5 Principles of Effective Change Management

A black man gives a presentation on change management strategies with a projector to a small audience.

Written by Tiana McKenna

May 24, 2024

Running a modern business requires constant evolution, from technology upgrades, to new processes, to staff reorganizations. To stay competitive, leaders need to inspire their teams to embrace new ways of doing things. Taking a systematic approach to this effort is called change management. 

Change management is a critical leadership skill that’s relevant at every management level, whether you manage one person, a thousand people, or you’re in a role that hinges on your ability to influence without managing

Any change that impacts your team’s day-to-day work, who they work with, or how they communicate with team members merits a strategic approach to change management. Even for small, incremental changes that may have minimal emotional impact, if you’re asking for a change in behavior, applying the principles of change management can help new behaviors stick faster and with less resistance.

Here are five principles to keep in mind when planning for changes at your company. 

Transparency 

A Gartner study from 2022 found that only one-third of change initiatives succeed. One of the key things the successful organizations do is encourage open discussion about the changes. 

Let’s face it: when you go through a major business change, your people are going to talk about it. But there’s a huge difference in the impact on morale if they feel like they have to talk about it behind closed doors instead of being able to openly discuss the change with their peers, managers, and direct reports. 

Being transparent doesn’t necessarily mean sharing everything with everyone, especially if there’s still a lot of uncertainty about whether the change will even happen. Too much information shared at the wrong time can give people needless anxiety. Approaching a change management effort with transparency means giving people as much advance notice about a coming change as possible, and giving them opportunities to share ideas or express concerns. 

Context 

People won’t adopt a change unless they understand why it’s important and how it will benefit their work, and for that, they need to know the business context of the decision. It’s not enough to present the change as a solution to a vague problem. Simply saying, “Profits are down, so we had to make a change,” isn’t enough context for laying off a third of your staff. In an emotional scenario like that, your team will demand to know why this specific change was determined to be the best or only possible solution. What other (less drastic or impactful) changes were considered? Why were they ruled out?

Context is important even when a change is unlikely to provoke an emotional reaction. Even for a small procedural change, like a new file naming convention, providing context can help people adopt the change faster. Where they might struggle to memorize a new series of arbitrary steps, they might more easily remember to follow a new process if it makes life easier for one of their teammates.

Inclusivity

The Gartner study on change management noted that organizations who have successfully managed change initiatives also empower their workforce to co-create strategic decisions and plan how to implement the change.

Those organizations are prioritizing inclusivity in their change management process, making sure everyone has a voice and a role in decisions about the change and how it gets implemented. There are many feedback mechanisms you can use to accomplish this, including focus groups, surveys, and one-on-one interviews. Depending on the magnitude of the change, any or all of these feedback mechanisms can be appropriate. 

For example, if you’re introducing a new technology platform like a project management system or a new lead management system, you might pull someone from each functional team that interacts with that system and include them in a workgroup that guides the change process. They’ll be responsible for discovering what doesn’t work about the current platform for their team, communicating back to the group, and making sure the new platform addresses those needs. 

Even if you’re trying to be as inclusive as possible, there will be times where you can’t make everyone happy. Context is once again critical here. If you’re unable to implement the ideas or requests of team members, make sure to provide specific reasons why you can’t. You want your team to feel like their input was heard and considered, even if you still have to go in a different direction.

Also, consider whether other functional teams in your organization should be informed or have a say in the change. Even if their daily routine isn’t directly affected by a change, would they benefit from knowing the new way things are being done in your department? You might accomplish this during an all-staff meeting presentation, but some departments might benefit from a smaller Q&A setting where they can also get additional context about the change. 

Empathy

Bringing empathy to your change management effort means being responsive to each person’s emotional orientation to change and giving everyone space to process in the way that works best for them. 

Every person has a different orientation — or emotional response — to change. It’s informed by their personality, key experiences in their childhood, past work experiences, and more. People with different orientations to change will need different support during a change management effort. Some may need one-on-one time with a manager or to lean on their support systems outside of work to discuss and process a change, while others may accept change more quickly and want to move to next steps as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, people aren’t aware of their own orientation to change, and may not recognize how a change is impacting their emotions. Providing education about the Change Curve can help people improve how they cope with change.  

Documentation

Any change needs to be thoroughly documented and reinforced for people to remember the new expectations and commit to making the change. This could be as simple as a visual reminder on a flier in prominent locations, or as complex as creating or updating an SOP with the new procedure and developing extensive training materials to guide people through the change. 

Sharing multiple reminders in a wide variety of formats can help you reach team members with different learning styles. Some people prefer to read about changes on their own in an email, while others prefer to attend a meeting and listen to a presentation. And, finally it’s important to emphasize the reason for the change whenever you share reminders about the change itself, to keep the context front and center.

Applying these principles to your change management effort will ensure that changes—big or small—become integrated more smoothly, and can increase the success rate of your change initiatives. This strategic approach is vital for any leader aiming to implement lasting and effective change.

How to Stay Ahead of Change with Fractional Executive Support

Major changes require major change management efforts. To avoid being among the two-thirds of companies whose change efforts fail, companies need to dedicate significant time and resources to the change management process. In many cases, the work involved in a change management effort won’t fit neatly into an existing employee’s job description — requiring someone to take on extra work or drop some of their regular duties. That’s where a fractional executive can be an asset. In particular, a fractional chief of staff can help with activities like gathering and responding to feedback, implementing new technology, developing new SOPs and training materials, and coaching individuals through the change. vChief’s fractional executives provide cost-effective and adaptable support for businesses of all sizes. 

Schedule your free needs assessment to learn how a fractional executive could help ensure the success of your next change initiative. 

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