new technologies, improved processes,
better tools and new organizational designs are not enablers of
change, as these are certainly essential building blocks.
However, change ultimately results from people adopting new
skills and demonstrating new capabilities, and while this may
sound like common sense, we often assume that change at an
individual level will simply just happen. For example, it is
easy for a project manager or business leader to make the
following assumptions: If I build it, everyone will use it; if I
build it, everyone will use immediately; and if I build it,
everyone will use it effectively. If these assumptions were
always true, then each change would yield the desired outcomes
Reality is different. If you build it, some people will use
it, but not necessarily everyone. Some may never embrace the
change by finding “workarounds” or simply opting out. If you
build it, it will take time for people to get on board. Some
people may change quickly, while others may move very slowly.
Finally, if you build it, each person will use it at a different
level of proficiency, some very effectively and some very
poorly. The realization of change, even large-scale
organizational projects and initiatives, is at its core an
individual phenomenon. In other words, the degree to which a
change produces results is directly correlated with individual
change, and hence the second tenet:
Tenet #2: Organizational change requires individual change.
When we consider that the realization of a change and the
achievement of specific outcomes are tied to people, we can now
ask the right questions: How many total employees will engage in
the change versus how many will opt out or find workarounds
(referred to as the ultimate utilization of the change in the
Prosci ROI of Change Management Model)? How quickly will our
employees get on board with the change (the speed of adoption)?
How effectively will the change be implemented at an individual
level (proficiency)? Since change is ultimately an individual
phenomenon, it is these individual factors that drive or
constrain the value that a change creates. This leads us to the
third tenet: Organizational outcomes are the collective result
of individual change.
Specifically, the closer you are to 100% engagement with
employees (a 100% ultimate utilization rate), then the closer
you are to achieving 100% of the desired outcomes. Likewise, the
faster employees embrace the change, the sooner the benefits are
realized. For proficiency, the skills or competency demonstrated
by employees directly correlates to the degree the benefits can
On the other hand, the closer these human factors are to
zero, the more likely the change will be viewed as a failure and
the objectives will go unmet. For example, if a solution to a
problem was developed, but no one implemented or used the new
solution, then the business objective failed, even if the
technical solution was developed exactly to specifications. A
change that was supposed to be implemented in three months but
instead takes two years is equally problematic. The ultimate
utilization, speed of adoption and proficiency are the human
factors that impact the overall return on investment and the
degree to which the desired outcomes are achieved. Success,
specifically delivering results and outcomes, depends on
individuals embracing and adopting the change.
For example, consider the deployment of a large enterprise
resource planning (ERP) system in a manufacturing company. The
system was end-to-end, connecting customer order entry directly
to manufacturing and inventory control. The goal of the
implementation was to accelerate the order fulfillment process
for customers and increase inventory accuracy while enabling
just-in-time manufacturing. Tom, an order fulfillment specialist
in the warehousing department, received a customer order through
the new system. He knew he had the product because he had seen
it in the warehouse earlier that day. However, when he attempted
to process the order, the ERP system listed the current
inventory as “0” and would not allow the order to be processed.
Tom could not ship the product sitting right there on the shelf
because the new process required that the item be present in the
inventory module of the new ERP system. When the problem was
investigated, it was determined that one individual in
manufacturing was resistant to the change and was not entering
new inventory into the system in a timely manner.
This example shows several of the tenets at work. First, the
reason for this change was not the new ERP system. The reason
for the change was faster customer service and more accurate
inventory control. Second, failure to manage the people side of
change in the manufacturing group resulted in a failed outcome
for the business and the customer, not just a delay in the
implementation of the system or frustration on Tom’s part.
Third, implementing system and organizational changes did not,
in and of themselves, produce results. Only through individual
change and the new capabilities of individual employees could
the organization realize a new future state and the associated
business outcomes. Finally, Tom changing by himself was not
enough. The overall outcome for the organization was the
collective result of many individual contributors. Each person in
the process must embrace and engage in the change in order for
the desired outcomes to be achieved.
When project managers and business leaders assume that the
human factors of change (ultimate utilization, speed of adoption
and proficiency) will automatically be 100% the moment a change
is introduced (or at the “go-live” date), they fall into the
trap of believing that designing and implementing a business
solution is sufficient to achieve results. Without the
engagement of each employee who must do their job differently as
a result of the change, we lack tangible benefits from change,
hence the third tenet.
Tenet #3: Organizational outcomes are the collective result of individual change.
So if you are asked “why change management?” the answer is
simple: to ensure that each change in our organization produces
the results we are expecting. If you are then asked “what is
change management or what is organizational change management” the
answer, and the fourth tenet, is: Change management is an
enabling framework for managing the people side of change. The
reality in organizations today is that employees have choice,
capacity limitations and capability constraints. Change
saturation is at an all time high. Resistance to change from
employees is the norm and not the exception, especially when
change is being imposed by others. Failing to lead the people
side of change results in lower utilization, slower speed of
adoption and poor proficiency; stated simply, less benefit from
For this reason change management should not be viewed as
simply a mechanism to reduce employee resistance or a plan to
mitigate risks to the organization during change. Change
management provides an organizational framework that enables
individuals to adopt new values, skills and behaviors so that
business results are achieved. Change management is about
engaging the passion and energy of employees around a common and
shared vision, such that the change becomes in integral part of
their work and behavior.
Change management, as a practical matter, leverages the
normal mechanisms within an organization to influence and
develop employees through broad activities such as
communications, training and visible sponsorship. At the same
time, change management enables action at an individual employee
level through coaching and resistance management. Change
managers are not simply project team members or change
management practitioners. Change managers include organization
leaders, executives, managers, front-line supervisors and
employees; all who enable individuals within an organization to
transition from their own current state to a new future state.
All of these change management activities and roles comprise a
discipline and field of study that enable individual and
organizational transition, and hence the fourth tenet.
Tenet #4: Change management is an enabling framework for
managing the people side of change.
This leads us to the fifth and final tenet: We apply change
management to realize the benefits and desired outcomes of
concluding principle is an essential and distinguishing quality
of change management. Unlike project management that is focused
on the realization of a technical solution, change management is
focused on the achievement of the desired results or outcomes of
the change by supporting people through their own transitions.
This statement is supported by the research. Prosci’s
benchmarking studies show that projects effectively applying
change management were six times more likely to meet their
So while training, communications, sponsorship, resistance
management and employee coaching are critical elements of change
management, they do not define change management. In other
words, we do not apply change management to enhance
communications and training, or to implement employee
recognition programs. Nor do we apply change management only to
reduce the risks to the organization during change, such as
lower employee morale, productivity loss, undesired turnover or
negative impacts on customers. While a strong case for change
management can be made on mitigating risks, it is a classic case
of “necessary but not sufficient.” Change management has a more
important and primary objective: to increase the probability
that the future state is realized and that the associated
outcomes (objectives of the change) are achieved. Change
management is the application of processes and tools to manage
the people side of change from a current state to a new future
state so the desired results of the change (and expected return
on investment) are achieved. This leads to the fifth tenet:
Tenet #5: We apply change
management to realize the
benefits and desired outcomes of change.
These five tenets comprise the “what and why” of change
management. They describe the universal truths about how change
happens and why a discipline is needed that focuses on enabling
individual change. These tenets also allow you to establish the
value proposition for change management in your organization.
Change management is the application of processes and tools
to manage the people side of change from a current state to a
new future state such that the desired results of the change
(and expected return on investment) are achieved.
Change management is necessary because:
1. We change for a reason.
2. Organizational change requires individual change.
3. Organizational outcomes are the collective result of
4. Change Management is an enabling framework for managing
the people side of change.
5. We apply change management to realize the benefits and
desired outcomes of change.
The high-level conclusions you can draw from these tenets are
simple, yet they will profoundly impact the approach you take to
1. We apply change management for one primary reason: to
ensure that the desired results from the change are achieved. We
measure the success of change management by measuring the degree
to which the objectives of the change (or project) are realized.
Additional benefits from applying change management include:
- Faster speed of adoption
Higher ultimate utilization
Higher engagement of the change
Legacy of successful change
- Resistance and risk mitigation (lower productivity, employee turnover,
negative customer impact)
2. To lead change at an organizational level, you must be
able to lead change at an individual level. Change management is
only effective when you combine the processes and tools for
organizational change management with the processes and tools
for individual change management.
3. Change management is not a one-person job (or the job of
one team). The roles required to execute a change management
plan include senior leaders, front-line supervisors, middle
managers, specialist from HR and OD, employees and designated
resources on a project team. Unlike project management, which is
executed by a trained project manager, change management
requires the orchestration of activities by many players
throughout an organization.
Prosci Copyright 2012. Reprints of this book excerpt
require permission from Prosci.