The Change Management Process: Accomplishing Change and Making it Stick

There are times when an organization must go through serious transformation. By this we mean the type of game-changing metamorphosis that requires corporate leaders to devise a new vision which must then be adopted by staff members and ultimately put into action. Transformational change is only possible with a legitimate sense of urgency and effective change management that is orchestrated with a change management strategy. This article, based on the Method Frameworks Plan4SM process and adapted from John Kotter’s 8-step change model and book on change management best practices, “Leading Change” (Harvard Business School Press, 1996), examines methods for managing corporate change and accomplishing successful outcomes.

The issue is that transformations are often met with resistance as members of the organization must shift their way of thinking, learn new skills, and deal with unfamiliar situations, often ambiguous situations and many other uncomfortable realities that come along with the change management process.

When it comes to organizational transformation there are four key factors that determine the success or failure of the management of change:

  1. How the goal of the process, including the vision for the organization and sense of urgency, is communicated internally.
  2. Power CentersHow the organization uses its power centers to create organizational support. (see the article, “Change Agents: The Power Behind Effective Change Management”).
  3. How the leaders understand and leverage human behavior and staff motivations.
  4. How the transformation is planned.
Managing Change: 8 Key Phases
The following phases are best practice recommendations that can help ensure successful results in change management:

8 Stage Change ProcessPhase 1: Create a Sense of Urgency
The first step in successful change management is to clearly and concisely define the problem statement as the foundation and input into creating the change management vision. If the executive management team cannot compellingly articulate the change imperative, then it will be very difficult to create the future vision and underlying reasons for change that are required in order to get everyone in the company on board with the vision. Studies on change management indicate that 75% of a company’s management team needs to believe that there is a need for change.

In order to convince employees that change is necessary, the organization's leadership must develop a sense of urgency around the need for a shift. The urgency becomes the catalyst for change that is needed for employees to rally behind. It becomes the "cause". During the 1980s General Electric’s Chairman, Jack Welch, became highly influential and equally controversial in the world of strategic management. Although Welch focused on gaining competitive advantage for his organization, he also began downsizing and restructuring GE. Welch was a master at creating a sense of urgency to facilitate change in GE.

The sense of urgency must be real. Change management is never to be about deception. Effective change requires an open and honest dialogue between leadership, management and employees so that each person in the organization understands the change imperative - whether it is changes in competitive marketplace conditions or an economic downturn. Let your staff feel that they are part of the process in helping the change come to fruition.

Phase 2: Build a Change Management Team
Once the dialogue has been opened that change is necessary, senior management must work on developing a leadership team that will help carry out the vision for the change. In each organization, strong change leaders exist. These agents of change control power centers within the organization and possess the capacity to generate and use power or influence in the change process. Look beyond the traditional hierarchy and build a team from a variety of departments and roles – ensuring that power center members have been identified and included.

In forming a "change coalition", start by doing the following:

  • Identify the true leaders in your organization.
  • Ask for an emotional commitment from these key people.
  • Assess your team’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Ensure that the selected coalition represents a cross-functional team with varying view points.
  • Work on team building within the coalition.
  • Develop a Learning program to provide key skills and support for this transformation team.
Once formed, the transformation coalition needs to gel and work as a team, continuing to build urgency and momentum around the need for change.

Phase 3: Create a Vision for the Change
To guide the change process, the change coalition must develop a map for the transformation — inclusive of a clear vision that spells out your ultimate goal for the future of the organization. Referring again to Jack Welch's "Six Rules", the change management team must work diligently to guide the organization's destiny in the desired direction based on realistic planning, transparency, strong leadership and action. With the desired key outcomes of the change program in mind, the vision statement for change should be crafted.

Six Rules

Spell out the roles of each key staff member in your vision, and boil down your ultimate “vision speech” to one or two short sentences. Think of this as the marketing pitch for the change program. Your vision should reflect the values and goals you are after, and your staff should understand and be able to describe the vision. These words should be polished until you have a vision statement inspiring enough to energize and motivate people inside and outside your organization.

Phase 4: Communicate the Vision
Once the vision statement is in place, the real work begins. To truly shape behavior around the mission, the statement must influence day-to-day behavior, leadership, and problem solving.

Inevitably, competing communications within an organization can easily crowd out the goal and vision. To help keep the message at the forefront, frequently and powerfully communicate the vision. Talk about it often—using it daily to guide decisions. A change communication program is advised to function as “internal marketing”. Most importantly, lead by example. Make sure the top levels of the organization are following and shaping their behavior to meet the company’s desired mission.

Phase 5: Remove Obstacles
Change, even when positive, is difficult for most people. As a leader, it’s important to understand the Change Curve and all of its associated behaviors, recognizing the natural barriers to change that exist and planning the appropriate actions to help remove obstacles that will prevent employees from achieving the goals set out for them. The Change Curve, referred to above, is widely used in business and change management programs and there are many variations and adaptations. It is often attributed to psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, resulting from her work on personal transition in grief and bereavement.

Put in a plan to identify barriers, and if necessary, hire and assign change leaders (“change agents”) who can continuously deliver on your mission. Provide recognition and incentives for those who are helping to implement the change, and help those who are struggling to adapt. If necessary, take action to remove the barriers preventing the process.

Phase 6: Generate Wins Transformation and Transition
Instituting change is a process, and it’s easy for an organization to get discouraged if employees are seeing little benefit early on. It’s therefore important to break the process down into stages and motivate employees to reach milestones along the way. The iterative Prepare-Plan-Transition-Implement-Reward model shown here is an ideal example of how to break the change process into manageable steps that allow progress to be shown sooner. Using this approach facilitates planning and implementing “chunks” of work related to the organization’s transformations that have purposefully been broken down into a short time frames with clearly visible results.

To keep momentum going, look for sure-fire projects (low-hanging fruit) that can be successfully carried out, and preferably, pick projects that are inexpensive to implement. Finally, clearly reward those who are meeting the initial goals and celebrate those successful changes.

Phase 7: Produce More Change
It may be easy to rest after seeing initial projects and goals being met. Don’t fall into the trap of taking off the pressure and losing sight of your vision. Remember that real change is a long process that takes continual effort and motivation.

To that end, continuously look for improvements, strive to set new goals, and keep ideas fresh by bringing in innovative ideas and leaders. Going back to “Generating Wins”, the process is iterative. The change management team must continuously reevaluate the program and make modifications to the strategy and tactics as more information is uncovered.

Phase 8: Make it Stick
Remember that lasting change is a continuous process; to make change and a new vision part of an organization’s core, the leadership team must keep the vision at-hand. New employees need to be trained and shaped around the vision in order for it to become institutionalized.

To help change stick and becoming part of an organization’s fabric, talk about progress often. Recognize success frequently. Publicly recognize those who contribute so they feel valued. Finally, as key leaders who helped institute the change move on, create a replacement plan that will keep their contributions going.

Make change management easier.
Change management is too often under estimated in its importance and complexity. Careers have been dedicated to the discipline and volumes have been written on the subject, yet organizations continue to try going through major transformation alone and without attempting to leverage change management best practices. Creating true transformational change is made easier with a proven process and the help of an experienced management consulting firm. The outside perspective, tested skill, and process-driven approach of a consultant can provide necessary support to corporate leaders as they strive to make the challenge of change succeed.

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About the Author:

Joe Evans is the President and CEO of Method Frameworks, Joe is a published author, frequent speaker and recognized expert in corporate strategic planning . To contact Method Frameworks about scheduling Mr. Evans about an upcoming speaking engagement, visit or email requests to

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Joe Evans serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Method Frameworks.  

Method Frameworks provides management consulting services to commercial enterprises with strategic and operational planning solutions using the firm’s proprietary Plan4 process. Visit Meth...

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