Things I learned from 25 years of Organizational Change Management

Today we are facing tough transformations.  Organizations are having to keep up with change; everyone is talking about the effect digital transformation will have on work and business globally.  This will require good change management.

I started helping organizations transform in 1990.  At that time, everyone was feeling the incoming effect of globalization.  It was imminent.  American car manufacturers, who were my main customer at the time, already learned a hard lesson about thinking global vs local, and that customers are loyal to their needs and wants more than anything else.

There are things that I learned about organizational change that have helped me improve my chances of success with change interventions which I have undertaken at tens of organizations.  Here are some key ones that come to mind and are very relevant today:

  1. Change must be taken seriously and addressed properly.  Assuming everything will work fine and everyone will conform is wishful thinking.
  2. Attend to all elements of the organization: People, Processes, and Tools are still important.  But also look at Data Engineering.  For that you will need data architects and I will talk about that in a future article.
  3. A desired vision should be in place.  Can leadership imagine a better future with the changes we are proposing? what does that better future look like? If the leadership cannot see it, no one at the organization will.  Let us face it; I have seen organizations change without really understanding what the change will bring. Some change because their competitors have changed and they want the same. Some are forced to change because of government regulation or customer requirements. Not understanding what the change will mean can be dangerous.
  4. Awareness is the first step in any change initiative.  Awareness includes answering questions like “why are we changing?” and ” why do we have to?” and “how is this change different from our previous attempt?” etc.  If there are no clear answers from leadership, people will find their own answers and usually they will be negative or wrong ones.
  5. Sometimes we are not straight forward or clear on what the change will bring.  Sometimes we try to play with words so we do not tell constituents the negative side of the change.  I do not believe we need to stress the negative.  Not at all.  But I do not think we can patronize people, and pretend like there are no downsides to the change.  Then, people will lose trust and be reluctant to follow.
  6. Do not demand commitment too early.  This leads to passive resistance and hidden agendas.  Make sure you raise awareness first.  Make room for dialogue.  Be considerate of others’opinions.  That is a good place to start. We all know that it is not a democracy and we do not need a confidence vote to do what is right as leaders.  But we have to listen and address people’s concerns.  Your soldiers across the organization might know things that you do not know or have not taken into consideration.  Listen.  And do not dismiss what hey say as resistance too early.
  7.  Use the WIIFM: “What’s In It For Me?” Make sure you do your homework and identify the motivation for people, departments, and the organization to change.
  8. Set the right expectations.  It is normal for things to get worse before they get better.  It is normal with a new system to have some hiccups.  Productivity might even dip a bit in the beginning.  But that should be expected, communicated, and planned for.
  9. Do your homework especially on people.  Identify direct and indirect stakeholders, analyze them, analyze the impact of change on them, develop a stakeholder engagement plan.
  10. Treat the change as a program not a project.  Meaning it must be looked at from perspective of benefits and sustainability, not mere deliverables.  See a previous article I wrote two different articles about this here and also here.
  11. Learn from similar change initiatives internally and externally.  What is the success rate? who made it and why? who did not and why? These are the least expensive lessons you can learn; from someone else’s initiative.
  12. Empathize with nay Sayers.  Do not take it personally.  Instead of focusing on what they are doing, focus on what you can do to manage them.  Statements like “You bring a valid point,” “Tell me more,” and “I see why you are concerned,” are good statements to avoid getting defensive.
  13. Create a steering committee at the leadership level and require their commitment and support.  One of the ironic things that I have seen at organizations is that most of the resistance sometimes comes from the support group.  I remember at one ERP implementation, the “champions” selected from each department to help others adapt to the new system were actually the ones who are spear heading resistance.  I have seen that at executive steering committee level, were some executives were passively resisting the project, and others were playing the role of an “opportunist;” waiting to see if the initiative will actually work before they commit to it.  Give time to getting clear commitment from steering committees and change champions.  Vague, careful, and non committal attitudes should be managed to ensure clarity in commitment.
  14. Celebrate successes even small ones.  People love to hear good news, and want to be part of the success. But unfortunately bad news and suspicious comments spread faster in organizations.  If you do not communicate success clearly, and get the organization talking about opportunities and successes, you will find them following rumors and resisters.
  15. Relax and smell the roses.  Being part of a major change initiative makes someone forget to have fun and enjoy the change.  There is a lot of room to make the change more bearable and even fun.  Technology today allows it.  Use gamification, contests, breakfast and coffee events, to make understanding the change more bearable and more oriented towards people than just task orientation.

** Here is a link to a YouTube video where I summarize the main points from this post 


Comments (2)

  1. Thank you Ammar for sharing. One would wonder, these pointers nothing but common sense, however, we seem to be consumed throughout the change initiative at hand. One lesson stands out for me is ” treat change as a program, not a project”.

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