How to Jumpstart Change Management in 10 Steps

In our experience, there are organisations with an aggressive project or transformation agenda that know that change management is necessary—everyone talks about it, so it must be important!—but they’re not sure what it actually means or looks like, or how to do it.


These organisations typically fall into one of two categories:

  • High project management maturity, low change management maturity. Highly skilled project or program managers are asked to be de facto change managers too.
  • Low project and change maturity. Projects are run by operational people in addition to their “actual” jobs, and now they have to squeeze in “the change piece” too.

In both cases, it’s challenging for the individuals who are expected to be overnight change managers. If this is you, here are 10 steps to get you started and boost your organisational change capability. 

1. Get crystal clear about the change you’re undertaking

This sounds straightforward, but it’s actually challenging.

It’s more than “we’re upgrading the billing system” or “we’re introducing a new onboarding process” or “we’re changing our structure to be more customer-centric.”

What’s the imperative, or the why, behind these initiatives?

Are you introducing a new onboarding process because new starters are spending their first two weeks without a laptop or spotty systems access, impacting productivity and costing the organisation? Is the new customer-centric structure necessary because customers have told us they expect more, and churn is higher than normal? Are we upgrading the billing system because it hasn’t changed since before the iPhone? All of these statements are more compelling than simply stating what we’re doing.

Starting with why appeals to people's emotions and gets them listening

The why is necessary because it appeals to people’s emotions and gets them listening, which is the first thing we need to do when embarking on major change. In saturated, busy environments—which all workplaces are these days—if we don’t spell out why change is necessary, people simply won’t listen. The why needs to be included in all kick-off project communications.

[Further reading: Are you starting with WHY?]

Once we know why we need to change, we need to establish where we’re headed. Again, this is more challenging than it seems.

It goes beyond “we’re upgrading the billing system.” What will that mean for people? Will employees be able to have richer customer conversations because they’ll have all the data they need at their fingertips? Will onboarding take two days instead of two weeks, and hiring managers will only need to fill out one form instead of several?

Resistance (5)

Clearly articulating what the future will be like for people helps them connect with the change and understand what means for them personally. Again, this needs to be part of your kick-off communications.

We recommend developing an elevator speech that becomes the cornerstone for your project communications. Your Sponsor, project or change team and line managers all need to share the elevator speech broadly to spread the word about what’s changing.

2. Map your change network

Now that you know what the change is about, it’s time to graphically represent the true network of power, influence and the impact of your change. Starting from the bottom—who needs to use your change for it to be successful?—consider formal and informal power and relationships.

You can do this on a wall with post-its and markers, or virtually with a tool such as MiroMural or (There are probably more, these are just the few we’ve experimented with.)

3. Do a change impact AND a legacy assessment

Now that you know what you’re doing and who is impacted, it’s time to assess two things: the people impacts, or risks, of the change itself; and what’s the organisation’s recent track record, or legacy, with change? If the track record is poor, you may need to over-invest in change management support to be sure you get this one right.

4. Generate sponsorship

Change is accelerated when leaders are aligned in what they say, do, measure and prioritise.  Put more simply: leaders are essential to making change succeed. In fact, lack of effective change leadership is one of the biggest risks to implementation failure.

This is an area that takes time and resources to get right, so many project teams avoid it, shouldering many of the sponsorship responsibilities and treating the Sponsor as a removed figurehead who gets updates, sometimes asks tough questions, and parachutes in when complex issues arise.


This approach is not likely to get the traction you need where you need it. For change to stick, everyone needs to see that their manager is committed to and reinforcing the change.

While there is usually just one Initiating Sponsor, every manager whose direct reports are impacted by the change needs to play a sponsorship role.

5. Set clear and measurable goals

No matter how well-intended, most people—and, by extension, organisations—can’t change unless they have goals that are measurable, compelling, monitored, supported, planned out and reinforced. This takes work and discipline, and it goes far beyond making a statement along the lines of “we’re going to do things differently now.”

Decide on the outcomes you want and set measurable goals to achieve those outcomes.

[Further reading: Accountability: The Missing Link in Making Change Stick]

6. Plan for how you’ll engage people

This is much more than training and communications!

Our change management framework, People-Centred Implementation (PCI®), uses four engagement levers. Decide which levers you’ll use—based on what’s achievable given time and budget constraints and is likely to give the most return on effort—build detail into your plan, and seek advice from your change network.

[Further reading: Our Change Management Methodology]

7. Assess the likelihood of resistance and develop a resistance management plan

Resistance, if left unchecked, will threaten the success of your implementation.

Resistance is a normal human reaction to disruptive change. While it’s uncomfortable and our tendency is usually to cross our fingers and hope that people just “get on board,” experience shows that resistant employees usually need some support. This takes skill, yes, but it mostly takes time and patience, which project teams usually feel they can ill-afford. Unfortunately, if left unchecked, resistance will threaten the success of your implementation.

8. Track your progress, all the time

Dr James Prochaska, who co-developed the Stages of Change Model in 1983 (also known as the Transtheoretical Model of behaviour change), says that relapses are the rule rather than the exception.

Using those clear and measurable goals you already established, track your progress against those goals before and after the implementation.

Leading up to implementation, has behaviour started to change? Are leaders role modelling and reinforcing the new ways of working?  

After implementation, are people using the change as intended? If not, why not? Is additional support needed?

….which feeds nicely into the next step:

9. Make a sustainment, or reinforcement, plan

True and sustained adoption occurs when people are routinely using the change and demonstrating ownership for its continuation.

Because relapses are the rule rather than the exception, you need to leave anchors in place to prevent people from returning to the old ways of working. We call them sustainability anchors.

What anchors can you put in place so that when project resources and other support are deployed elsewhere, people don’t find workarounds to allow them to continue working the way they always have?

10. Integrate change and project management

To be most effective, change management needs to be integrated into overall project delivery. That doesn’t mean it has to be the same person—Project Managers often don’t have the time or interest to be effective Change Managers—but change management is not something separate that happens on the side.

Any people risks, such as risks to commitment or adoption, need to be managed alongside other project risks, with mitigation strategies tracked the same way we track, say, software development risks. Change management activities and milestones need to be part of the overall project plan with dependencies identified and managed as closely as any other project dependency.

[Further reading: Characteristics of a truly Change Capable Organisation]

From paddling in shallow water to mastering the deep end


These 10 steps will get you started, but there is more to doing change well. Our change management training programs, such as our PCI® Practitioner Program, gives you all tools and templates you need to lead, plan, implement and track major organisational change. We can also coach you to get the results you need.

Over to you! Is there anything else you would add to this list?

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