What is change management? A guide for business leaders

what is change management in business

The global pandemic has meant a period of unprecedented change in how businesses operate. Here we'll provide leaders with the tools they need to manage change and uncertainty.

The best leaders are those who can master change. However, leading change can be difficult at times, and right now it’s certainly exacerbated by different factors.

From the spread of employees working remotely to offices being closed, for the most part, these unprecedented times have been shaky ground for change in sectors of all kinds. In terms of employees, every person perceives change differently; some see it as an opportunity while others are bound to be more sceptical and set in their ways. As a leader, it’s important to align such differing responses amongst employees on the way to implementing and managing change, and the goals associated with it.

Equipping leaders with the tools they require to manage change and uncertainty effectively, this resource will explore definitions of change management, along with different models and processes that leaders should be aware of – so that they can successfully support teams, individuals and organisational goals as we enter the ‘new normal’.

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What is change management

What is change management?

Like change itself, change management means many things to many people. Broadly speaking, it can be defined as a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organisations from a current state to a desired future state, to fulfil or implement a vision and strategy. However, there are differing trains of thought that have shaped the practice of change management.

As a systematic process

“It is the formal process for organisational change, including a systematic approach and application of knowledge. Change management means defining and adopting corporate strategies, structures, procedures, and technologies to deal with change stemming from internal and external conditions” – Society for Human Resources Management, 2007 Change Management Survey Report

As a way of transitioning people

“Change management is a critical part of any project that leads, manages, and enables people to accept new processes, technologies, systems, structures, and values. It is the set of activities that helps people transition from their present way of working to the desired way of working”  – Lambeth Change Management Team, Change Management Toolkit.

As a competitive process

“Change management is the continuous process of aligning an organization with its marketplace—and doing so more responsively and effectively than competitors” – Lisa M. Kudray and Brian H. Kleiner, “Global Trends in Managing Change,” Industrial Management, May 1997

Importance of teamwork

Why is change management important?

Strong project management and modern technology solutions don’t always guarantee the success of a new project or initiative. Further still, even though a company may have adopted a change management model, it’s often under-funded and not always followed through to its logical end.

An adequately budgeted change management model, entirely carried out within the framework of your organisation’s intended transformation, is the key to change success. The following are a few key reasons as to why change management is so important:

Increases your chances of project success – A study conducted by Prosci showed that projects and initiatives conducted within a proper change management framework are six times more likely to succeed.

• Improves employee morale – Employees who are heavily involved in an organisation’s success are a proven asset, feeling more content in their roles when they’re treated with respect during organisational change. Change management places the focus on these individuals and facilitates their transformations that relate to your change project.

• Meets change requirements and delivers results – Sometimes, transformations can meet their intended requirements but still fail to deliver the desired results. Change management avoids this by helping organisations focus on achieving the benefits of the solution rather than solely focusing on the solution process.

• Mitigates risk  – Without a proper framework for success, change initiatives are less likely to succeed. Creating change without the use of active change management creates greater risk for the future of your business. With the right framework in place, you can avoid the need to rework and revise your project.

colleagues instigating change

What are the different change management models?

There are a few different change management models that can be used to initiate and get through a period of change. Each model has its own approach to change and may be more beneficial to certain types of organisations over others, based on their unique attitudes towards training and operation or their specific work structure model.

Some of the more popular models include:


Well known and widely used, the ADKAR model consists of five elements: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement, which are the building blocks for creating change from the human perspective.

• Awareness: Communicate the reason for change

• Desire: Empower and engage individuals

• Knowledge: Learn by sharing

•Ability: Identify and address barriers

• Reinforcement: Emphasise progress, celebrate milestones and share success stories

Kotter’s 8 steps for leading organisational change

In John P. Kotter’s book “Leading Change” he outlines eight critical steps when transforming an organisation, all of which are designed to remedy the eight leading pain points that stand in the way of change, as follows:

1) Establish a sense of urgency for change

2) Form a powerful coalition

3) Create a vision for change

4) Communicate the vision

5) Remove the obstacles

6) Create short-term wins

7) Build on the change

8) Anchor the changes in corporate culture

how to brainstorm with the team

Rather than managing change, Kotter proposes ‘leading’ it, with top tier management doing the bulk of the work; it’s their support and fostering of these eight steps that will ultimately be what makes the change successful.

Lewin’s change management model

Created by German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin, his model is an easily-implemented example designed to break substantive change into three simple steps: unfreeze, change and rephrase.

The first stage unfreezes, or takes apart, the entirety of an organisation in order to analyse its problems and look for potential improvements. The latter two steps target and implement the necessary changes that are required to improve the current situation of the company.

What are some change management best practices?

Whatever your change management plan looks like, an effective strategy should incorporate the following best practices:

Change is organised from the top

When change is about to take place, the direction, strength and motivation for the change needs to come from those in positions of leadership. CEOs and executive leaders need to be invested; preaching a change but not taking part doesn’t put employees in the right frame of mind for success.

building a business change plan

Then mobilises from the bottom

Real changes take place at the bottom. Leaders engage at every level of the organisations, which means encouraging and creating new leaders in these lower tiers of the company; those who help employees at their respective levels establish ownership of the new changes.

Communication is essential

Don’t assume that everyone shares the same appreciation or understanding of the change. An essential part of change is the need to communicate as much as possible. The same transformation procedures that have been agreed upon need to be reiterated through easy-to-digest communication until it sticks.

Create a vision

Some employees may not fully grasp or be enthused by the impending change. A clear vision of what is to come can help in this regard, establishing a positive atmosphere that trickles down and gets all levels of the business to act.

Emphasise ownership of the change

Getting all levels to act means allowing input from all levels. Involving all employees in the problem-identifying and solution-creating creation is essential to successful change. Emphasising the reasons for change is important too as this creates positive results for everyone involved.

Prepare for further change

Not everything will go to plan, so prepare for the unexpected to occur. Planning is crucial in change, allowing you to navigate any snags and challenges you encounter along the way.

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