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Explore the Levels of Change Management

Change Management Myth #1: I'm not Responsible for the "Soft Side" of Change

Written by Tim Creasey

5 Mins



Throughout years of research and helping clients develop individual, project and organizational change capabilities, we have come across several common objections to change management. Addressing these "myths" is key to bringing change management into the organization as both a tool to use on specific changes and as an organizational competency. 

This tutorial looks specifically at myth #1: "I’m responsible for the ‘hard’ side of the project, not the ‘soft’ stuff."

Root causes of this myth:

There are a variety of reasons that you might hear the objection: "I’m responsible for the ‘hard’ side of the project, not the ‘soft’ stuff." Below are some common reasons for this objection to participation in change management followed by actions you can take to address the specific objection.

1. The connection between the 'soft' stuff and project success has not been made in the organization. This signals a lack of awareness of the impact and role of change management.

Help people in the organization make the connection. First, bring in external, industry research that shows the connection between effective change management and meeting project objectives. Two examples of this industry research are the McKinsey Quarterly article "Helping Employees Embrace Change" by LaClair and Rao and Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management Report. Use these two research publications combined with specific examples from your organization to show that the inability to manage the people side of change is one of the leading causes of failed changes. Second, present the ROI of change management. The ROI of change management is calculated based on three human factors - speed of adoption, ultimate utilization and proficiency. 

2. There is a lack of senior sponsorship relating to the importance of change management. Best practice research shows, the number one contributor to successful change is active and visible sponsorship.

When you ask a project team to apply and engage in change management, you are asking them to alter the way they do their jobs (similar to asking employees to use an online form for their expense and benefits process, or a new project management software application). This means that to get project teams and leaders to begin using change management on their projects, you need to use the same proven change management process you are asking them to apply including communication, sponsorship, training, coaching and resistance management. You must apply change management processes and principles to implement the change - this specific change is "using change management on your project". Active and visible sponsorship is the number one success factor and therefore must be present if you expect your project teams to begin integrating change management activities into their project activities. A breakdown in project teams' willingness to take responsibility for the soft side of change can be a result of a lack of sponsorship. Coach your primary sponsor on their active and visible participation in this process.

3. There is fear, lack of comfort, or lack of the knowledge needed to manage the people side of a project. Many project members and leaders may not have the knowledge of what it means to manage the people side or 'soft' side of the project.

A common misconception is that change management is the "fluffy stuff" or the "soft side" of the project where the starting point is vague. You need to show project managers that change management is not chaotic, it is a proven management process with specific actions, tools and techniques for accelerating change within an organization. Change management has a defined structure and methodology very similar to project management. The most effective way to demonstrate the definition of change management is to actively engage the group in change management training - but not generic training on change management philosophy. The training should include actual work on a specific project that project teams bring to the course. Have the team develop the change management strategy, conduct assessments and develop plans for their specific project. This immediately enables the group to grasp the effect change management will have on its project, experience the structured change management process and leave with the knowledge, ability and framework to jump start application to their project. 

4. No one has been made accountable for the 'soft' stuff.

In some organizations, even if there has been an acknowledgement of how change management contributes to project success, the accountability for managing the people side of change has not been assigned to anyone. In order to ensure effective change management is applied to new initiatives and changes, there must be explicit accountability. In the preparing for change phase of Prosci's methodology, multiple models are presented for the structure of the change management team. Be cautious if you are looking at separating the accountability of the project and change management aspects, as the two are very closely connected.

5. Responsibility for the 'hard' and 'soft' portions of the project have been split.

It may be the case that the responsibility for the 'hard' and 'soft' portions of the project have been split - so the objection is actually true. In this situation, there must be a very close relationship between the people who have the 'hard' and 'soft' responsibilities. The two need to work together to integrate their plans and ensure that project activities are supporting the change efforts and that change management activities are supporting the project implementation.

Note: be sure to analyze why the responsibilities were split - splitting the responsibilities may not be the best approach and may have resulted from someone not making the connection between the 'soft' side of the project and the project outcome.

6. The organization has not applied change management in the past.

Change management, as a structured methodology for managing change, is still gaining momentum. Most likely if your organization has not applied change management in the past, you will be able to provide specific company examples of changes that could have been more successful if the people side of the change was managed - this will help your case for gaining buy-in within the organization. In the past 10 years, Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management Report showed a huge jump in the number of people using a structured change management process from 34% to 55% of participants, but there are still many organizations and projects that are approaching change management in an ad hoc or incomplete manner. 


"I’m responsible for the ‘hard’ side of the project, not the ‘soft’ stuff."

  • Project teams are ultimately responsible for delivering value to the organization through their project. If your project requires people to change the way they do their jobs, then the ‘soft’ side is also your responsibility.
  • The value your project ultimately delivers to the organization is tied to how quickly people adopt the change and how effectively they use the solution - just as much as it is tied to the 'hard' side of the solution design.
  • Research shows that change management directly contributes to projects meeting their objectives and achieving the ROI they expect.
  • Think about a recent project you worked on that did not meet its expectations. Were the root causes related to the 'hard' side of the project or the 'soft' side?
  • A perfectly designed solution that no one uses is ultimately of little value to the organization.

Remember, when you ask a project leader or project team to apply change management, you are asking them to make a change to how they do their jobs (the same is true when asking senior leaders to be sponsors of change, or supervisors to be coaches of change). The ADKAR Model can be applied to understand the key building blocks for individuals to make the change (i.e. "applying change management") successful.

  • Awareness of the need to apply change management process and principles
  • Desire to participate and support the application of change management
  • Knowledge on how to fulfill my role in change management
  • Ability to implement the skills and behaviors of my role in change management
  • Reinforcement® to sustain the use of change management

Project teams are a key source of information related to the details of the change, and they will be crucial partners in efforts to integrate change management and project management activities. Understanding the most common change management myths and objections will help you facilitate the individual change of "applying change management" with your project leaders and team members.


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