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Press article: Change management - getting business prepared

"Don't struggle against change; learn to use it to your advantage" (Terry Paulson)

Change …

… Involves moving from a current state to a new state, stimulating new behaviours and actions.
… Involves adapting to something specific: a new process, technology, boss, team, office building, country, or branding.
… Can be forced onto us via a new regulation, legislation, merger or acquisition.

Change is part of our life, as well as an organisational reality. We are, however, mostly afraid of change. We are afraid to give up what we know and adapt to what we do not know. But, the upcoming question for us and our organisations is: Will we lead the change or will we be led by the change?

Successfully leading people to change requires a high level of leadership competence. It also requires an understanding of the human side of change and of the systems and methods needed to change people's habits and overcome their emotions.

An early model of change was developed by Kurt Lewin. He was known as the founder of social psychology and as one of the pioneers of research in the area of change management. Kurt Lewin developed an early change management model based on three phases that are nowadays used by many companies:

  1. Awareness of the need for change;
  2. Acceptance that there is a benefit in changing;
  3. Action to move forward.

Many managers fail in administrating change because they jump in at step 3, without considering steps 1 and 2.

Other models of change are based on the groundbreaking research by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. This research was conducted in the medical field, based on the cycles of emotional states that people experience when confronted with death and dying. This has been adapted to the business environment.

Although terms will vary, four basic phases of change are generally cited:

  1. Denial. The initial shock at hearing the “bad” news, which often produces paralysis and denial: an effort to avoid the inevitable, a rationalizing of change away from oneself. In this phase, people ignore change; anger is common.
  2. Resistance/Bargaining. In this second phase, people are convinced that change will never work out and therefore look for arguments to justify their opinion, to postpone, or to find a workaround or a way out. Some individuals become depressed when realising that there is no other route.
  3. Testing. In this phase, people start opening up to change as a potential benefit to them and begin exploring options.
  4. Acceptance and action. People accept change and find their path forward, taking ownership of and even acting as a change agent for a new behaviour, process or regulation. This opens the door to personal growth and gain from having undergone the journey of change.

Change management is the “enabler” to successfully guide the transition from the “old world” to the “new”; a structured approach to facilitate the journey. The role of the manager is to help his/her team to evolve and grow through the change process. The following aspects are of particular importance:

  1. It is important to remember that each individual’s timeframe for moving from one phase to another varies. Some individuals get stuck in a phase, especially the anger / resistance one: “But we have been doing it this way for years and it works perfectly well.” “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” Consequences of this may be a temporary increase in absenteeism or decrease in productivity.
  2. In any change there is opportunity for growth or learning; the challenge is often to put aside emotions and pride and to try identifying that opportunity. It is important for managers to recognise a person’s commitment to achieving the benefits of change.
  3. Companies talk about the fast pace of change: managers can help team members (and sometimes themselves) to become more “change agile,” which is important to long-term success. Fostering an environment where people are encouraged to work “outside of their comfort zone” is vital to such evolution.
  4. A successful organisational change effort requires an effective programme that brings employees through different aspects:
    • Ending: Facilitating a discussion on what people are leaving behind - what was good about it and what was bad in order to prepare the ground to move forward and let go of the old identities and ways of doing work.
      – Our recommended approach: Set the climate for change.
    • Neutral: The old is gone and the new is not in place yet.
      – Our recommended approach: Engage and enable the whole organisation.
    • New Beginning: New identities, experiences, sense of purpose and energy are formed.
      – Our recommended approach: Implement and sustain new ways.

The change management approach provides a pragmatic and innovative way to help your employees successfully change the way they behave and feel according to the new business realities.

When we think about change issues we usually think about so called “hard” issues such as new processes, a new firm leadership, or a merger. These are the more visible issues. Change programs, however, do not only address these “hard” issues, but also “soft” issues, that are the more “invisible” ones. Improving leadership effectiveness, breaking down barriers between different groups, solving communication issues, increasing teamwork or establishing a new culture after a merger are some examples of such “soft” change challenges.

Major Principles to Succeeding Change

Principle 0:
Before determining how to change, it is important to determine what to change. This step implies both the definition of hard and soft change objectives. For example, implementing an Enterprise Resource Plan (ERP) is a hard objective, while changing the related IT governance model could be the soft objective. Determining the “what”, allows you to adopt the top-down approach necessary to lead the change. Only determining the “how” would consist of a bottom-up approach, meaning that the change leads you instead of you leading the change.

After a business case has been validated and the objectives of a company’s initiative have been made clear, a change management strategy and plan need to be structured and deployed.

Principle 1:
First we need to identify who will be affected by the change, both internally and externally; to detail how and when the change will happen, and to identify potential reactions and typical communication channels. Second, a change impact study and risk analysis will define the new behaviours, processes, and technologies for each stakeholder group. This analysis highlights the risks and benefits of the change and will serve as communication, training plan and change program definition.

Principle 2:
Second, it is necessary to build a guiding coalition. That is, build a team mobilised by the objectives of the change. Resistors that are blocking change need to be neutralised. Managers and leaders should invest themselves in the change. Executive and management, alignment and support ensures that a coherent message and support of the initiative is used by all.

Principle 3:
Third, a successful change leadership needs a communication strategy and plan to make the project vision imaginable, desirable and realistic to all employees involved in the change process. Every employee should understand their individual contribution to the application of the vision. The communication plan ensures that each stakeholder group receives timely information, and that high quality visuals are designed to help structure the process or end result.

Principle 4:
Fourth, all employees need to be involved by giving them responsibilities, and developing their skills. The emergence of bottom-up projects should be favoured. Managers are invited to support and encourage rather than control. Some companies relate the attainment of a manager’s goals to initiatives in an individual’s annual performance cycle, thereby reinforcing the importance of change.

Principle 5:
A tool to measure the progress of key soft factors needs to be created. A change team should be working closely with Project Management, Project Management Office (PMO) and Quality Management. Together, indicators can be identified and tracked to monitor the evolution of change.

According to the John Kotter model, a key step in successful change leadership is to create short-term wins; to make change stick, i.e. celebrate and communicate the first positive results of change; reinforce the pertinence of the change vision and strategies; encourage and reward the players and the initiatives.


Leading change is a complex multi-facetted undertaking that can be influenced by numerous variables not always identifiable prior. Consultants are excellent catalysts for structuring and driving change, especially because they are not directly involved in the change process. Being outside the “system”, consultants have another point of view and can “frame” the change process in a different way to directly involved stakeholders. Consultants are therefore perfectly positioned to identify unforeseen problems and suggest unexpected solutions.



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