What Is Change Management? Types, Principles, Models & Planning

What Is Change Management? Types, Principles, Models & Planning

The digital world moves at such a rapid pace that it’s critical for businesses to change, or get left behind.

Change is inevitable. It’s how we deal with it that can be the difference between success and failure. Change management is an essential skill within an organisation. However, it’s also a skill that few businesses recognise and develop within their workforce.

In this article, we take a deep dive into the role of change management in workplace transformation. We look at a change management definition, benefits businesses can gain, popular models that guide organisational change, tools, and critical areas any change management plan should include. Let’s jump straight in.

What is Change Management and Why is it Important?

Change management is a systematic approach that organisations take to navigate transitions and adjustments within their operations. These changes can be in a number of different areas – from structural to technological, to people-centric transformation.

Effective change management takes careful planning and consideration. People are naturally resistant to change. They like things to stay the way they are. That’s why the ‘systematic’ aspect of any change management definition is critical. This is also why the importance of carefully managing and accommodating change in different areas of your business shouldn’t be underestimated. A well-managed transition will see your business adapting smoothly to changing circumstances. A poorly thought-out change to systems and processes can lead to chaos.

What is a Change Management Plan?

A change management plan is a comprehensive blueprint designed to guide organisations through the change that is necessary for achieving desired outcomes. This plan is crucial in outlining the specific actions, tools, and resources needed to successfully implement changes while minimising disruption to operations. It includes setting measurable goals, identifying key stakeholders, defining their roles, and establishing a clear communication strategy to ensure all participants are informed and engaged throughout the process.

Additionally, a change example management plan encompasses the selection of appropriate tools and systems that align with the company’s current infrastructure, facilitating smoother adoption and integration. By providing a structured approach to managing shifts in processes, personnel, or technology, a change management plan supports the organization in navigating the complexities of change, optimizing adaptability, and enhancing overall performance.

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What Are The Benefits of Change Management?

There are a number of ways that organisations can benefit from taking a strategic approach to change and transitions. Effective change management can help you to:

  • Document systems. By managing change one step at a time, it is easier to document and catalogue existing systems and processes. This will allow you to identify the areas where change will have the biggest positive impact, and where urgency is necessary.
  • Adapt to changing circumstances. Some scenarios are beyond our control. No one could have foreseen the global COVID-19 pandemic. You can’t always predict when people are going to leave your business. However, with change management training behind you, you will be able to take these kinds of challenges in your stride and develop an effective plan for reducing the negative impact that change can bring.
  • Set clear goals. Change can easily become overwhelming. As you become wrapped up in implementation, adoption and challenges, it can be easy to forget the why behind the transition. Taking the time to plan out changes provides a clear understanding of the purpose behind transformation. It highlights the improvements you expect and the goals you hope to accomplish. You can refer to these objectives throughout the process, serving as a reminder of the purpose behind the change.
  • Proactively combat resistance. By planning out change management, you gain a better understanding of the challenges you’re likely to face. This will help you to gain a better sense of where any resistance may lie, and help you to prepare for overcoming reluctance and opposition.If, for example, you are adopting a new technology company-wide, part of the planning process could see you finding reviews of the solution. If these indicate that the platform has a steep learning curve, you could put together a software training plan. This will help employees start learning how to use specific features of the technology early on and make it easier for them to adapt to the change.
  • Empower your people to navigate change. One of the biggest challenges that people experience when faced with change is feeling unprepared. This can lead to increased stress and anxiety. Careful planning and change management training can help them to adapt more quickly to changing scenarios. This will see them understanding and accepting change more readily, and becoming familiar with new systems and processes quicker, improving their productivity.
  • Improve ROI. Substantial changes to operations take a good deal of investment in terms of both budget and time. Effective change management can help you to see the return on that investment more quickly, as you’ll have a good understanding of how to measure improvements and the financial benefits they bring.

woman stands in front of team demonstrating communication and leadership as key principles of change management

Why Do Change Management Initiatives Fail?

There are two main reasons that organisational changes fail: people and planning.

Often businesses will decide to change their approaches, technologies, and management without input from relevant stakeholders. More importantly, often company owners and upper management don’t understand who the stakeholders involved in the change are. They assume that the most important opinions to collect are those of investors. In reality, the most important opinions often come from those that the adjustment directly impacts.

Without getting buy-in from your employees, or letting them know that change is in the works, any initiative is going to falter.

Preparation for change management should also come long before the change itself actually takes place. This helps you provide adequate training and onboarding and ensures the ongoing momentum of change initiatives. It also keeps those responsible for change management focused on the right measurements necessary for success.

Types of Organisational Change

Change comes in many different forms. There’s the adoption of new technologies that need to be learned. Teams change as employees retire or leave and new faces take their place. Roles change and adapt as new challenges and goals emerge. Your business’ values and core focus may change as your industry does.

An easy way to break changes down is into three different categories: structural, technological and people-centric. Let’s explore categories to get a better understanding of what each involves.

Structural Change

Structural changes involve adjustments to your business itself. This could include your overarching principles and values, your goals and objectives, the internal processes that you have in place, or your organisational structure. These changes impact the very core of your operations. While it’s important to take a strategic mindset for most change management, strategy is essential when it comes to initiatives that change the fundamentals of your business.

Technological Change

Technological changes happen at varying levels. An individual may make a change to an app that they regularly use, finding one that will help them work more productively. A team may make a collective decision to use a new piece of software. However, where change management is invaluable is when it comes to technological changes that impact the whole business.

A good example would be making the decision to switch from Microsoft 365 to G-Suite. The change involved in adopting the new technology would impact your entire workforce. While the two platforms seem very similar at a high level, the small differences between them can have a big impact on productivity, leading to frustration and stress if the change isn’t effectively managed.

People-Centric Change

People-centric changes impact how the humans behind your business work. These could include adjustments to roles and responsibilities, changes in personnel, shifts in team dynamics, or the introduction of initiatives that enhance company culture and improve working conditions.

For instance, embracing a remote or hybrid work environment is a people-centric change. This directly affects employees. It focuses on the well-being and engagement of the people in your business, improving work-life balance and providing more flexibility to enhance employee satisfaction.

example of proscis adkar change management model

Since change is unavoidable, plenty of models have been developed to help people and businesses adapt to changing circumstances. Some of the most popular models include:

1. Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Dr John P. Kotter introduced the world to his 8-step change model in 1996. Since then it has been adopted by businesses around the world in working towards effective organisational change. The 8 steps that he outlines are:

  1. Create a sense of urgency. Help others to understand why change is necessary, and why now is the right time for the transition.
  2. Build a guiding coalition. Find the right team of people to be at the forefront of change within your business. These will be the individuals who have a deep understanding of the need for change initiatives, are passionate about the journey, and have the standing within your business to motivate others.
  3. Form a strategic vision. Think carefully about the outcomes that you want to achieve. Put together a plan with clear project milestones and deliverables to help you get there over time.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army. Communicate your plan for change clearly and often. Make sure that everyone knows that change is coming, why it’s necessary, and how it’s going to impact their work. This is an opportunity to get buy-in from as many people as possible and ensure that change is accepted throughout the organisation.
  5. Enable action by removing barriers. Identify the challenges that you’re going to face, and develop strategies for overcoming them. These could be habits that people have developed, concerns that they have, or processes that need to be adapted.
  6. Generate short-term wins. Find small change projects that you can manage without a lot of resistance or objections. By achieving these, you’ll start the change process and make the transition easier for people to navigate.
  7. Sustain acceleration. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It is a constant effort that needs to be worked on over a long period. However, it’s important to keep moving your change initiatives forward. Just because you’ve achieved your short-term wins, doesn’t mean you should stop there. Keep up the momentum.
  8. Institute change. Make change and adaptability a part of your company culture. It’s about putting sustainable projects in place to keep your business moving forward, adjusting to changing circumstances, and always growing.

2. Prosci’s 3-Phase Process

Where Kotter provides detailed steps for implementing organisational change, the management consultancy Prosci has condensed the change process into a 3-Phase Process, each with actions and deliverables attached to them.

  • Prepare for change: Define success, the impact of change and your approach.
  • Manage change: Plan and act, track performance and adapt your actions based on what you’ve learned.
  • Sustain change: Regularly review performance, activate sustainment, and transfer ownership from management to teams and individuals.

This approach to change management can be applied to other change models as well. Taking the example of Kotter’s change model, steps 1-4 could be considered preparing for change. Steps 5 and 6 are about managing adjustments, and steps 7 and 8 are about making them sustainable in the long term.

3. ADKAR Model

The 3-Phase Process isn’t Prosci’s only contribution towards managing change. Developed in the early ‘90s, the ADKAR methodology provides five key building blocks for successful change.

  • Awareness that change is necessary.
  • Desire to change and adapt.
  • Knowledge of how change should take place.
  • Ability and skills to implement change effectively.
  • Reinforcement to make changes last over time.

4. Lewin’s Change Management Model

While the idea of change management may seem like a modern concept, Lewin’s Change Management Model was developed as early as the 1940s. It is widely considered one of the most influential frameworks in change management, and its simplicity makes it easy to see why. Much like Prosci’s 3-Phase Process, Lewin’s model looks at three stages in organisational change.

  • The Unfreeze stage involves recognising that change is necessary and preparing your business for a transitionary period.
  • The Transition stage is where real change is implemented and takes effect. During this time it is important to provide training and support to help employees adapt, to communicate clearly and frequently, and to encourage feedback.
  • Unlike many other models, Lewin’s Change Management model doesn’t delve into sustainable change, or implementing change over a long period. The third phase is what he refers to as a Refreeze. This involves ensuring that the changes you’ve implemented are well-established and supported.

The concept behind Lewin’s model is that these three stages would be repeated as new change management processes are put in place. Many of the more modern models recognise that change is an unending process that is never truly ready to be ‘refrozen’.

5. McKinsey 7-S Framework

Another very early methodology for change management is McKinsey’s 7-S theory, which was developed in the late 1970s. The framework looks at seven factors that need to be aligned for effective and successful organisations. Over the years, the 7-S framework has been adapted to reflect organisational change in particular. The seven factors are:

  1. Strategy: Develop a change management plan with actionable and clear goals and objectives that align with the company’s overall vision and mission.
  2. Structure: Review the roles and responsibilities within your business, paying particular attention to the impact that they’ll have on change implementation.
  3. Systems: Update and develop systems and processes to allow for a smooth transition.
  4. Shared Values: Consider and communicate how change ties into your values and the benefits it will bring to your business.
  5. Style: Beyond looking at the structure of management, it’s also important to consider management styles and how well they align with planned changes.
  6. Staff: Consider your existing employees and how well they adapt to changing circumstances. Bearing their knowledge and skills in mind, recruit, train and reassign staff members as necessary to support the changing environment.
  7. Skills: Identify critical skills within your business that will align with the changes you want to make. This will help you to determine where any skill gaps lie and plan training initiatives and recruitment drives to address these gaps.

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Key Principles of Change Management

No matter which change management model you use, or even if you incorporate elements from different models, there are four key principles to bear in mind.


The importance of effective communication cannot be overstated. It can mean the difference between successful change management and failure. Maintaining open communication with the people behind your business about the reasons for a transition is critical in helping them navigate the adjustment.

Stakeholder Involvement

It’s easy to make decisions on your own and to assume that they’re the right ones. However, everyone has their own experience and expertise which can guide the change management process. Getting input from key stakeholders is an essential step in implementing change. And it’s important to realise that stakeholders will come from many different areas. You’ll want to get feedback from company owners, investors and management, and you’ll want to prioritise employee involvement. This will ensure that the change process is as effective and goes as smoothly as possible.


Thinking carefully about leadership in change is another important step in the change management process. Change leaders should be excited about transitions. They shouldn’t need any convincing – they should already be completely sold on why the change process is taking place. This enthusiasm will see them inspiring and motivating the people around them.

It’s also important to realise that change leaders aren’t always going to be in management positions. Team members can often offer more motivation than a manager would. Colleagues will feel less pressured into accepting change if the idea behind the adjustment is internal, rather than being forced on them.

Training and support

Change may be a natural part of business, but that doesn’t mean that it happens naturally. It’s critical to consider the training and support your teams need to transition as smoothly as possible into changing scenarios. Putting together training and guidelines for new processes will help employees become productive in the new environment far quicker. Providing long-lasting support will also reduce stress, anxiety and resistance.

Tools for Successful Change Management

The change management process is complex and detailed. However, there are plenty of tools that can help you with successful implementation.

Learning Management System

Training is one of the key change management principles. You want to ensure that you’re training your teams in the right ways. Finding a learning management system (LMS) that is a good fit for your business will help you to streamline and standardise the training process.

Looking for an LMS that’s a good fit for your business?

Here are the top 10 LMS for corporate training

Project Management Software

You’ll notice that almost all of the change management models that we looked at mentioned implementing change projects in phases. Finding the right project management tool will simplify this process and ensure your transformation projects progress smoothly over time. The right software will help you track transformation projects and ensure you’re measuring success efficiently. This will help you keep your overall change project moving forward with the right KPIs and success factors in mind.

Data Analysis and Visualisation Tools

Businesses generate so much data daily that it would be impossible to get meaningful insights from it without the right tools behind them. This is especially important when it comes to measuring the impact of change initiatives that you’re putting in place. You want to quickly and easily be able to visualise the effect that change is having across your business. Having data analysis and visualisation available to you will help you to be more agile in your approach to change.

Feedback Tools

Another essential tool for ensuring that your change projects are successful is making it easy for your teams to give you feedback. This will help you effectively manage any resistance to change by addressing concerns and stumbling blocks as quickly as possible. Providing your teams with feedback tools will also make them feel more involved in the process, helping them to adapt to changing circumstances quickly and smoothly.

management team discuss what to include in change management plan

What Should You Include in Your Change Management Plan?

While change management models may use differing terminology and take distinct approaches to business transformation, there is one thing that all of them agree on. It is critical to have a plan in place for effective change.

What you include in your change management plan is going to depend on the specific change that you’re implementing, alongside your unique values and business model as a whole. However, there are a few areas that every effective change management plan should incorporate.

Key Goals and Outcomes

What do you want to achieve at the end of this transformational change? Ensure that you define key goals and outcomes, and make them measurable. Concepts do have their place, but when it comes to a change management plan, you want to have tangible results that you can easily measure. Saying, for example, that you want to attract more customers is a great idea in theory. Having a goal of increasing your customer base by 50% in the coming year is a target that can be measured and monitored. It’s also critical to conduct regular impact assessments to determine where goals and outcomes need to be adjusted and refined.

Change Leaders

Conducting a stakeholder analysis to determine the best people within your business to drive change is critical. This will help you to assign roles and responsibilities to the right people who will be able to turn change projects into results.

Communication Plan

Since communication is an integral part of effective change, planning how you are going to communicate the transition is also essential. It helps you walk your employees through the reasoning behind the adjustment and can be instrumental in overcoming any resistance they may feel. It gives them an opportunity to express their concerns and helps you to address them before the change has even started taking place.

Tools For Change

Choosing the right tools to help you transition is another element of any effective change management plan. Consider the systems and processes that you already have in place. Try to find tools that are going to integrate well with them, and that are going to be easy to implement. This will make their adoption easier, rather than adding further complication to an already complex situation.

Change Management Training Plan

Some companies prioritise course management systems, wanting to develop training that’s unique to their business and processes. Others want to find learning platforms that have an extensive course library covering relevant subjects for the change that’s in progress. Whichever the case may be for your business, make sure that you’re making change management training courses a priority as part of your implementation plan. This will help your change leaders gain a detailed understanding of how best to navigate transformations with as little resistance as possible.

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