How to Implement Change Management: A Step-By-Step Guide to Successful Organizational Change

12 min read
Mar 12, 2020

Change Management

In recent years, change management has become somewhat of an organization buzz phrase—and for good reason. For businesses to succeed in today’s world, change is inevitable. And whenever it occurs, it needs to be masterfully managed. 

On average, more than two out of three organizations experience four significant changes over the course of five years. Being able to effectively manage these changes is more important than ever because—in the coming years—that number is set to grow even higher. 

Despite the growing number of initiatives, 70% of all change management initiatives will likely fail

But the good news is that your organization doesn’t have to suffer the same fate. By following the steps in this article, you can successfully implement change management initiatives and increase your productivity and profitability along the way.

Did you know: Only 22% of employees believe their management  is very transparent, compared with 40% of managers?

What is Change Management?

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Change management is the process of systematically managing how well employees accept and adopt organizational changes. It’s about ensuring your employees buy into and champion the changes your business makes. 

When change management is implemented correctly, your organization and your employees benefit. What if you could ensure each of your projects met every one of your objectives? It almost sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t.  

Research has shown that if your organization has excellent change management chops, you are six times more likely to meet your objectives. It is one of the key predictors of success and it affects your employees.

Change can be difficult. However, with excellent change management, your employees are more likely to support the initiatives while remaining engaged in their work and more productive.

Read more: 20 Characteristics of High-Potential Employees  <>

3 Critical Phases of Change Management

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According to change management leader Prosci’s research, there are three phases of change management. Successfully managing each phase is what will help you implement changes and grow as an organization.

1. Prepare for change

In the first phase of change management, you’ll lay the groundwork for your entire change management plan. During this phase, you’ll develop a situational awareness, identify potential challenges with leadership, and perform an impact assessment. 

With this insight, you can begin to create your change management strategy.

2. Manage change

Once you have your strategy developed, you can create and implement plans to support your overall strategy. 

Below are some common plans you’ll want to develop during this phase.

Type of Plan What to Include
Communications Plan Identify what your main messages are, who needs to hear them, and who will deliver them.
Sponsor Guide Outline expectations for sponsors and the specific details of what you'll need from them.
Training Plan Change often requires us to change our behaviors, and usually this involves training. Identify what needs to be learned, who needs to learn it, and how the training will be delivered.
Resistance Handling Plan With any change, there is bound to be some resistance. Be proactive and create a plan for how you'll manage it.


3. Reinforce change

The final phase of change management takes place after you implement your changes. This phase ensures your organization maintains the changes and you get the results you expect. 

In this phase, you’ll measure and reinforce behavior changes, correcting any gaps that arise.

How to Successfully Implement Change Management

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It can be difficult to implement each phase of change management. But there are proven steps you can take to make your efforts effective. 

Chet Holmes, an acclaimed corporate trainer and business growth expert, is no stranger to change. After working with nearly 1,000 clients—including major companies like Citibank and Warner Bros.—he’s considered a master at implementation.  

In his national best seller, The Ultimate Sales Machine, Holmes shared exactly how to master organization change. Here are 10 steps—based on his experience—that you can use to successfully implement new concepts, policies, change, and growth in your organization.

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1. Communicate and get everyone to understand and feel the pain

“The first thing you need to do is if you want people to change is to show them why what they’re doing now isn’t working.” –Holmes

When you’re just getting started with change management, you’ll want to communicate with your employees from the get-go. They need to understand the problem and the pain it’s causing to realize why change is necessary. This will help create buy in and support for the changes to come.

Before you explore solutions, focus on the problem and create a sense of urgency with pain. To do this, Holmes suggests starting the discussion by asking the question. Gather your employees and ask them to identify what their current challenges are. Let them complain and feel the pain as a group.

Once your staff have identified their current challenges and the negative impact of it, intensify the pain. Ask them to consider what the drawbacks are for not changing and solving this problem. You can guide the conversation; just make sure your employees are able to provide their honest opinions.

2. Seek employee feedback to assess the pain and generate solutions

“People liked to be asked their opinion. Then when they give it, they’ll have a greater buy-in when you actually take advantage of the ideas they suggest.” –Holmes

Once your employees understand the problem and feel the pain, let them be the ones to find the solution. 

To do this, Holmes recommends that you get your employees together and have them spend some time writing down their ideas to solve the problem. After the two minutes, ask your employees to share what they’ve written and capture each idea on a whiteboard. 

Once all of the ideas are shared, work as a group to prioritize solutions. Start by having each individual rate their top three choices. After all of your employees are finished, tally the totals and pick the top five to focus on.

If you have a remote workforce, you can still benefit from Holmes’ strategy. Instead of meeting in person, replicate the experience with video conferencing. As each individual shares their ideas, document them and use screensharing to display the list to the group and rank each solution.

Tackling problems as a group will help generate better solutions and get your employees involved in the process. This involvement will help create support for the solutions you ultimately implement. 

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Streamline feedback collection and collaboration

If you’re short on time or find it difficult to get everyone together, you can use short surveys instead of meetings to collect feedback and get your employees involved. This will also streamline this critical change management step and maximize your employees’ time. 

To conduct a solutions-oriented survey, first send out a one-question survey that asks your employees how they would solve the problem at hand. Make sure the question is open-ended and your employees know they can provide several ideas.

Once your survey ends, review the results and consolidate any similar responses. Send out a follow-up survey and ask your employees to rank their top three choices from the consolidated list of solutions. Using their feedback, you can quickly identify the top five solutions that will have the most impact.


Steps 2 & 3 In Action: Royal Dutch Shell’s “Valentine” Events

One of the world’s largest organizations, Royal Dutch Shell, used pain to develop effective solutions to problems they faced with a new initiative. At the time, chairman Chris Knight had proposed a customer service center initiative to streamline communication and improve relationships with service centers.  

Initially, not all employees were on board with the idea. Knight needed also needed to solve the problem of how to empower customer service staff so they could meet their customers’ needs in these centers. 

To do this, he gathered employees for one-day events called valentines. For the valentine events, small groups came together and wrote out the grievances they had with other groups and described how they were getting in the way of a successful customer service center. 

When each group received their grievances, they discussed each one, prioritized them, and selected the two most important to deal with. For each prioritized grievance, the groups then created a detailed plan to resolve the issue and built in accountability.

3. Turn it into an initiative and communicate about it.

“Each solution or procedure is ‘conceptual’ until it is ‘proven’ by you and your staff.” –Holmes

Once you’ve found your solutions, your next step in implementing change management is to turn each one into an initiative. To get started, you’ll want to create your conceptual solutions. These will be a work in progress and you can expect to make several changes before you are ready to implement them.

These conceptual solutions can take a variety of forms. Often this includes scripts, job aids, procedures, and any other materials you will need when your solution rolls out. 

For example, if one of your solutions is that your employees will use a checklist to review applications received from customers, you will create the conceptual checklist and procedures for using it during this step.

When you have your conceptual solutions, make sure to communicate and share these with your change management team, subject matter experts, and sponsors. This will give them the opportunity to provide feedback and correct any major issues before you move into the next step.

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4. Leadership or a small tiger team pilots the change

“Don’t be tempted to have everyone in your organization test and perfect the procedure at the same time. Instead, have the higher-level talent perfect it.” –Holmes

Once your conceptual solutions are ready, it’s time to pilot the changes. The pilot group Holmes recommends is a little different than what most are familiar with but can be very effective nonetheless. Rather than large-scale pilots, he suggests having top leadership or a team of high-level talent test and perfect your solutions.

Leadership and top performers will be the ones to champion your change. Having them pilot it shows they support it and produces better results. 

5. Set a deadline and communicate the results

Throughout your pilot testing, there will likely be challenges that arise and hurdles to overcome. That’s the purpose of a pilot. But this can become problematic if there are so many changes that it becomes an endless pilot.

To avoid this, set a testing deadline from the outset and make sure your pilot team is aware of it. This is also a good time to communicate with your employees so they know the pilot is happening in the first place. 

After the testing is over, share the results with your employees. It’s important to keep the process as transparent as possible. Let your employees know the good and the bad—what worked, what didn’t, and what you are doing differently because of your results.

6. Analyze and document the process

“You want this to be a repeatable process, so spell it out.” –Holmes

When pilot testing is over, you should have a streamlined, repeatable process all of your employees can follow. Your process should be detailed enough that it’s clear to a brand-new employee. 

Documenting your process ensures that your employees understand exactly what they need to do when your new process is rolled out. It keeps things consistent and helps your employees perform the process as efficiently as possible.

7. Show-and-tell the documented steps and train staff

Once you have a documented process, it’s time to train your employees. One of the most effective ways to do this is through show-and-tell and role-playing. It’s one thing to read a script. It’s another to see it in action. 

Show-and-tell and role-playing can be done in a variety of ways. The important thing is that your employees see the process and have the opportunity to practice it in a safe environment.

For example, you can record a telephone procedure and incorporate it into an eLearning module. You could then create an interactive scenario for your employees to complete. 

You could also use the same recording as part of an in-person training and follow up by having employees partner up to practice using the procedure. This type of hands-on learning will help your employees better apply the new process and retain information.

8. Seek employee feedback again to improve

With any good change management strategy, it’s important to listen to your employees. Once they are trained on the new procedure, get them back together or send out a short survey. 

Ask them how they would implement the procedure and how they would do it better. This step will help you refine and improve your process before you roll it out.

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Step 8 In Action: Toyota

“Kaizen” (continuous improvement) is a core principle of the Toyota Production System and should be at the heart of every change management initiative. 

Kaizen is a philosophy that improves standardized work by empowering employees to identify problems with a procedure and brainstorm solutions. Using this approach, Toyota has been able to better maximize productivity and increase the quality of their products.

9. Monitor the procedure

When you implement a new procedure, there’s always a learning curve. As such, it’s important to monitor it and make sure your employees are properly implementing it.

Holmes suggests monitoring it on at least a weekly, if not daily, basis. By doing this, you can see what’s happening and correct behavior, if necessary. 

Frequent monitoring like this creates accountability for your employees and makes them more likely to adopt the changes.

10. Regularly take a pulse to measure how effective the change is

“You must measure your results intently. People respect what you inspect.” –Holmes

Measuring the effectiveness of your change will reinforce it and ensure it is working as intended. Regular pulse surveys can help you do this. 

By sending a quick survey to your employees, they can provide instant feedback that will help you continuously improve the process and gauge their comfort level. These surveys also help your employees continue to feel involved and a part of the process.

The anonymous nature of pulse surveys means your employees will be more likely to respond and provide honest feedback. This gives you better insight into how well your changes are working.


How to Conduct a Post-Implementation Survey

When you conduct your pulse survey, try to limit it to three to six meaningful questions at a time. Each week, you can focus on different topics and ask different questions. In general, there are three areas to focus on post-implementation:

  • Pre-implementation training
  • Solution or procedure implemented
  • Communications and feedback loop

Example Post-Implementation Survey Questions to Ask

Pre-Implementation Training

  1. On a scale of 110, how would you rate the quality of the training?
  2. On a scale of 110, how would you rate the instructor?
  3. On a scale of 110, how easy was it to apply with you’ve learned?
  4. Were there any questions or concerns left unaddressed in the training?

Solution or Procedure Implemented

  1. On a scale of 110, how comfortable are you performing the new procedure?
  2. Are there any unexpected negative impacts of the new procedure? If yes, please describe.
  3. Have repetitive tasks been reduced since the new procedure has been implemented?
  4. Are you using [insert new job aid, computer system, etc.] to perform [insert task] on a regular basis?
  5. Is there anything about the new procedure that needs clarification?
  6. Is it easier to perform [insert task] since the new procedure was introduced?

Communication and Feedback Loop

  1. Did you receive the right amount of communication throughout the project? If no, please explain.
  2. Do you know how to submit feedback or make a suggestion to improve the new process?
  3. On a scale of 110, how likely do you think it is that your feedback will be considered?

Implement Your Change Management Strategy

To grow your organization and remain competitive, a strong change management strategy is essential. How you manage change impacts more than just one project. It affects your entire organization because it is a reflection of your culture. 

Mismanaged change often creates stress and confusion because employees don’t understand why changes are happening. Some may even feel angry if they weren’t involved in the process or feel like their feedback was ignored. 

These feelings can decrease the overall morale in your organization and lower productivity. It can also create a legacy of failed change—making it that much more difficult to get your employees to buy into future changes. 

Great Leadership

By working through the three phases of change management and following the 10 steps described in this article, you can prevent common pitfalls and become a master at implementing change.

Including your employees and getting them involved in generating solutions is one of the most crucial things you can do to create buy-in. Once you’ve created your conceptual solutions, have leadership or a small team pilot the changes. Document the “perfected” process but expect there to be changes to it. 

Throughout any change management project, actively solicit feedback from employees. Once you’ve implemented the new procedure, make sure to monitor it and take regular pulse surveys to measure the effectiveness. This type of continuous improvement will make your procedures the best they can be and set your organization up for success. 

With a firm change management strategy in place, your organization can continue to evolve with the times and figure out the best way forward—delighting your customers along the way.




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