Project & Programme Management

What Is Change Management?

Businesses often go through periods of change, but managing the people side of that change can be difficult. In this guide, we look at the importance of change management skills and the benefits of investing in a dedicated change manager.

Change Management at a Glance

  • Change management involves overseeing changes within a company and leading and managing these changes just like any other project. It is mainly the people focused aspects.
  • Change management is important when getting the business leaders and team members on your side, and to smoothly transition a company from one way of working to another. 
  • Change can be mergers, acquisitions, a new customer portal, relocating office spaces, changes in senior leadership, or any number of other business changes. You need an effective change management strategy to handle this. 
  • To be a great change manager, it's important to have effective, clear communication, planning and prediction skills, be people-focused and able to facilitate feedback to management. 
  • Change management needs to be monitored according to the change management principles of understanding change, planning change, implementing change and communicating change. 
  • Dedicated change management training courses can help a business to improve their ability to manage and deliver change. 

What is change management?

Managing the people side of change is just as important as the gritty logistics. Yes, there might be a big focus on finances, integration of systems, and organisational structure, but getting everyone in your business on board with the change is essential. 

Change management is the act of overseeing changes within a company and leading and managing them just like any other project might be managed. It focuses mainly on the people aspect, taking into account employee’s feelings and views more than some other projects might. 

So, what is a change manager? 

A change manager is a person with the leadership and management skills outlined above. They could have a job role such as the team lead, or a senior member of HR, and need to keep their team and the individuals informed as to what changes may be happening in the business. 

It's possible for an individual to function in more than one role under the change management umbrella (see ‘Roles in change management’ near the bottom of this article). However, it is important for anyone involved in change to know what their role is at a particular time and in a particular situation, and to perform it well. Change managers are often called upon to provide informal commentary or coaching for others involved in change. They can help people in all these roles to develop a clear picture of how best to fulfill these functions and so to help change succeed. 

Why is change management important?  

Teams won’t be motivated to work around business changes and evolving processes unless they understand them. The role of the change manager and their team/coalition of sponsors or leaders is to get the entire organisation on board with any changes, no matter how minor or major. Managing this process well means that employees will have greater visibility, and in turn be more motivated to run with changes instead of resisting them. If businesses are unable to manage change effectively to suit the times and environment, then they can become obsolete and irrelevant to their market.  

Managing change in the workplace 

Managing change in the workplace well is essential in a constantly changing environment – both on an individual and an organisational level. Many factors prompt change in the workplace, such as: 

  • pressure to compete in the external environment. 
  • the need for continuous improvement. 
  • new government legislation or regulations. 
  • leadership changes. 
  • mergers or acquisitions. 
  • changes in technology, or new processes or systems. 
  • a shift in customer demand. 

The business benefits of a better approach to change

Being prepared for these events can mitigate some of the risks of change, and lead to benefits in the long term, such as:

  • Gets people on the side of the change. 
  • Builds and sustains momentum for the change. 
  • Improves communication. 
  • Increases productivity. 
  • Reduces stress.
  • Improves decision making. 

Change management skills  

Effective, clear communication 

You’ll need to explain changes in a precise and specific way that everyone in your team can understand. 

Planning and prediction skills

They must treat the change process as a project to be managed in the same way as any other project. 


With emotional intelligence and maturity. 

Facilitate feedback to management

Acting as a form of ‘middleman’. 

Monitor any issues arising within their team

And be able to de-escalate them. 

Honesty and realism 

This will be appreciated by your team. 


The ability to adapt and change yourself, and replace old habits with new ones, is essential to being a great change manager. 


Change management strategy 

Think of all the different changes you may experience within your company. Mergers, acquisitions, a new customer portal, relocating office spaces, or changes in senior leadership. These are all distinctly different changes, which need completely different approaches in order to manage them well. They all require change management to be successful, as each change will impact how each individual in the company does their job differently. There is a four-step process to an effective change management strategy:

1. Identify change characteristics. 

Understand how big the change is, who it affects and how, its timeline and whether it will impact any wider company objectives or initiatives.

2. Assess the organisation. 

Consider what the need for this change is among employees and managers, how past changes have been managed, the shared vision within the organisation, how much change is happening currently and whether the company can afford it. 

Understanding how different groups of employees will be impacted is key. For example, people who work from home will not be impacted by an office move, but people who come in once a week, twice a week, or more, will be impacted uniquely. An impact assessment helps to avoid, or at least minimise, the disruptive effects and support the positive aspects of the change. 

3. Create your change management strategy. 

This includes considering i) a team structure ii) a sponsor model, and iii) special tactics to anticipate resistance. 

  • A reshuffle of the team structure may involve a change management team supporting the project team, a change manager being embedded into the project team, or a project team member being assigned the role of change manager. The key is to be clear and specific with this restructuring and assigning of roles, to enable the smoothest change management process possible. 
  • The sponsors are the senior members of staff who are on board with the change – with the primary sponsor being the person who is responsible for championing and leading. The sponsor coalition is chosen from team leaders who are most affected by change – they play their part by building support for the change and communicating to their respective teams. 
  • Identifying and anticipating where resistance may be met is key to change management. You don’t want to get to the end of the change and think ‘I could have anticipated that ages ago if I’d just stopped to make a proper change strategy’! Always consider: how different groups may be impacted differently, whether certain groups might be advocating for a different solution to the problem and why, and whether any groups are heavily invested in how things are done now – and if they may be very resistant to change. Once you understand this, you can prepare for resistance using special tactics to mitigate any conflict of interest.Image showing change impacts, change risks and business continuity

4. The final stage is a risk assessment. 


Changes that are more dramatic and wide-reaching have higher risk: the risk becomes more frequent or likely to happen when there are more people involved.

 But ironically, companies that resist change face even higher risk. Developing an overall strategy enables the change management team to document the impact, risk, and specific risk factors, thereby enabling business continuity.

Change management models 

Lewin’s 3-stage model  

How collective mindsets are broken down to enable change.

Unfreeze stage – overcoming resistance to change 

Change management model, unfreeze, change and refreeze

Clearly define the current situation – the more collaborative this process can be, the more effective it is. This is both because people will be more committed to a picture they have defined and because the involvement of more people will make it a richer, fuller picture. 

Create a vision of the desired end state – again, the richer, fuller, and more attractive this can be – and the more people who contribute – the better. This is because of the ‘Pollyanna’ effect, which is where we are most likely to remember or be attracted to things that are enjoyable or pleasant. 

Identify the forces which will help drive the change and those which may resist the change, increasing the driving forces, and decreasing the resisting forces – once again, this is best carried out by a group of those affected by the change. Lewin’s ‘Force Field Analysis’ is one way to conduct this activity. 

Change stage – transition  

This involves: Guiding people through change, following the plan to implement the intended change(s), involving people and maintaining the safe learning environment for the unfreeze stage, allowing experimentation over solutions to problems, and providing great role models with whom people within the change process can identify. 

Refreeze stage – a return to stability 

This involves: the new work practices becoming new work habits, and new ways of thinking become the conventional wisdom. Behaviours and results that are aligned with the changed environment are rewarded, whilst change leaders need to employ vigilance to monitor the response to the change and address any tendency for people to talk, think or act in line with the old ways. 

Kotter’s 8-step model 

A road map for change based on common errors made by organisations 

  • Establishing a sense of urgency. 
  • Creating the guiding coalition. 
  • Developing a vision and a strategy. 
  • Communicating the change vision. 
  • Empowering employees for broad-based action. 
  • Generating short-term wins. 
  • Consolidating gains and producing more change. 
  • Anchoring new approaches in the culture. 

Kotter’s underlying assumption is that given the right process and the right leadership, change can be planned and managed. 

Senge’s systems thinking model 

Image of Senge's systems thinking model


How profound change can be achieved through learning. 

‘Systems thinking’ addresses some of the difficult-to-explain phenomena we see in organisations and in change processes. Senge uses biological and ecological metaphors to describe the processes that grow or limit organisational development – and the implementation of proposed changes. 

There are many self-reinforcing growth processes which will support and enable change, and equally there are many limiting processes which, if not addressed, will stunt or kill the change. 

Understanding the various reinforcing and balancing ‘feedback loops’ that will affect a change process allows us to look for ways to strengthen the reinforcing processes and mitigate those that would work against progress. 

The turquoise curve in the diagram reflects the pattern followed by anything that grows in nature, which when not given the right nurturing, grows a little and then dies prematurely. The pink curve shows what can happen with the right change management  

The McKinsey 7 S’s Framework  

McKinsey’s holistic approach involves 7 interdependent elements aligned to support effective change. These elements are: 

Strategy: the plan devised to maintain and build competitive advantage over the competition.  

Structure: the way the organisation is structured and who reports to whom.  

Systems: the daily activities and procedures that staff members engage in to get the job done.  

Shared Values: called ‘superordinate goals’ when the model was first developed, these are the core values of the organisation that are evidenced in the corporate culture and the general work ethic.  

Style: the style of leadership adopted.  

Staff: the employees and their general capabilities.  

Skills: the actual skills and competencies of the employees working for the organisation. 

Emergent change  

Evolving change in complex situations 

An organisational change can usually be identified with one of two main archetypes: 

  • Swift and sudden – a short period of turbulent, typically-imposed change designed to deliver quick results, often driven by threats to the organisation’s continued success or survival. 
  • Developmental and deliberate – an extended period of patient work to build the organisation’s culture and capability. 

These two types of change are not mutually exclusive. Elements of both approaches may be seen in any particular phase of a change, though one or the other usually predominates. 

Monitoring change management  

Once the initial plan is put in place, momentum needs to be built and sustained. This can be done through the below strategies: 

Timing of communications

Increasing the frequency of communications will help build momentum as users hear more about the change as implementation approaches.  

Phased approach to implementation

If the nature of your change allows, carry out a pilot or test before rolling out to all users. This gives you the opportunity to test solutions and or different approaches to the roll out, as well as gathering case studies and good news stories. This will increase the interest of users who are waiting to go live, as they will hear how their colleagues are dealing with the change. 

Keep visibility of the change high

When the change starts, especially if you have built up momentum, it may be the top of everyone’s priority list. However, if it is a long roll out, or an extended period of embedding is needed, other things will begin to take people’s attention and your change may slip down in people’s priorities. In order to keep people focused on the change keep the levels of communications and good news stories high. Publish data updates, for example ‘300 more people have gone live with the change this month’. 

Task managers take responsibility

Task managers with responsibility for the delivery of the change should build successful implementation for their areas into their targets, objectives, or reporting. Remember – if it isn’t measured, it doesn’t get done. 

Change management principles  

Successful change management relies on four core principles:

  1. Understand Change. 

  • Why do you need change? What are the objectives? 
  • What will the benefits of the change be to the organisation? 
  • How will it impact people positively? 
  • How will it affect the way that people work? 
  • What will people need to do to successfully achieve the change? 
  • What are the negative outcomes of not making the change?

2. Plan Change. 

  • Sponsorship. How will you secure, engage, and use support and sponsorship of the change? 
  • Involvement. Who is the best person/people to help you to design and implement the change? Do you need external expertise? Or can you just use internal resources? 
  • Buy-in. Change is most effective when you are able to win support from people across the business. How do you plan to achieve this? 
  • Impact. Think about what success will look like. How will you predict and assess the impact of the change that you need to make? What goals do you need to achieve? 

3. Implement Change

  • Ensure that everyone involved in the changes understands what needs to happen – and what it means for them. 
  • Agree success criteria for your changes, and make sure that they're regularly measured and reported on. 
  • Map and identify all of the key stakeholders that will be involved in the change and define their level of involvement. 
  • Identify any training needs that need to be addressed in order to implement the change. 
  • Appoint ‘change agents’, who'll help to put the new practices into place – and who can act as role models for the new approach. 
  • Find ways to change people's habits, so that the new practices become the norm. 
  • Make sure that everyone is supported throughout the change process. 

4. Communicate Change. 

  • Awareness (of the need for change). 
  • Desire (to participate in and support it). 
  • Knowledge (of how to change). 
  • Ability (to change). 
  • Reinforcement (to sustain the change in the long term). 

Learn more about our Change Management Training Courses, or contact our team today.