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ATD Blog

Change Happens

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

It’s human to be anxious about change.

Among the many things the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced upon us is the importance of remembering employees are humans. For example, we now emphasize social aspects of the office, focus on mental well-being, and encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work. So, too, is it critical to remember the human factor in organizational change. In the February installment of TD at Work, "Create Successful Organizational Change," Scott Span explains more.

Change and Transition

Change management, as Span defines it in his issue of TD at Work, “is an organizational process that aims to help employees understand, commit to, accept, and embrace change—either planned or unplanned—in their current workplace environment.”

The benefits of organizational change may include improving process efficiencies, driving innovation, providing improved customer experience, and increasing employee engagement.

It should be noted that there is a difference between change and transition, says Span. Change is an event, such as a merger or reporting to a new manager. Transition, on the other hand, relates to the emotional aspect and is an individual process of internalizing and adapting to the change.



Talent development professionals may or may not directly lead the change. Either way, they have many skills that can contribute to successful change management and the governance of the change initiative.

“Governance is the set of roles and responsibilities, processes, and policies that come together to ensure the work associated with the change is coordinated, effective, and aligned to the organization’s mission and strategy,” explains Span. The governance team should feature an executive sponsor, a steering committee, project team, and change agents. These individuals should have the respect of colleagues and the time to devote to the project.

The project team will report to the steering committee and handle the day-to-day details, while the change agents can be likened to advocates. Change agents, for example, can answer questions that their team members may have about the change or participate in pilot training on new technology.


Human Factor

Individuals affected by the internal change may be employees or even customers, as most things affecting employees will trickle down to customers. It’s critical for the governance team to listen to the affected stakeholders to determine how they’re feeling about the change. Are they feeling excited? If so, does it make sense to ask them to be change agents? Or are they feeling anxious, maybe because they have a new manager? Are they feeling burned out with too much change? Are they skeptical of the idea of new technology or processes? Ensure that the governance team is not only listening to affected stakeholders but is addressing their concerns.

Developing a communications plan is a key component to the change initiative. The governance team must understand what varying stakeholders need to know and what vehicle is best to convey that message. A CEO may relay high-level information about the change initiative at a town hall, for example. Then, managers can discuss the change with their direct reports while individual change agents can informally talk with their teammates about the transition.


Before undertaking a change initiative, address why the organization is making this change. This will help determine how success will be measured. Span advises that determining what success looks like should be done early in the process, but it should be iterative in nature since more depth to key performance indicators (KPIs) will be uncovered along the way. Further, he writes, “KPIs or critical success factors often include measures in such categories as cost savings, productivity, quality, employee engagement, and stakeholder experience (including customers).”

The governance team also should reflect on the initiative’s success in other aspects: What could the team have done differently? How are employees feeling about the change?

While many of us are feeling change overload, change is still necessary for organizations to move forward. Taking into consideration the human factor will go a long way in ensuring the change initiative’s success.

About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

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Great article on the people part of change. I'm actually designing a training for individual contributors on change and would like to know if there are any resources on how non-leaders can handle the transition better.
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What a great article Patty! Thank you for writing it.
It reminded me that when we recognize that everything changes, our fixed desires begin to feel less urgent. 😊
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Patty, What are some examples of measures that the governance team should take to evaluate the success of the change initiative, encompassing both the KPIs and the influence on employees and stakeholders?
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