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The Secret to Successful Change Management

By: Patricia Brady, Hannah Williams, Smital Patel


Change management is crucial to transforming company culture and processes, whether it’s necessary because of a shift in industry regulations, a disruption in corporate leadership, or the introduction of new technology. Yet, despite being an invaluable tool, the path to successful change management is often unclear. 

Change management is typically viewed as a linear process, with the end goal being the successful adoption of change. This linear view is limited and can pose problems because it fails to consider a key component of any business change initiative: the human element.

To unlock the secret to successful change management, companies must shift away from a linear view and regard change management as a dynamic process where people move throughout the phases at their own pace.

Rethinking How We Perceive Change Management

According to Gartner, roughly 50% of change initiatives fail, meaning companies everywhere are squandering their resources while risking both employee and customer satisfaction on tactics that simply aren’t working. So how can companies ensure that they are among the 50% that succeed in their change initiatives? 

First and foremost, they must reconsider how they measure the success of their change management efforts. Successful change management requires iteration, a return to earlier stages when necessary, and an acknowledgment of how human nature affects change adoption.

The Secret? Be Flexible

When there is no “end” to a change management plan, leadership can focus on educating impacted groups and individuals rather than ticking off an arbitrary checklist that attempts to reach a conclusion on the success of the change. By rejecting a linear approach to change management, organizations can take a more holistic view that acknowledges the ebb and flow of change adoption.

A fundamental part of achieving this requires leadership to accept that impacted groups and individuals can and will shift between the phases of change implementation. These phases, outlined below, form part of what is often referred to as a change model:

  • Awareness — Acknowledging that changes are approaching and why they’re needed.
  • Acceptance — Adopting the change through training or other measures and taking steps to integrate that change into daily operations.
  • Advocacy — Supporting the initiative and helping others see the value in the change.

Each individual’s movement through these phases will be as unique as they themselves are. And once someone has entered the advocacy phase, it’s not uncommon — nor should it be seen as a failure — for them to return to the acceptance stage if something new has come to light. In fact, in almost every change management initiative, it should be expected that there will be detractors: people who may be hesitant to change for any number of reasons. But when change management focuses on the individual, it can be more likely to guide strong detractors away from derailing the progress of the collective group and closer to adoption. This opportunity is afforded because a dynamic strategy is flexible to an individual’s change readiness; allowing change leads to offer authentic support on an individual level.

An effective change management strategy recognizes that the journey to adoption and advocacy will involve an ebb and flow between phases for everyone involved, and embracing this is the secret to success.

The Reality of Change Management

Change management aims to help people reach the advocacy phase, but an effective methodology will rarely follow a straight path to the end. Limiting users from navigating between the different stages of change may help project teams check a box and move on, but it doesn’t address the human side of change. Change management strategies should be able to adapt to unexpected diversions, reevaluate where individuals are, and support them in navigating through the phases of change as necessary. 

For example, a change program may have addressed varied learning styles during training, but a significant event like the pandemic resulted in work location changes and a restriction on the interaction between peers and managers. These conditions can make training less effective and interfere with people’s learning readiness. Rather than leaving those individuals behind, performing 1:1 coaching and revisiting the original awareness messaging of “why” can encourage individuals to continue their journey towards adoption and advocacy.

Life is full of uncontrollable factors that must be accounted for. We must remember that people’s resilience is elastic and that they may have other significant changes happening within their personal or professional lives which can revert them to a previous stage in the change process — and that should be expected. It’s human nature to have a changing relationship with the world around us — accepting this will help leaders support change adoption in a way that’s sustainable, successful, and far easier on those bearing the brunt of the change.

What Successful Change Management Really Looks Like

At the beginning of the planning stage, it must be made clear that all impacted groups (senior-level leaders, managers, end users) will fluctuate between awareness, acceptance, and advocacy — and some may never reach that stage. In every change management initiative, there will always be detractors, and acknowledging this is part of embracing a dynamic strategy.

Changing the narrative of what successful change management looks like gives leaders the time to scale barriers to change and ensure people have the tools needed to advocate for changes long after they’ve been implemented.

Make People Part of the Journey

Employees must be active participants in the transformation process. They should feel like they are part of the change, rather than feeling like the change is happening to them. The latter diminishes personal motivation and jeopardizes what could have been an otherwise highly rewarding organizational change for everyone involved. 

Empowering a change champion and even a change champion network can drive change initiatives forward and ensure the internal longevity of newly implemented processes. Change champions may also be quicker to observe and raise a flag to Change Leads when an impacted group or individual needs an awareness or training refresh due to life circumstances. Change tactics are most successful when they are targeted, and a group of change champions can be the key contributor to ensuring the tactics deployed meet the needs of the individual.

In addition, Change Leads should conduct regular “pulse checks” or informal surveys to identify where individuals are within the process. Results of these pulse checks can inform tactics that will respond to any gaps or opportunity points. Change Leads may also share what the state of adoption looks like with impacted groups and use the results of pulse checks as a window to introduce upcoming activities. Creating this engagement pipeline allows stakeholders to see how frontline employees adapt to change, helping them feel more bought into the vision and willing to provide the support needed to help more people reach the advocacy phase.

Redefine Change Management with SEI

Though key decision-makers see the value in change initiatives, the misconception that change management is a linear process often hinders organizational change from being widely adopted. If you want to ensure your change management efforts are successful, trust in the experts at SEI to lead you in the right direction. Our specialists will guide you to develop a change management strategy that prioritizes the human element of change and positions your company for success. Reach out to us today to get started.

Patricia Brady

Patricia Brady


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Hannah Williams


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Smital Patel

Staff Consultant 

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