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The "harder" side of change
The What, Why and How of change management

While it is sometimes called the "soft" side of change, managing the people side of a change is often the most challenging and critical component of an organizational transformation. Take a merger or acquisition for example. The technical side of the change - or the "hard" side, if you will - will most certainly be complex. Issues surrounding the financial arrangements of the deal must be worked out. Development will have to take place to integrate the business system. Decisions will be made about the physical arrangements of the newly formed organization.

But, it is getting people on board and participating in the change that will make the difference. Individuals will have to do their jobs differently, and it is the degree to which they change their behaviors and work processes that will make or break the merger or acquisition. The "soft" side of change is many times actually the "harder" side of change. This article provides a foundation for the what, why and how of managing the people side of change: a structured approach to change management.

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Change management is taking care of the people side of change. It does little good to create a new organization, design new work processes or implement new technologies if you leave the people behind. Financial success of these changes will be more dependent on how individuals in the organization embrace the change than how well you draw organization charts or process diagrams.

Change management is the process, tools and techniques to manage the people-side of change to achieve the required business outcomes (Prosci's definition from the Change Management Learning Center). It is the systematic management of employee engagement and adoption when the organization changes how work will be done. Ultimately, change management focuses on how to help employees embrace, adopt and utilize a change in their day-to-day work.

Change management is both a process and a competency.

  • From a process perspective, it is the set of steps followed by a team member on a particular project or initiative. For the given transformational effort, it is the strategy and set of plans focused on moving people through the change. Prosci's research-based methodology includes three main phases: Preparing for change (where readiness assessments help guide the formulation of a strategy), Managing change (where five change management plans are created and integrated into the project plan) and Reinforcing change (where compliance is audited and mechanisms are deployed to cement the change).

  • From a competency perspective, it is a leader or manager's ability to "effectively lead my people through change." The notion of a leadership competency is universal, but what that competency entails depends on a person's relationship to change. For senior leaders, the competency means being an effective sponsor of change and demonstrating their own as well as the organization's commitment to the change (read more about the sponsor role and training). For front-line supervisors, the competency is related to coaching direct reports through their own change journey (read more about the supervisor role and training). While the competency varies based on one's relationship to change, organizations are more effective and successful when they build change management competencies throughout their ranks.

Change management is not just communication or training. It is not just managing hardware or software versions (although it has been used in this context). It is not just managing resistance. Effective change management follows a structured process and uses a holistic set of tools to drive successful individual and organizational change.



There are numerous reasons to employ effective change management on both large and small scale efforts. Here, three main cases for change management are made.

  1. Organizational change happens one person at a time

  2. Poorly managing change has costs

  3. Effective change management increases the likelihood of success

1. Organizational change happens one person at a time: It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking about change exclusively from an organizational perspective. When one thinks about a merger or acquisition, for example, the issues that come to mind are financial structuring, data and system integration and physical location changes. However, organizational change of any kind actually occurs one person at a time. Success of an organization effort only occurs when Adam and Betty and Charles and Deborah (for example) do their jobs differently. Organizations don't change - people within organizations change. It is the cumulative impact of successful individual change that results in an organizational change being successful. If individuals don't make changes to their day-to-day work, an organizational transformation effort will not deliver results.

2. Poorly managing change has costs: There are countless consequences of ignoring the people side of a change. Productivity declines become much larger and longer in duration than they could have been. Managers are unwilling to devote the time or resources needed to support the change. Necessary people do not show up to meetings. Suppliers begin to feel the impact and see the disruption caused by the change. Customers are negatively impacted by a change that should have been invisible to them. Employee morale suffers and divisions between "us" and "them" begin to emerge in the organization. Stress, confusion and fatigue all increase. Valued employees leave the organization. Projects also suffer as deadlines are missed, budgets are overrun and rework is required to get the effort back on track. In some cases, the project itself is completely abandoned after large investments of capital and time. All of these consequences have tangible and real financial impact on the health of the organization and the project. And, each of these consequences can be addressed and mitigated if a structured approach to the people side of change is utilized.

3. Effective change management increases the likelihood of success: There is a growing body of data that shows the impact that effective change management has on the probability that a project meets its objectives. Prosci's longitudinal benchmarking studies show a strong correlation. Data from the 2007 and 2009 benchmarking studies showed that 95% of participants with excellent change management met or exceeded objectives, while only 16% of those with poor change management met or exceeded objectives. In other words, projects with excellent change management were six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management (see the data). A 2002 McKinsey Quarterly article by LaClair and Rao found that projects with excellent change management delivered 143% of the expected Return on Investment, while those with poor change management delivered only 35% of expected ROI. Regardless of the change at hand - focusing on the people side of change increases the likelihood of being successful. Additionally, Prosci's research shows a direct correlation between effective change management and staying on schedule and on budget.



Effectively managing change requires two perspectives: an individual perspective and an organizational perspective.

The individual perspective is an understanding of how people experience change. Prosci's ADKAR® Model describes change as successful, whether at home or at the office, when an individual has:

  • 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.

If an individual is missing any of the five building blocks, then the change will not be successful. The goal, then, in leading the people side of change is ensuring that individuals have Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement (read more about ADKAR).

The organizational perspective of change management is the process and activities that project teams utilize to support successful individual change. If ADKAR describes what an individual needs to make a change successfully, then organizational change management is the set of actions to help build Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement across the organization. Based on over a decade of research, Prosci's organizational methodology utilizes readiness assessments and strategy development to support the creation of five targeted plans: communication plan, sponsor roadmap, coaching plan, training plan and resistance management plan. Each of the plans has a specific ADKAR element as its focus (read more about the Prosci methodology).

While the change management resource on a project can work to develop the strategy and plans, much of the work of change management is done by senior leaders, managers and supervisors throughout the organization. Benchmarking data shows that in times of change, employees have two preferred senders of change messages: someone at the top of their organization and the person they report to. Change management practitioners are enablers of these employee-facing roles. And, in times of change, it is the effectiveness of senior leaders as sponsors of change, and of mangers and supervisors as coaches of change that will determine if a project succeeds or fails.



So what can you do to become a more effective change leader? The bottom line is this: begin applying change management on your projects and begin building change management competencies in your organization. These are the first steps to ensuring projects deliver their intended results by taking care of the people side of change.

The people side of change is not the "soft" side of change; in reality it is the "harder" side of change. Investing the time and energy to manage the people side of your organizational efforts pays off in the end - in terms of success of the effort and avoidance of the numerous costs that plague poorly managed change.




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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:

  • January 18 - 20, 2011: Tampa, FL area - OPEN
  • January 25 - 27, 2011: San Francisco, CA area - OPEN
  • January 25 - 27, 2011: Washington DC area - FULL
  • February 1 - 3, 2011: Denver, CO area - OPEN
  • February 15 - 17, 2011: Tampa, FL area - OPEN
  • March 8 - 10, 2011: San Francisco, CA area - OPEN
  • March 15 - 17, 2011: Chicago, IL area - OPEN
  • March 22 - 24, 2011: Washington DC 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 2010
  • 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 2010 ($449) - 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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Email a Prosci analyst or call 970-203-9332 with questions about the methodology, its application, or finding the right resources to support your change management activities.




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