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Explore the Levels of Change Management

Change Management Basics: Glossary

Written by Tim Creasey

5 Mins



Need to improve your change management vocabulary? Below is the Prosci guide to change management terms.

General Definitions

Change management - Change management is a structured process and set of tools for managing the people side of change such that business results are achieved, on time and on budget.

Organizational change management  - The specific actions and steps that can be taken to implement a change management program. Prosci's 3-phase change management process (preparing for, managing and reinforcing change) is a methodology for implementing organizational change management.

Individual change management  - The process and steps an individual goes through to implement a change successfully, whether personal change or professional change. ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement) is one example of an individual change management model that describes the sequence of successful change.

*** Other definitions - Change management has been used in the IT world to mean version or configuration control of software or hardware. In this case, the 'change' is to an IT system, whereas change management as defined above can be any type of change at work - new processes, systems, technologies, reporting structures, products, etc.

States of change  - Many authors and researchers have broken change down into distinct phases (see Bridge's Transition or Beckhard and Harris's Organizational Transitions). Usually, three distinct phases can be categorized - the future state (how things will be after the change is fully implemented), the current state (how things are today) and the transition state (what will be happening to move from the current to the future states)

Current state - The current state is how things are today. It is business as usual - the processes and tools that make up an employee's daily work. The current state is known and comfortable, and is generally preferred by employees. The current state lays the foundation and context for change management.

Future state - The future state is how things will be. It is unknown, not well understood and fuzzy to employees. Interestingly, the future state is the primary focus of project teams and business leaders who can sometimes overlook the importance of the current state. The future state describes the outcome change management is working to achieve.

Transition state - The transition state is the process of changing the way work is done. For employees, the transition state creates stress and anxiety. It is the 'implementation' phase of a project. The transition state is where change management can minimize resistance and improve how well and how quickly a change is adopted.

Preparing for Change - Preparing for change is the first phase in a change management plan and includes building a change management strategy. Strategy comes from the Greek word stra-te-gi-a meaning "generalship" - the stuff generals do as they prepare for battle (i.e., assessing their army's strengths and weaknesses, assessing the enemy's strengths and weaknesses from the scouting reports, assessing the battle field and environment, etc.). In the preparing for change phase, the change management team builds its strategy by assessing the characteristics and readiness of the organizations being impacted as well as the specific characteristics of the change at hand.

Managing Change - Managing change is the second phase in a change management plan and it includes the tactics the change management team employs to execute the strategy from phase one above. Tactics comes from the Greek word tak-ti-ka meaning to line up in rows or columns as the soldiers do. This is the execution of the strategy by the soldiers. Depending on the assessments by the generals, the soldiers would either lock shields and go forward in rows (if the enemy was making a stand with swordsmen) or go forward in columns (if the enemy was using archers as their first wave) - this is much like the tactics of the change management team based on their strategy developed in preparing for change.

Change Management Players

Primary sponsor - The primary sponsor is that individual whom authorizes and funds the project. This person is usually in control of the resources, systems and people that are affected by the change. The primary sponsor has three main change management responsibilities, including active and visible participation, coalition building, and communication of business messages about the change.

Sponsor - In general, this term refers to any senior or mid-level manager who has employees that will be impacted by the change, and who must sponsor the change with these employees in order for the change to be a success. Sponsors play a role in building awareness and desire to change with their direct reports, groups, divisions or departments. Sponsor comes from the Latin word sponsus meaning guarantor or one who promises. A sponsor promises or guarantees that they will do everything in their power to make the project a success.

Coach - This role refers to the relationship between a supervisor and their employees. A coach is that individual who helps their direct reports transition through the change. In most cases, this role is assumed by front-line supervisors or managers who are directly involved with employees impacted by the change. Coaches are key communicators and managers of resistance. Coach comes from the Germanic word kutsche. There is no one word to describe this person. But it includes: teacher, mentor, advisor, confidant, confessor, and trainer.

Project leader - This role is assigned to that individual who has overall responsibility to implement the project. This individual would have direct day-to-day control over the project team, the project schedule and all vendors associated with the project.

Change management leader - This role is assigned to an individual who will plan and implement change management plans for the project. The change management leader plays a key role in preparing and enabling both 1) senior leaders to be effective sponsors of change and 2) managers and supervisors to be effective coaches.

Leaders - from the Latin word laedo meaning "journey". Change Leaders take their people to places they have never been before, i.e. the future state.

Managers - from the Latin word manus meaning "hand". Change Managers handle things. They handle budgets, schedules, problems, etc. They do the day-to-day work to make change happen.

Supervisors - from the Latin word super, meaning above or over and visio meaning sight. These people "oversee" the operations to make sure (reinforce) that change is and has taken place.

Change Management Levers

The five plans below are the tools (or 'levers') that change managers use to effectively implement change. The goal of each of the plans are to help the individuals of the organization go through the change effectively.

Communication plan - The communication plan identifies the messages about the change that need to be spread through the organization. These include both the business messages (why the organization is undertaking the change, risks of not making the change, etc.) and the personal messages (how the change impact's a persons day-to-day work). Communication plans should 1) take into account the preferred senders of change messages (hint: there are two); 2) customize messages based on what each specific audience cares about (senior leaders care about much different things than front-line sponsors); 3) utilize a number of different channels (face-to-face is preferred, but be sure to use varied channels); and 4) repeat messages a number of times (don't assume employees will hear what you are saying the first time).

Sponsorship roadmap - The sponsorship roadmap provides specific details about what the executives and senior leaders need to do to make the change successful. In all four of Prosci's change management benchmarking studies, effective sponsorship was identified as the number one contributor to success. The three high-level responsibilities of the sponsor are active and visible participation, coalition building and communication of business messages about change. The sponsorship roadmap is the document that puts real actions to the role of the sponsor.

Coaching plan - The coaching plan lays out how managers and supervisors will engage their direct reports during the change. It includes the group and individual sessions designed to build support for the change. Coaching also involves communicating key personal change messages and identifying and managing resistance.

Training plan - The training plan details the knowledge that must be built for the change to be successful and the steps to overcome any knowledge gaps that exist. Training covers both the transition state (what do you need to know to be successful during the change) and the future state (what do you need to know to be successful after the implementation). One note - training is effective for building knowledge and ability, but should not be relied upon for building awareness and desire to change.

Resistance management plan - The resistance management plan is the identification of what resistance might look like, where it might come from and what steps will be taken to mitigate or prevent the resistance. This is a proactive effort to address concerns and build support early in the project, rather than waiting until implementation.