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What Is Change Management?

Change management is the process by which individuals and organizations adapt to changes, be they necessary for growth or thrust upon them. Managing a change project requires a set of tools, resources, processes, skills, people analytics, and principles to achieve the project’s desired outcomes. Managing change at the organizational level requires the development of leadership competencies and strategic capabilities at all levels of an organization.

Why Does Change Management Matter?

ATD’s research report Change Enablement: Skills for Addressing Change found that 92 percent of organizations have experienced change in the past three years. Forces such as automation, globalization, and the need to upskill and reskill employees are influencing the workforce and accelerating the rate of change.

Despite how frequently change occurs, however, research by Gallup has found that more than 70 percent of change initiatives fail. Change Enablement states that only 19 percent of respondents said their organization was highly or very highly effective at addressing change. Change management often fails because people underestimate the complexity of the change or because expectations are misaligned between stakeholders. Often people jump into designing a change process without laying the groundwork needed to make that process successful.

What Change Management Model Should Organizations Use?

ATD’s CHANGE model presents six steps for managing change:

Step 1: Challenge the current state. In this step, employees recognize that something needs to change. This step is usually initiated by someone at or near the top of an organization.

Step 2: Harmonize and align leadership. In this step, the facilitator ensures leaders are clear on the vision, magnitude, and required actions for leading a change effort and that the initiative aligns with the vision, mission, and values of the organization. This is usually when teams are formed to begin the change management design.

Step 3: Activate commitment. In this step, the team recognizes that people will have individual reactions to change, ranging from immediate denial or resistance, to indifference, to acceptance. A successful change initiative will address these reactions, communicate clearly, and work toward building commitment rather than just compliance.

Step 4: Nurture and formalize a design. In this step, change facilitators formalize a design process, which may include creating a communication plan and a training plan and selecting appropriate metrics to measure the effectiveness of the change initiative.

Step 5: Guide implementation. This step requires the change agent to keep the implementation plan moving forward. This can be done by generating short-term wins and identifying ways to increase resilience.

Step 6: Evaluate and institutionalize the change. In this step, employees encourage others to accept the desired change and to institutionalize the new process, product, or philosophy until it becomes the new normal.

This model is flexible enough to facilitate many different types of change—structural change, process change, cultural change, or change that results from cutting costs.

There are many change management models, including Kotter’s 8-Step Model, the ADKAR model from Prosci, and the Bridges Transition Model. While they have differences, most change frameworks address common themes: assessing the current landscape, getting leadership buy-in, activating commitment from stakeholders (including employees), communicating clearly and consistently, and working to sustain change so that it becomes integrated into the organization.

Who Should be Involved in Change Management?

The most effective approach to change is to put together a change management team rather than tasking one individual with managing all of it. Change management teams usually have some formal authority and include at least one or two executives. It is also important to ensure all echelons of the organization are represented, from frontline employees to executives.

It is helpful to have a dedicated communications manager on the team. This individual can craft a communication strategy that uses the most effective ideas, methods, and technologies to disseminate messages and gather feedback for a specific change initiative.

Members of a change management team should have expertise, credibility, and leadership and management skills. They should represent a cross-section of the organization and give a voice to diverse stakeholders. Finally, they should have the right attitude—positive, trusting, and enthusiastic.

What Skills Do People Need to Manage Change Successfully?

ATD’s research on change management found that the top skill for all employees—including individual contributors, managers and supervisors, and senior leaders—during times of change is communication. Storytelling is a particularly valuable communication skill to help others understand the impact of a change initiative.

Resilience is one of the most important personal competencies for individuals to cultivate during change. With emotional intelligence, especially empathy, the change management team and organization leaders can help people navigate the strong emotions associated with change and respond to employee concerns.

The process of managing change never ends; the goal is to create an organizational climate that facilitates ongoing adaptability. In an ever-evolving world, change management is a state of being.

How ATD Can Help You Manage Change

ATD’s mission is to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace, and part of this mission involves helping talent continue to develop during times of change. Successfully managing change often requires classroom learning, coaching, simulations, evaluation, and other aspects of workplace learning. ATD curates the best content from the world’s leading experts in the field, providing resources to help change agents manage the change process in the most effective way.

For access to even more resources, including practical tools and templates, research, and insights, you’re invited to become an ATD member. Learn more.

For more information on change management, visit the following pages:

ATD’s Change Management Topic Page
Sign Up for the ATD Change Management Newsletter

Additional Change Management Resources

Change Management Books

Browse our newest change management titles, collections, bestsellers, and limited-time only book bundles.

Change Management Certificate

Discover a comprehensive change model that can be immediately applied to your organization through application exercises, case studies, and interactive program modules.

Change Management Videos & Podcasts

Webcasts, recordings from past ATD conference sessions and short, practical, how-to videos from peer practitioners and ATD subject matter experts on a variety of topic areas.

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