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20 Change Management Lessons from Working Over 20 years in Change


20 Change Management Lessons from Working Over 20 years in Change

Talk to almost anyone about change, and it immediately brings up feelings of stress.

We like to get comfortable in our routines. Yes, we stretch, we grow, but at a pace that feels, well, convenient because we’re in control. Thriving when we’re out of control is a much tougher prospect; it takes us out of our sweet spot on our way to discover what we hope will be a new cozy place.

The bottom line to successful change, whether personal or organizational, is it requires change management. Winging it will take you somewhere, all change does, but it may not be where you want, or intend, to go.

Out of undergrad, I was hired as a change management consultant and never looked back. Since then, I’ve not only focused on organizational change but began to research and understand what creates change for each one of us as an individual.

Poor reception for some early change management programs I supported taught me that change management is not the same as project management. Early on, most of my change management experience was related to IT change. Successfully cutover from one system to the new system and boom – change management. Um, no.Unfortunately, that thinking glossed over the magic that would make the change stick and avoid pissing of critical employees along the way. Project management is about process and at its heart, change management is about people. 

20 Change Management Lessons from Working Over 20 years in Change

1. Organizational change management has three key aspects: Sponsorship (who is sponsoring the change? Make sure they are active, visible supporters.), Training (what do I need to know/do differently after the change), Communications (2-way during, before and after the change). You need to consider all of these pieces in a successful change program.

2. Identify a sponsor who has influence. If the sponsor does not have the necessary influence both up and down the chain, but instead is given the responsibility without authority, the change program is doomed from the start.

3. Conference calls can and should be a part of the communication strategy, but you need to go to where the people are too. The impact of looking eye to eye is hard to replace with a conference call. Besides, what do you do on a conference call? Check your phone, email, Candy Crush? Yeah. Most other people on the call are doing that too. Get out from behind your desk already.

4. A feedback box in the break room only works if you respond to people’s concerns. Addressing issues without telling people they’ve been addressed is not very useful.

5. Change management communication is more than just PR. It’s not a one-way deal. You need to create forums where you can listen to people’s concerns and respond. If you don’t have a firm answer, “I hear you” and “I’ll find out” or “I’ll figure it out and get back to you” works wonders.

6. You need to trust your employees. Give them opportunities to get together and talk about the changes even when you’re not in the room facilitating (i.e., controlling the situation). Make time to meet with them afterward and hear about their concerns, ideas and suggestions.

7. Don’t be afraid of implementing recommendations that come from the team to support the change. If your change management efforts consist of a bunch of senior leaders who lock themselves in a room for endless meetings and to solve every problem… it’s time for a change.


8. When your change requires the team to learn new skills, give them multiple ways to acquire the skills. A mix of job aids that can be posted in their workspace, live training events, webinars and online training are likely necessary. Change and learning are not one size fit all.

9. Remove other options. I know that this sounds harsh but if you’re asking people to change the way they live and work, but they can still do the same thing they’ve always done, and it works, do you think they’ll change? No, me neither. This applies to both organizational and personal change.

10. Be a stickler for the process. You may feel like a jerk, but new procedures, systems, processes, ways of working take time to be adopted. Training is not a magic switch; it’s only a single component of the overall change management solution.


11. Don’t assume cutover is the end of the change program. Continue to communicate, reinforce skills as necessary and have visible sponsorship. Share the successes, listen to the challenges and tweak ongoing.

12. If a change, no matter how well planned and well intended is a flop, change again. If something is not working, don’t suck it up or create dozens of workarounds. Shift. Change management is a journey, not a  final destination determined by a date on the work plan.

13. Talk about why the change is important, not only what it is. People buy into a vision before they buy into the pain of changing the way they live and work.

14. Change management is as much about the way people think about the change as it is what they do. You have to change thoughts to change hearts and minds. Help people step into a new perspective because their default is going to be “change sucks.”

15. Even people who say that they love change need support to get the change to stick. Yes, at first it’s exciting, but then most people default to old thoughts and behaviors. Think about the last time you tried to start something new that was a big change. Not easy to go it alone.

16. Don’t underestimate the effort or magnitude of the change management effort. To you, it might be a no-brainer because you’ve gotten to the mindset that the pain of change is better than the pain of staying the same. Others aren’t there yet and won’t be just because you tell them that it’s going to be better than today. Embracing change takes time.

17. Change can only happen once we fully let go of the old to embrace the new. Sometimes, we’re super crazy attached to the old ways of working and being. Acknowledge those feelings instead of simply trying to substitute with new shiny ideas and ways of working.

18. Change happens through relationships, not in silos or isolation. Whether it’s personal change or organizational change, we need each other.

19. Telling rarely creates a meaningful shift. Tell me I need to change, and I may sock you one. It’s also not enough to know what to do to instigate the necessary change. I should change but I’m still avoiding what I know I need to do. However, you can invite someone, as your equal, to join you on the journey.

20. Ask for help when you need it. On the personal side of change, that may mean finding a friend, coach or confidant who can help you process and help you forward. On the organizational side, acknowledge that change management is more than a line item as a part of a larger initiative. Change Management will make or break your other plans. Get help either internally or externally to increase your likelihood of success.

Change is a tricky subject. Numerous studies that say that up to 70% of all change initiates fail. I believe that’s because it most cases change is forced upon people. They have absolutely no control or real understanding. In truth, change is more than an outcome; it’s about people, morale and working together to create the future.

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