If you’ve ever taken an organization through a major change - especially if the change involved new systems or business processes - you know how difficult it can be. You can spend a lot of money on new software, tell your staff they have to use it and offer training, but this will not guarantee change. Technologies may change, but organizations can stay the same. If you want to change the way your organization works, you have to make it happen.


The right way to manage organizational change begins with a simple model but involves a process that can be complex and delicate. Like any other process, it entails careful planning, design and implementation.



  1. Defining change. Your first step is to define the change you want. Most important is defining the future operational model: What will your organization’s structure look like? How will business processes operate? What technology is needed? What roles need to be performed?


    The first requirement for success is keeping your goals realistic. Whatever the nature of the changes you’re seeking, you need to know your organization’s limits. If you are a business unit of a very large company, you probably cannot expect to make the leap immediately from the poorest-performing unit to the best. But you can expect to improve your performance by some measurable degree. Understand how change can be affected within your organization – can the change be enacted at a business unit level and pushed down? Or should the change start with smaller groups, like project teams, and work its way up the organization?


    Identifying success factors and applying performance metrics will focus your vision. For example, if you plan to automate sales processes, you will want to know how many staff members are going to be using the system after it is in place. If the goal is to eliminate unnecessary operations, you will want to know how many business units have been merged or sold off and what the impact on head count is. The success factors should be measurable and relevant to your to-be operational model. This will allow you to easily assess the degree to which the change has been adopted.


  2. Assessing change readiness. Once you’ve determined the goals, you can assess how ready for change your organization is by analyzing three key factors:


    • Stakeholders.Who stands to gain or lose the most through the changes you’re planning, and who among the “losers” will present an obstacle? Who are the key change agents? Who are the people who everyone else will follow?
    • Business process. How radically will you be changing the way you conduct your business, and what will it take to make the change?
    • Employee skills. In what ways will your employees need to upgrade their skills? How many will need to learn new skills?
    Now, develop a list of the main impediments to change. Is it that the processes cannot change very much, or will the greatest challenges be people related? For each item on this list, carefully develop specific initiatives to remove each point of resistance. This will involve detailed thought, and an in depth knowledge of how your organization “really” operates. Solutions may involve discussion with certain business leaders to obtain commitment, political trade-offs, tweaking of a business process here, adjusting a role there, removing certain individuals from the organization - always remember this old change management saying: “If you can’t change the people ... then change the people.”

Design and Implementation


The design and implementation of organizational change are separate stages, but they are best understood as one continuous process, broken out into three streams: the communica­tion side, the training side and the incentives side.

  1. Communication. Effective communication is a lot more than just giving people updates every month or every week. It’s really a marketing strategy. People are naturally resistant to change, and you’ve got to sell them on the benefits of it.

    To communicate the need for change, borrow from traditional marketing concepts. Analyze your organization by seg­ments, and develop the key messages specifically for each segment. The segments could be individuals, like the CEO, or groups of people, like all project managers. In any case, a key to understanding the stakeholder is to understand their pain points. Addressing these pain points should be a common thread through your communications.

    Develop a strategy around the best medium for reaching everyone - newslet­ters, email, workshops, brown-bag lunches, etc. - and how often people will need to be reached. To reach larger audiences, consider setting up monthly presentations to provide statuses on a regular basis and to establish a forum for questions and answers. No matter which media you choose, a key to success is regularity. Be sure to establish a schedule that you can keep.

    For those people who are on the front lines, provide them with talking points on a weekly basis. This will allow them to provide consistent messaging and to speak with one voice.


    As you implement your strategy, be aware that communicating is a two-way street. Once your information goes out, it becomes just as important to collect, analyze and synthesize what comes back. Interviewing people, encouraging feedback through email and other means - these must be a part of your rollout. Use the continual analysis of feedback to proactively identify issues so that mitigation steps can be undertaken before the issue snowballs out of control.


  2. Training. Training is critical to giving people the new skills they will require; it involves a lot more than just enrolling your people in a few training classes on the new software package. You’ve got to design the requirements of the training plan around the specific skills your employees will need and how quickly they can learn them. Take care in determining the best medium of instruction - is it in a traditional classroom setting with trainers and trainees face to face? Learning from a manual or computer tutorial? Through a “Webinar,” or virtual seminar, developed by a trainer, recorded onto a file, and made available through your organization’s Intranet?


    Or are your needs less complicated? If all you require is a low-level program for a simple change in a process, you might be able to deliver the training through one group presentation or even send it out by email.


    For any complex program, pilot training is crucial. You don’t want to run a costly and time-consuming training program on a large scale and get nothing out of it. Test-run your program on a carefully selected trial group. Be on the lookout for problems, and do a “before and after” assessment of your test subjects’ skills.

    No matter how complex the training program, make sure that your people know who to contact if they have questions after the training has concluded. This might be a designated go-to person in your department or the company help desk. For more complex programs, you might want to consider more structured post training support, for example having hands-on trainers walk the floor to assist people with their questions.

  3. Incentives. Employees need incentives for changing their work patterns, but designing the most appropriate incentives can be tricky and is highly dependent upon your organization’s culture. Incentives can be of the “carrot” or “stick” variety. “Sticks” do not need to be that painful but can be very effective. For example, if taking a training class is part of the required change, present a list of people who have and have not attended training during a company meeting. The public “dis-recognition” can be just enough to get people to act.


    Better, though, are “carrots” - positive incentives. What do your employees value, and how can that guide you in designing incentives? Make the incentives commensurate with the nature and scope of the changes people are asked to make: the bigger and more difficult the changes, the greater the incentives.


    Incentives can be monetary, but there are other ways of rewarding employees as well. Bonuses, after all, can be hard to manage. If you are trying to get your people to utilize a knowledge management (KM) system, for example, the best type of incentive may be to shine the light of recognition on those who make the most useful contributions to the database. Or perhaps the best incentive is to offer opportunities for people to develop their skills and advance their careers, or allow them to choose how they want to be involved in specific future projects.


    Along these lines, try tying the incentive to a certification process. For instance, if you are rolling out a new project management application, look into having the training classes apply toward PMI certification. This not only provides them with additional incentive, but also clearly ties the change to their career development goals.

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