What is change management and how to apply it successfully?

What is change management and how to apply it successfully?

Change management has become a key factor for every company in the ever-changing business world. We are in the midst of an incredible pace of technological change, with customer trends constantly evolving, new market regulations emerging and a global crisis. Companies that fail to keep pace and seize opportunities are likely to be squeezed out by agile competitors and may even disappear. 

In this article we will discuss:

  • What is the concept of change management?
  • Why don't we like to step out of our comfort zone?
  • In which cases is change management essential?
  • Types of organisational change
  • What change management models exist?
  • What factors can hinder successful change management?
  • The 5 steps to successful change management
  • Key results of change management
Change management is about successfully implementing strategies and methods to achieve change.

The concept of change management

Change management aims to successfully implement the organisation's strategies and methods for achieving change and to help employees accept and adapt to change.

Professional change management has become a very important management skill, as in an uncertain situation it is necessary to have a captain who can steer the boat in the right direction while ensuring the safety of the passengers.

We have previously written about leadership competences here >>

Why don't we like to step out of our comfort zone?

Change is an everyday phenomenon in the life of every person and organisation, yet it creates uncertainty for many.

Research shows that the majority feel resistant to change, with only 38% of people willing to step out of their comfort zone and take it as a challenge. These types of personalities are more satisfied, happier and their attitudes lead to greater productivity.

However, 62% experiences fear and discomfort in similar situations and is constantly confronted with questions such as "Will I keep my job?", "What direction is my career taking?", "How secure is my livelihood?".

Since there are many questions and doubts about change, the successful and effective operation of an organisation requires awareness, systemic thinking and precise knowledge of the solutions, as this is the only way to effectively manage the change process. 

In which cases is change management essential?

Within a company, a number of internal and external factors can justify the need for change and at the same time the need for professional management of the situation.

For example:

  • the economic crisis
  • the emergence of technological innovations, digitalisation
  • changes in the political environment
  • organisational changes, management changes
  • high turnover
  • the arrival of a new colleague with a different approach and experience
  • the emergence of new market competitors
  • mergers and acquisitions
  • emergency situations (e.g. Covid)

Restructuring may be justified in several areas and at several levels. For example: 

  • technology, infrastructure
  • the strategy
  • the organisational structure and culture

Change is mostly about rethinking organisations, processes, systems, technologies, projects, behaviours, in order to:

  • increase efficiency
  • improve customer satisfaction
  • make processes more efficient
  • reduce costs
  • strengthen the organisation or project with a new mission, vision and strategy
Many internal and external factors within a company can justify the need for change.

Types of organisational change

Organisational change can take many forms. Before a major transformation, it is always necessary to determine what type of transformation is most effective in a given situation.

Let's look at some of them now!

Routine and non-routine changes

  • Routine changes: By this we mean when the transformation is part of the day-to-day running of the company, and is therefore not exceptional. Examples include leave issues, staff turnover, changes in policies or new equipment in the office.

These are changes of a kind that usually do not cause major resistance or strong emotional reactions. However, it is important to pay attention to these changes, because they can generate problems and conflicts if not communicated properly. 

  • Non-routine changes: They are the result of unexpected events. For example, it is announced that the company is merging with another company. These types of changes can cause emotional reactions, even panic, in the company and therefore require specific solutions. 

Top-down and bottom-up changes

  • Top-down initiatives: In this case, the idea of change is conceived at the top levels of the organisational hierarchy and the process is initiated accordingly. This is fortunate because the necessary support and resources are usually available. However, it has the disadvantage that it can create resistance at lower levels if employees are not sufficiently involved in the process or if the change is not a response to real problems.

  • Bottom-up initiatives: This is when those lower down the hierarchy initiate change with management, based on their own problems. The advantage of this is that staff are more willing to participate in implementing their own initiative. The difficulty, however, may be that in addition to getting management approval, effort is also needed to mobilise resources.

The key to an organisation's dynamism is that leaders allow for initiatives from the bottom up.

Reactive, preactive, proactive attitude

Three types of behaviour can be distinguished, depending on how the organisation reacts to the trigger.

  • Reactive attitude: In this case, the reaction is an afterthought. Either because the difficulties were not foreseeable beforehand or because the company has adopted a strategy of "wait and see". There is less time and fewer resources to prepare for change.
  • A proactive approach: It is a passive, preventive attitude. The organisation reacts before the cause of the change occurs, preparing the organisation for the problem.

A proactive approach: Active and continuous action, adapting to circumstances, legal conditions, etc.

What change management models exist?

There are many models for change management. Here are three of them, used by successful companies around the world.

1. Kotter's theory of change management

This change management method is one of the most popular and accepted in the world. 

It consists of eight sections, each focusing on a key principle:

    •  A sense of the urgency of change - The first step is to recognise that change is needed.
    • Creating a change management team - Next, a strong steering team can be set up, with the right knowledge, experience and skills to develop the vision.
    • Developing a vision and strategy - Six important features of an effective vision:
      • possible
      • welcome
      • feasible
      • Focused on 
      • Flexible
      • communicable at
    • Communicating a vision for change - Educate and support staff to identify with the vision. 
    • Empowerment of employees - The development of decision-making powers.
    • Winning quick victories - Information and rewards based on results already achieved.
  •  Consolidating results and achieving further change.
  •  Rooting new solutions in culture - Proposals for changes to daily work processes in line with the vision.

2. ADKAR model

The success or failure of change depends on a number of factors. The ADKAR model uses English initials to identify the human success factors in change management.

  • Awareness of the need for change - Awareness of the need for change.
  • Desire to participate in the change - The desire to participate in change.
  • Knowledge of how to change - Knowing how to change.
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviours - Having the necessary skills and attitudes.
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change - Confirmation to sustain change.

3. Lewin's change management model

Lewin's model is also very popular and highly effective. It enables companies to understand organisational and structural change. 

The model consists of three main stages:

  1. Unfreezing - The first stage of the change process, preparing for change. Here, employers need to prepare for the change and explain to their employees why the change is necessary. As most people are resistant to change, this step helps to break the status quo.
  2. Change/movement/transition - It is at this stage that the process of change and the creation of a new status quo takes place. Good leadership and effective employee communication are crucial at this stage. Support and mentoring may also be necessary.
  3. Refreezing - The third stage is to ensure that the change is sustainable. At this point, employees start to return to their usual routines. This final stage requires managers to ensure that changes are accepted and used after the change management objectives have been achieved.

What factors can hinder successful change management?

    • Poor leadership and lack of cooperation - Leadership has a big impact on employee engagement. If they are not convinced of the benefits of change, it will be difficult to implement it. Poor leadership and a lack of cooperation between managers is one of the main reasons why organisational change fails. However, cooperative leaders know how to inspire their staff and how to get change accepted.


    • Unclear, unstructured problem - Change management can be effective when you are facing a well-defined problem. Dealing with confusing, opaque situations often dooms the process to failure.


    • Lack of agility and slow approval process - The non agile organisations find it difficult to implement changes. Slow approval processes can cause delays in achieving goals. It is important that everyone is on the same page and that the process can be completed smoothly and on time.
    • Fear and conflicts - Changes within organisations create uncertainty and fear. This can lead employees to take out their frustrations on each other. In this case, managers have a responsibility to overcome difficulties and resolve conflicts.
  • Resistance to change and lack of commitment - Often, employees are resistant to change and do not want to cooperate or commit to new practices. Managers need to be able to address resistance at a psychological level and proactively remove behavioural barriers to change.
  • Inadequate communication  - Lack of communication or ineffective communication is often the cause of failure in change management projects, so it is very important to invest energy in a good internal communication strategy.

What to look out for in internal communication?

  • Explain to staff the changes that will be introduced and the different steps of the organisational change plan.
  • Tell them why specific changes are needed and how it will affect their work.
  • Clearly outline the objectives and help them to recognise how their work will impact on the team and the achievement of results.
  • Encourage your employees to ask the questions they have and, most importantly, make sure that all their dilemmas are answered. This builds rapport and trust. 

The 5 steps to successful change management

  1. Step 1: Preparing the organisation for change

For a company to successfully implement the necessary changes, it needs to be prepared in terms of both logistics and organisational culture. Managers need to focus on helping employees recognise and understand why change is needed. They should also raise awareness of the challenges and problems that may arise and possibly create dissatisfaction. It is also a step towards gaining trust, which reduces friction and resistance.

  1. Step 1: Creating the vision, making the plan

Once the organisation is ready for change, the next step is for leaders to develop a thorough and realistic proposal for how to implement change. 

The plan should include the following:

  • Strategic objectives: What goals will this change help the organisation to achieve?
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): How will we measure success? What are the metrics? What is the starting point?
  • Project stakeholders and team: Who will be responsible for implementation? Who should approve the results of each stage? 
  • Scope of the project: What actions and measures will the project include? What is outside the scope of the project?

The plan should also take into account any unknown factors or obstacles that may arise during the implementation process and which require flexibility to overcome.

3. Implementing the changes

Once the plan is in place, the next step is to implement each step. Whether it's changing the company's structure, strategy, systems, processes or employee behaviour.

Throughout the implementation process, managers should focus on empowering their employees to take the necessary steps to achieve the goals of the initiative. They should also make every effort to anticipate obstacles and, once identified, prevent, remove or mitigate them. 

Ongoing communication of the organisation's vision is critical throughout the implementation process so that team members remember why change is happening.

4. Embedding change in corporate culture and practice

Once the changes have been made, it is important that the status quo is not restored. This is particularly important in the case of organisational changes to work processes, culture and strategy. Without a proper plan, employees may revert to old routines, especially during a period of transition.

Embedding change into corporate culture and practice makes it harder to fall back. Audits and reward systems are tools to help this process.

5. Analysis of the results

Just because a change initiative has been completed does not mean it has been successful. Analysis and review help us to see the results accurately. It can also provide valuable insights and lessons that can be used for future change management.

Finally, the key results of change management

Effective change management has many positive effects on the organisation:

  • It will make it easier and faster to adopt changes and the proposals will deliver visible results.
  • Reduced resistance and uncertainty within a project or organisation. 
  • Increased motivation and satisfaction.
  • Uncertainty is reduced.
  • It reduces turnover and makes it easier to retain experienced, skilled colleagues.
  • The number of grassroots initiatives increases, making staff and team members more satisfied, engaged and motivated.

How can we help?

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