What is change management?

Change Management Training for Managers

Managers and supervisors play a key role in managing change. Ultimately, the manager has more influence over an employee’s motivation to change than any other person. Unfortunately, managers can be the most difficult group to convince of the need for change and can be a source of resistance. It is vital for the change management team and executive sponsors to gain the support of managers and supervisors. Individual change management activities should be used to help these managers through the change process.


Once managers and supervisors are on board, the change management team must prepare a strategy to equip managers to successfully coach their employees through the change. They will need to provide training and guidance for managers, including how to use individual change management tools with their employees. 

Coached for Employees

The role of coach involves supporting employees through the process of change they experience when projects and initiatives impact their day-to-day work. The Prosci ADKAR Model describes this individual change process as 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 required skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change 

Because of their relationship, managers and supervisors can coach individual employees through this change process and help them address the barrier points that are inhibiting successful change. 

Choosing Change Management Tools

Once you have defined your process, you need to decide on what tools you want to use to manage that change control process. Many teams turn to simple excel templates to list change requests and track progress. Typically there are several data points you want to track when you are managing a change control process:

  • Description of change request
  • Who requested it
  • Priority of item
  • Assignee in charge of implementing change
  • Date change was implemented
  • Notes

That’s a simple way to track the full process. Some project management software tools, however, help you manage change as a part of your project management. For example, in ProjectManager.com you can track changes right in the software.

Defining the Change, Project Management and Change Management

It can be difficult to separate out the change, project management, and change management. In practice, these three components are intertwined in order to deliver a positive outcome to the organization. However, there is value in separating out the components.

Thinking about the three components separately makes it easier to define and help others understand these distinct elements. Separating out these three components is also a solid first step when troubleshooting on a particular project that may not be moving ahead as expected. For instance, are our challenges coming from:

  • The design of the change?
  • The technical steps, activities or resources (project management)?
  • How individuals are accepting or resisting the change (change management)?

Think about what each component is trying to achieve (see the table below) and use this to describe change management in context of the change and project management.

Research on Change Management Methodology

In all of Prosci’s benchmarking studies, we have asked participants about the greatest contributors to success of their changes. Applying a structured approach to change management has remained a top contributor for over ten years. Below are four research findings on change management methodology:

1. A Structured Approach Has Remained the 2nd or 3rd Contributor to Project Success

In three of the last five change management best practices studies, the use of a structured approach to change management was cited as the second greatest contributor to success (behind only active and visible executive sponsorship). A structured approach to change management moves organizations away from merely reacting to resistance to change and provides a solid framework for engaging and mobilizing impacted employees. 

2. Seventy Percent of Study Participants Utilized a Structured Approach

Participants also indicated whether or not they used a structured approach to change management. The data in the 2017 study showed a slight decrease in the number of participants following a particular change management methodology. The percentage of participants utilizing a methodology more than doubled between 2003 and 2013. Today, 7 in 10 projects are utilizing a structured change management methodology, whereas four years ago, in the 2013 study, nearly 8 in 10 did.

Best Practices study Percentage of participants that followed a particular change management methodology
2003 34%
2013 79%
2017 70%

 3. Change Management Methodology is Chosen for Ease of Use

Participants cited a number of factors for selecting a change management methodology. Overwhelmingly, the main criterion was the ease of use of the methodology. When change management is overly complex, it fails to gain traction in the organization and is seen as more of a hassle than as a tool that delivers value to the organization and the project. However, methodologies that are easy to use and easy to explain to others can gain serious traction and become a vital component of the project activities. Factors for ease of use included:

  • Easy to implement
  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to communicate to others
  • Simple
  • Practical
  • Structured and systematic
  • Logical
  • Comprehensive and holistic

4. Change Management Activities Began Early

Participants shared data on when they started their change management activities and when they would start their activities on the next project. The data shows an overwhelming bias toward initiating change management early in the project. Change management activities that are launched at the beginning of a project can be more proactive in addressing the people side of change. When change management is brought in as an add-on late in the project, it is typically to ‘fight fires’ and help with damage control.

Pre-1990: Foundations

The first era of change management was the period before 1990. During this period, the focus was on improving our collective understanding of human beings, how we experience change and how our human systems interact and react. This era provided crucial insights, research and frameworks for understanding successful change. Some of the primary contributors during this time include:

Arnold Van Gennep (1909)

Van Gennep was a cultural anthropologist studying rites of passage around the globe. He introduced change as happening in three states: separating from our current state, moving through a transition, and reincorporating into a future state (examples include adolescence, marriage, parenthood).

Kurt Lewin (1948)


A social psychologist, Lewin introduced three states of change – unfreezing, moving, and refreezing – as well as force field analysis.

Richard Beckhard (1969)

Beckhard was a pioneer in organization development and defined the discipline as “an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, and (3) managed from the top, to (4) increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organization’s ‘processes,’ using behavioral-science knowledge.”

William Bridges (1979)

Speaker, author, and consultant, Bridges described the states of a transition as the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. Many other scholars from psychology, business, engineering and the social sciences added research and insights that helped shape our understanding of how people experience change. It is important to understand the roots.

Contribution of the Foundations era: An underlying understanding of how individuals and systems experience change.

Communicator About the Change

Employees want to hear change messages about how their work and their team will be affected by a change from the person they report to. An employee’s supervisor is a key conduit of information about the organization, the work that is done and changes to that work resulting from projects and initiatives. The answers to the following questions are best delivered by an employee’s immediate manager:

  • What does this change mean to me?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why should I get on board? 
  • Why are we doing this? 

The change management team needs to provide talking points and pertinent information, but those messages should ultimately be delivered to employees by their supervisor.

What is Change Management?

Change management addresses the people side of change. Creating a new organization, designing new work processes, and implementing new technologies may never see their full potential if you don’t bring your people along. That’s because financial success depends on how thoroughly individuals in the organization embrace the change.

Change management comprises the processes, tools and techniques used to manage the people side of change and achieve desired business outcomes. 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.

The Change Management Process

From a process perspective, change management is a set of steps a team member follows on a particular project or initiative—the strategy and plans focused on moving people through the change.Prosci’s research-based methodologyincludes three main phases:

  • Preparing for change (where readiness assessments help guide the formulation of a strategy)
  • Managing change (where five change management plans integrate into the project plan)
  • Reinforcing change (where compliance audits and mechanisms deploy to solidify the change)

Change Management Competency

Change competency is a leader or manager’s ability to effectively lead 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, change management competency means being an effective sponsor of change and demonstrating commitment to the change, both individually and organizationally. For front-line supervisors, competency relates to coaching direct reports through their own change journey. Although competency varies according your relationship to change, organizations are more effective and successful when they build change management competencies throughout their ranks.

Change management is not just communication and training. It’s not just managing resistance. Effective change management follows a structured process and employs a holistic set of tools to drive successful individual and organizational change.

Training Development and Delivery

Training is the cornerstone for building knowledge about the change and the required skills to succeed in the future state. Ensuring impacted people receive the training they need at the right time is a primary role of change management. This means training should only be delivered after steps have been taken to ensure impacted employees have the awareness of the need for change and desire to support the change. Change management and project team members will develop training requirements based on the skills, knowledge and behaviors necessary to implement the change. These training requirements will be the starting point for the training group or the project team to develop and deliver training programs. 

The Eager Beaver

On the surface, the Eager Beaver seems to require little, if any, guidance. They enthusiastically see the value of any new tool right away, continually asking for updates and pushing for everything to move into the new system ASAP.

The problem, however, is they’re a little too pumped. There’s a difference between being eager and impulsive. Making too many changes before you fully understand how they work or how they’ll impact others can cause more harm than good. As the old adage goes, “You need to walk before you can run.”

Signs There’s an Eager Beaver on Your Team

  • They’re moving projects into Wrike or your new platform without discussing the best ways to organize them.
  • They’re breezing through or skipping parts of the training, missing out on key details.
  • They’re creating duplicate work and not consulting with the team.

Change Management Principles for Eager Beavers

With the right coaching, the Eager Beaver can be your greatest ally. Use their enthusiasm to get others pumped on the tool and what it makes possible. You’ll want to involve them at the start like the Skeptic.

Sit with them and map out the road to success so they’ll know exactly how an effective Wrike roll-out will work. Reviewing the overall strategy and goals will allow them to see how each piece fits into the whole.

The biggest challenge is reigning in their enthusiasm when it crosses into impulsiveness without crushing it completely. This requires a soft touch and lots of patience.

Stress the need to understand the basics of the software first before diving into the more advanced features. Implement and enforce a system of feedback before any big changes are made, especially in the beginning.


Do your best to not dampen their excitement if they make a few mistakes. Instead, remind them of how their work fits within the whole team and encourage them to take it slow. Once the Eager Beaver understands how their actions can affect others and sees the overall vision, they’ll align their efforts to support the company’s goals.

Engage with and Support Middle Managers

Managers can become a change practitioner’s greatest ally in times of change because they are closest to employees impacted by change. Participants explained this top contributor as:

  • Emphasizing communication about the change and the managers’ roles in change
  • Holding one-on-one meetings, team meetings and alignment sessions
  • Focusing on awareness-building, including how the change will affect them, the business reasons for the change, and the need for change management
  • Providing materials, tools and support that will help managers understand and navigate the change
  • Engaging and involving managers during the early phases of the change and throughout the project lifecycle

Middle managers were revealed as the most resistant group in Prosci’s research, with 43% of participants identifying managers as the group most resistant to change. Participants believed a majority of the resistance experienced by managers could have been avoided. By thoroughly addressing this group in the change plan, resistance can be mitigated and managers will be able to drive change.

How to Implement Effective Change Management

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

Individual Change Management

The individual perspective is an understanding of how people experience change.Prosci’s ADKAR Modeldescribes successful change when an individual has:

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

If an individual gets stuck on a building block and cannot progress sequentially through the model, the change will not be as successful. The goal in leading the people side of change is ensuring that individuals have Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.

Organizational Change Management

The organizational perspective of change management is the process and activities that project teams utilize to support successful individual change. If the ADKAR Model describes what an individual needs to make a change successfully, organizational change management is the set of actions to help build Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement across the organization. Based on two decades of research, Prosci’s organizational methodology utilizes readiness assessments and strategy to support five targeted plans, or what we refer to as the five levers of change management:

  • Communication plan
  • Sponsor roadmap
  • Coaching plan
  • Training plan
  • Resistance management plan

The Importance of Change Management Roles

As the change management practitioner works to develop the strategy and plans, senior leaders, managers and supervisors work to execute their unique roles in change. For example, depending on the message about change, employees prefer to receive organizational messages about change from leaders at the top of their organization. They prefer to receive messages about the change’s impact on their day-to-day work from their immediate supervisor.

The role of the change practitioner is to enable these employee-facing roles. And in times of change, it is the effectiveness of senior leaders as sponsors of change and managers and supervisors as coaches of change that will determine whether a project succeeds or fails.

Business leaders and executives play a critical sponsor role in times of change. The change management team must develop a plan for sponsor activities and help key business leaders carry out these plans. Research shows that sponsorship is the most important success factor.

Avoid Confusing the Notion of Sponsorship with Support

The CEO of the company may support your project, but that is not the same as sponsoring your initiative. Sponsorship involves active and visible participation by senior business leaders throughout the process, building a coalition of support among other leaders and communicating directly with employees. Unfortunately, many executives do not know what this sponsorship looks like. A change manager or project leader’s role includes helping senior executives do the right things to sponsor the project. 

The Background of Our Change Management Definition

«What is change management?» This is a question you may have heard from colleagues or coworkers in passing or in formal presentations. While many of us know intuitively what change management is, we have a hard time conveying to others what we really mean.

In thinking about how to define change management, it is important to provide context related to two other concepts: the change itself and project management. Change management and project management are two critical disciplines that are applied to a variety of organizational changes to improve the likelihood of success and return on investment. 

Integrating Change Management and Project Management

While separate as fields of study, on a real project change management and project managementare integrated. The steps and activities move in unison as teams work to move from the current state to the desired future state.

Change Management and Project Management Planning Activities

As an example, think about what activities occur during the planning phase of a project between both teams.

Project managers are:

  • Identifying the milestones and activities that must be completed
  • Outlining the resources needed and how they will work together
  • Defining the scope of what will be part of the project and what will not be

Change managers are:

  • Crafting key messages that must be communicated
  • Working with project sponsors to build strong and active coalitions of senior leaders
  • Making the case of why the change is needed to employees throughout the organization, even before the specific details of the solution are complete

The most effective projects integrate these activities into a single project plan.

Managing Change in Your Organization

Theories about how organizations change draw on many disciplines, from psychology and behavioral science, through to engineering and systems thinking. The underlying principle is that change does not happen in isolation – it impacts the whole organization (system) around it, and all the people touched by it.


In order to manage change successfully, it is, therefore, necessary to attend to the wider impacts of the changes. As well as considering the tangible impacts of change, it’s important to consider the personal impact on those affected, and their journey towards working and behaving in new ways to support the change. The Change Curve is a useful model that describes the personal and organizational process of change in more detail.

Change management is, therefore, a very broad field, and approaches to managing change vary widely, from organization to organization and from project to project. Many organizations and consultants subscribe to formal change management methodologies. These provide toolkits, checklists and outline plans of what needs to be done to manage changes successfully.

When you are tasked with «managing change» (irrespective of whether or not you subscribe to a particular change management approach), the first question to consider is what change management actually means in your situation. Change management focuses on people, and is about ensuring change is thoroughly, smoothly and lastingly implemented. And to know what that means exactly in your situation, you must dig down further to define your specific change management objectives.

Typically, these will cover:

  1. Sponsorship: ensuring there is active sponsorship for the change at a senior executive level within the organization, and engaging this sponsorship to achieve the desired results.
  2. Buy-in: gaining buy-in for the changes from those involved and affected, directly or indirectly.
  3. Involvement: involving the right people in the design and implementation of changes, to make sure the right changes are made.
  4. Impact: assessing and addressing how the changes will affect people.
  5. Communication: telling everyone who’s affected about the changes.
  6. Readiness: getting people ready to adapt to the changes, by ensuring they have the right information, training and help.

Who’s Responsible?

When you are defining your objectives and activities, it’s very important to coordinate closely with others: project managers, managers in the business, and the HR department. Ask «who’s responsible?» For example, who’s responsible for identifying change agents? Defining the re-training plan? Changing job descriptions and employment contracts? And so on.

As every change is different, responsibilities will vary depending on how the change activities and project are organized. Only when you know who’s responsible and how things are organized in your situation will you know what’s within your scope, and how you’ll be working with other people to bring about the change.

Mobilize an Active and Visible Sponsor

A positive leader who actively guides the organization through change and participates visibly throughout the transition is the greatest predictor of success. The importance of sponsorship was cited over three times more frequently than the next contributor to change success. Participants consistently used the key words “active and visible” to describe this top contributor. “Active and visible” sponsorship means that the sponsor is:

  • Supporting the change by giving consistent attention to the change and the need for change management
  • Championing the change by leading and motivating others in the organization
  • Making effective and influential decisions regarding the change, including aligning priorities among other leaders in the organization
  • Maintaining direct communication with the project management and change management teams and being accessible during the change

The graph below shows that with extremely effective sponsorship, projects were almost three times more likely to meet or exceed project objectives than projects with very ineffective sponsorship. 

If you are not sure how to help your sponsor become active and visible — or if you are a sponsor and are not sure what “active and visible” means — readthis articleon a sponsor’s role.

What is change management?

In modern IT, change management has many different guises. Project managers view change management as the process used to obtain approval for changes to the scope, timeline, or budget of a project. Infrastructure professionals consider change management to be the process for approving, testing, and installing a new piece of equipment, a cloud instance, or a new release of an application. ITIL, ISO20000, PMP, Prince2, as well as other methodologies and standards, prescribe the process to gain approval and make changes to a project or operating environment.

The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP), PROSCI, the Innovation and Organizational Change Management Institute (IOCMI), and others view change management from an organizational perspective. While each group has its own approaches, frameworks and language, these groups all address the human side of change in organizational contexts.

The following article focuses on change management from an organizational perspective, to distinguish it from the process-based changes of ITIL, Prince2, and so on. Here, “change” refers to any event or program the enterprise undertakes that causes major disruption to daily operations — for example, a new ERP installation or digital transformation. The clearest definition of this type of organizational change management (OCM) is provided by Sheila Cox of Performance Horizons who states: «Organizational change management ensures that the new processes resulting from a project are actually adopted by the people who are affected.”

ADKAR: An Easy-To-Use Model For Individual Change

The first step in managing any type of organizational change is understanding how to manage change with a single individual. Prosci’s model of individual change is calledthe Prosci ADKAR Model, an acronym for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. In essence, an individual needs:

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

ADKAR describes successful change at the individual level. When an organization undertakes an initiative, that change only happens when the employees who have to do their jobs differently can say with confidence, «I have the awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement to make this change happen.»

Because it outlines the goals or outcomes of successful change, ADKAR is an effective tool for:

  • Planning change management activities
  • Diagnosing gaps
  • Developing corrective actions
  • Supporting managers and supervisors

Use a Structured Change Management Approach

An intentional and defined approach to managing change provides the structure necessary to stay on track. It makes sure time is spent on meaningful activities and allows space to identify and address gaps throughout the project lifecycle. Using a formal approach also makes processes repeatable for consistent application of change management on more initiatives throughout the organization. Key words that came up when participants described this best practice included:

  • Established
  • Customizable
  • Scalable
  • Easy to implement across multiple changes
  • Easy to apply at every phase of the project

How organizations used a structured approach varied in the research. Seventy-nine percent used a change management methodology for general guidance while 48% used it as a checklist for activities and 39% used it to monitor progress (participants were able to select multiple responses, resulting in a total of more than 100%). 

Again, the research revealed just how much applying a structured approach contributed to success. Participants that applied a structured approach were 33% more likely to experience good or excellent change management effectiveness than those without a methodology. 


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