7 important change management principles for transformations

19 July 2016 Consultancy.uk 6 min. read

Successfully implementing a transformation programme is notorious for the challenges it poses managers and organisations. According to Dennis van Hattem, consultant at management consultancy Gwynt, both research as well as practical experience show that in particular human capital and people factors play an instrumental role in navigating transitions to their desired end-state. Three dimensions play herein a key role: ‘speed of adoption’ (how quick employees are brought on board), ‘ultimate utilisation (how many employees adopt the new way of working) and proficiency (how effective employees are once they make the transition). In this article Van Hattem explores the seven main change management principles that can positively influence these dimensions.

1. Active and visible executive sponsorship

Employees look to senior leaders for messages (both spoken and unspoken) about the project’s importance and the organisation’s commitment to the change. They want to hear the big-picture impact messages from the CEO or business executive. That is why it is important that executive sponsors communicate directly with employees about the reasons for change. They should not only announce the change and then walk away, but also participate actively and visibly throughout the change process. They have to demonstrate support for the change project in words and actions, build a powerful guiding coalition and manage resistance.

2. Structured change management approach

A structured change management approach is advisable to avoid shortcutting the change process. In our business transformation trajectories we use the “ADKAR” methodology of Prosci. ADKAR, stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.


The first step to enable change is to create awareness of the need for change. Desire is the second step and represents the motivation and choice to support and participate in a change. Knowledge is the third step and represents how to implement change and includes understanding of how to change. The presence of knowledge is often insufficient by itself and therefore ability is the fourth step in which the capability to implement the change is demonstrated. Reinforcement is the final step and prevents individuals from slipping back into old behaviours. It also stimulates continuous improvement and adaptability.

3. Engagement and integration with project management

In managing change we tend to focus more on the ‘technical’ side (designing, developing and delivering change solutions) than the ‘people’ side (embracing, adopting and utilising change solutions) of change. In doing so, we seem to underestimate that both elements complement each other and should go hand in hand to increase the probability of success. Change management is most effective when it is launched at the beginning of a project and integrated into the project activities. See our whitepaper ‘leading business transformation’ for more information on how to integrate your change management activities with project management.

4. Employee engagement, participation and resistance management

People go through an emotion curve with alternating positive and negative emotions or reactions. They show varied behaviour in each phase of the change. People need to say goodbye to the old situation and become comfortable with the new situation. Your success rate will largely increase when individuals are given guidance throughout this curve. You have to realise that individuals are at different points of the emotion curve at a certain moment of your change initiatives. So it is advisable to adjust your management style and communication accordingly.

Leading people, leading change

Managing resistance often is seen as difficult to deal with, because it can be tough and confronting. Resistance can also be seen as a sign of commitment and passion. You should embrace resistance, because it provides an opportunity to start a dialogue and to identify the obstacles that prevent change from happening. You can also minimise resistance by actively involving employees in the change process. Participation creates passion and commitment to change.

5. Frequent and open communication about the change and the need for change

A good communication plan, covering all stakeholders and timing of messages, is needed to support the change process. When communicating the why and impact of change, you can use multiple communication channels such as e-mails, newsletters, presentations and face-to-face communication. Face-to-face communication is preferable to other forms of communication, especially when the change is large and impactful. Research shows that it is good to share information early and often and to involve employees in the change process.

6. Engagement with and support from middle management

Accountability for managing the people side of change should rest not only rest with executive sponsors but also with middle managers. Middle managers can often make or break successful change. They can be the most difficult to convince of the need for change and can be a ‘layer of loam’ instead of a fertile ground for change. That’s why it is vital for the change management team to get executives and middle managers on board early on in the change process. As shown in the picture below, executives and middle managers are able to positively influence the “ADKAR scores” when they fulfil their change management roles. For example, when they effectively communicate they will positively influence the awareness of the need for change. The role of the change management team is to engage with and support executives and middle managers in effectively leading change initiatives.

Change management roles

7. Dedicated change management resources and funding

Projects with dedicated change management resources and funding are more likely to finish on schedule and to be completed on budget. It is therefore wise to invest in appropriate funding and resources for executing change management plans. External change agents/specialists can lead, train and support executives, middle managers and internal change teams in the tools and techniques to manage the people side of change.

Risks of not effectively managing the people side of change

When we don’t manage the people side of change effectively, we can expect lower productivity, active and passive resistance, negative word of mouth, loss of valued employees and lower utilisation or incorrect usage of new processes, systems and tools. People will find workarounds and ultimately revert to the old way of doing things. To prevent this from happening you should carefully take the people-side factors into account.