Explore the Levels of Change Management

Lost Without a Map? A Change Strategy to Guide Your Success

Tim Creasey

9 Mins

a compass on a map

Developing a change management strategy provides direction and purpose for all other change management activities. By outlining the unique characteristics of the change and its risks and potential resistance, change practitioners set themselves and their project team partners up for success.

In this article, you’ll discover what change management strategies are, why you need them, and, most importantly, the steps you can follow to create an effective change management plan in your organization.

What Are Change Management Strategies?

Organizational change management strategies are critical for businesses to remain competitive. A change management strategy is a detailed plan or approach to facilitate the effective implementation of organizational changes. These changes can include significant aspects of their operations, structures, business processes or culture. 

Change strategies should be proactive and planned from the onset of an initiative. But they can also serve as a response plan to enable organizations to adopt and use changes.

The Prosci Methodology is a detailed framework and strategy for managing the people side of change. It is made up of three key elements:

  • Prosci ADKAR® Model Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement define the five outcomes an individual must achieve to make a change successfully.
  • Prosci 3-Phase Process A structured process that bridges the gap between individual and organizational change, and makes change scalable.
  • Prosci Change Triangle (PCT) Model A foundational model that helps change practitioners understand the four critical aspects of a change and how they promote project health.

Together, these strategies are combined to form the Prosci Methodology to support individuals and organizations during a transition.

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Why You Need a Change Management Strategy

Despite your best intentions, change is usually seen as chaotic. It can be, especially if your organization doesn't follow a structured process or has failed with change before. However, having a change management strategy makes the transition smoother and ensures you reach your desired outcomes.

Here's how a well-defined strategy achieves this:

Manage resistance to drive adoption

Organizational change often triggers resistance behaviors in people who must adopt new ways of working. It's a natural response. But left unchecked, it can derail your initiative.

Change management strategies can help you identify the root cause of resistance behaviors in people and other stakeholders during change initiatives. This could be a lack of information, employee anxiety about changing environments, or job security.

Once you identify the various root causes, change teams can implement targeted solutions, including:

  • Q&A sessions – Openly sharing the reasons for and benefits of change, and answering people's questions, builds understanding and trust.
  • Stakeholder engagement – Enlisting people impacted by the change to create the solution helps them feel a sense of ownership.
  • Feedback loops – Implementing mechanisms for ongoing feedback, adjusting based on real-time input and making the process more inclusive and less daunting.

Applying these and other strategies can help you minimize resistance behaviors while helping people adopt and use a change in their daily work.

Communicate proactively to gain commitment and support

Effective change management hinges on strong stakeholder engagement. Here's how a well-defined strategy promotes this:

  • Proactive communication – The strategy outlines regular communication with all stakeholders, keeping everyone informed and involved.
  • Transparent discussions – Openly sharing the reasons behind the change, benefits, and how people will be supported during the process builds understanding and trust.
  • Targeted messages – The strategy defines the “who” and “what” of communication, ensuring each stakeholder receives relevant information.

By delivering effective communications, you build awareness and trust, and you bolster your change management strategy and implementation.

Minimize disruption during change

Change can throw a wrench into daily operations. Here's how change management strategies help minimize disruption:

  • Step-by-step planning – This lays out the tactics and activities required to enable people to adopt and use the solutions implemented.
  • Phased implementation – This rolls out the change in stages, allowing for adjustments and training at the appropriate times to enable adoption and usage.
  • Well-timed communications – Key roles offer the right kind of communication at the right time to eliminate confusion, anxiety and resistance behaviors that slow progress.

By planning for potential roadblocks and keeping everyone in the loop, a change management strategy ensures a smoother transition and minimizes disruption to daily operations.

Equip impacted people and teams with critical skills

Change breeds doubt among the people who must adopt and use it, often because they lack the skills they need to succeed. An effective change management strategy builds skills and abilities in the following ways:

  • Functional know-how – Skill building is designed into the change management strategy so impacted people are ready to use the solution in their work at go-live.
  • Supervisor skills – People managers learn to play a critical role during change by helping to manage resistance with teams, communicate and liaise with leadership, and more. 
  • Sponsor guidance – Executives often don't know how to perform their roles during change, and an effective change management strategy shows them the way.

When you prepare and equip people for their unique roles during change, you give them the knowledge and ability they need to support and implement the change with confidence.

Maximize return on investment

Change can be costly, requiring time, money and resources. Without a plan, you may not achieve your goals and the investment is lost. That's where change management comes in.

A well-defined strategy focuses on achieving the desired outcomes and maximizing your return on investment (ROI). Here's how:

  • Increased adoption – Effective communications and skill-building enable greater employee engagement with and commitment to the change.
  • Reduced resistance – Proactive strategies help you avoid and mitigate barriers to change, clearing the way for people to be successful.
  • Improved efficiency – Effective frameworks and processes drive a streamlined path to proficiency, speed of adoption and ultimate utilization.

By maximizing ROI through increased adoption, reduced resistance and improved efficiency, your organization gains a competitive advantage. Change becomes a catalyst for growth, not a drain on resources.

10 Steps To Create an Effective Change Strategy

Change is inevitable for successful organizations, but you need a well-defined change management strategy to ensure a smooth transition. Here are 10 steps to create a well-defined strategy:

1. Evaluate the change to understand it

Changes can be formalized projects, strategic initiatives, or even small adjustments to how the organization operates. 

Before crafting a change management strategy, it's vital to understand the nature of the change itself. Here are some key questions to consider:

  • Impact scale – What is the scope of the change?
  • People affected – How many people will be impacted? Who is being impacted?
  • Differing impacts – Are people being impacted the same, or are they experiencing the change differently? 
  • Change elements – What’s actually changing? Are processes, systems, job roles or something else being modified?
  • Timeline – What's the time frame for implementing the change? Is it a quick fix or a longer-term rollout?
  • Competing initiatives – Are there any other major changes happening right now? Too much change at once can be overwhelming.

Answering these questions enables you to create tailored organizational change management strategies.

a group of people talking about change management

2. Assess for change readiness

Before diving into a change initiative, it's crucial to assess your organization's “change readiness.” This involves understanding the backdrop against which you're introducing the change.

  • Employee and manager sentiment – Do employees and managers generally see a need for this change? Are they open to it, or is there skepticism?
  • Past change experiences – How did the organization handle past changes? Were they successful? Did they leave behind any negative consequences?
  • Shared vision – Does everyone have a clear understanding of the organization's overall goals? A shared vision helps people see how the change fits into the bigger picture.
  • Change saturation – How much change is already happening in the organization?

With an in-depth understanding of your organization and its history, you can prepare for potential problems and tailor your strategy for success.

Prosci 10 Aspects of Change Impact

strategies for change management

3. Understand how the change impacts people and groups

Before implementing a change, assess its impact on different parts of the organization. A single change, such as the deployment of a web-based expense reporting program, will impact different groups uniquely:

  • Systems – A combination of people and applications to meet a set of objectives. 
  • Job roles – A description of a person’s expected activities to perform their job well.
  • Critical behaviors – Essential or vital response of a group or individual in response to an action, environment, person or stimulus. 
  • Processes – Which existing workflows will be altered? For example, will a new web-based program require changes to expense reporting procedures?
  • Tools – A system or item used with a specific purpose and objective in mind. It might include mechanical tools or technical objects, such as software programs or web authoring tools. 
  • Location – A physical place that provides facilities for a stated purpose.
  • Compensation – The amount of the monetary and non-monetary pay provided in exchange for work performed. 
  • Performance reviews – The process of how performance is measured and assessed taking into account objectives.
  • Reporting structure – The authority relationships within an organization to whom people report to.
  • Mindset/attitude/beliefs – The mental frame of mind reflected in behaviors.

By mapping out the impacted groups, processes, technology and other aspects, you can create specific and targeted plans later in the change management process. This ensures everyone gets the support they need to adapt smoothly.

4. Choose the change management structure

The change management team structure determines who does the change management work and how they interact with the project team.

Change Management Structure

picking your change management team

Here are some common structures:

  • Embedded change manager – A change management expert is assigned directly to the project team and works alongside them throughout the process.
  • Centralized support – A dedicated change management team provides support and guidance to multiple project teams across the organization.
  • Project team lead – Change management responsibilities are assigned to a specific member of the project team in addition to their existing duties.

The key takeaway? Clearly define change management responsibilities and allocate the right resources based on your project's needs. This will ensure your team has the support it needs for a successful transition.

5. Build a coalition of sponsorship

The sponsor coalition is your team of key leaders and managers who will actively support and drive the change forward. It's crucial to have the right people on board.

  • The primary sponsor – This is your primary sponsor, the person who greenlights and champions the change. They need to be highly visible and actively involved throughout the entire project. The primary sponsor also plays a key role in building the broader sponsor coalition.
  • The sponsor coalition – Choose leaders from the groups most impacted by the change to join the sponsor coalition. Each member has a critical role of building support within their teams and clearly communicating the change to their teams.

This strong network of champions ensures everyone impacted by the change understands its purpose and feels supported throughout the transition.

6. Head off resistance before it starts

Often, after facing pushback on a project, teams realize they could have predicted resistance points. Here's how to be proactive with change management strategies:

  • Anticipate barriers to adoption – Understand how people and teams will be both uniquely and similarly affected by the change.
    • Will specific regions or departments be impacted more than others?
    • Did some groups propose different solutions to the same issue?
    • Are certain teams heavily invested in the current way of doing things?
  • Identify and address root causes of resistance – Analyze the root causes, proactively address barriers, and plan activities to address persistent barriers to adoption.

By pinpointing potential resistance points up front, you can develop targeted tactics to address them before they become roadblocks. This proactive approach makes the transition smoother for everyone involved.

7. Assess and understand the risks

Change Management Strategy

Factors determining risk during change initiativesThe risk of ignoring the human aspect of change depends on two key factors we discussed earlier:

  • Change characteristics – How dramatic and widespread is the change itself? Bigger changes pose a bigger risk.
  • Organizational attributes – Does your company culture resist change? A history of resistance means a higher risk.

By considering these factors, your change management team can assess the overall risk and find specific areas of concern. Change practitioners can then make plans to address people's needs and ease their worries.

8. Develop an effective communications plan

A clear and consistent communication strategy ensures that all stakeholders and employees are informed and can be prepared appropriately. It builds trust, alleviates fears, and reduces rumors that can lead to resistance behaviors. Let's delve into crafting a communication plan for your change initiative:

  • Identify what needs communicating – Identify everything stakeholders must know before and throughout the change. This includes the “what” and “why” behind the change, as well as its impact, benefits, timeline and implementation steps. Designate roles who must send the messages and which messages each should send.
  • Choose methods and channels – Decide which platforms you'll use for each type of communication. For example, town hall meetings, presentations and email newsletters are great for organization-wide communications. Employees or stakeholders with specific questions or concerns can use internal communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams.

Use the Prosci Communications Checklist to create a detailed communications plan. By implementing this plan, you can increase employee engagement and mitigate resistance.

9. Keep changes on track

Regularly monitor the progress of key elements within your change initiative. Compare it with the goals and objectives, including short-term milestones and long-term outcomes, to get a roadmap for success.

Use performance dashboards, surveys, feedback mechanisms and benchmarking to understand where your project stands. Also, schedule regular meetings with the change management team and other key stakeholders to assess progress.

To evaluate the effectiveness of change activities, look at both quantitative and qualitative data:

  • Quantitative measures – Include metrics like cost savings, time efficiencies, sales figures, or customer satisfaction scores.
  • Qualitative feedback – Insights from employee feedback, customer reviews and stakeholder opinions can provide context to the numbers and show areas for improvement.

Here's a complete guide to metrics for measuring change management for the full picture of your change initiative's performance.

Use the data collected from monitoring efforts to make informed decisions. If certain aspects of the change aren’t meeting expectations, use data analysis to identify why. Then, adapt and refine the change strategy as needed.

10. Make changes stick

Don't let the hard work stop after launch. Reinforcement is vital.

Impact of Planning for Reinforcement on Project Success

Reinforcing change strategies impacts success

Prosci Best Practices in Change Management research revealed that 81% of people who planned for reinforcement and sustainment activities met or exceeded project objectives. This shows that reinforcing the new behaviors, systems, or business processes implemented during change management initiatives is essential for turning temporary adjustments into lasting habits. You can achieve this through:

  • Celebrating wins – Recognize achievements, big or small, to keep momentum high.
  • Providing ongoing support – Offer resources and training and answer questions to ensure continued success.
  • Highlighting positive impacts – Showcase how the change benefits the organization and individuals.

By reinforcing changes, you can make them a durable part of the operational and cultural fabric, ensuring sustained benefits.

Should You Use One Strategy for Change Management?

A one-size-fits-all approach won't work in change management. Consider these scenarios:

  1. Merging with a large company
  2. Transitioning suppliers to a new online system
  3. Moving to a different office space within the building
  4. Implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system
  5. Experiencing a leadership shift

These are distinctly different changes, and each requires change management to be successful. Each impacts people and how they do their jobs. Each can suffer from slow adoption and low utilization. Each has risks associated with people becoming disengaged or resisting the change.

Not all changes require the same level of change management effort. The most effective approach varies depending on your specific project. Change management strategies help you determine the appropriate amount and type of support needed for a successful transition, taking into account the unique circumstances of your initiative.

What Happens Next?

Developing change management strategies is the essential first step in any transformation. It acts as your project's roadmap, guiding informed decisions and breathing life into the change itself. This strategy clearly outlines who will be impacted and how the change will affect the organization.

The change management strategy contributes to the development of change management plans. Your change strategy provides high-level direction, while your core change plans translate that direction into specific, actionable steps to guide successful implementation.

Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in Change Management. Their work forms the basis of the world's largest body of knowledge on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.

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