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Explore the Levels of Change Management

Why Change Management is Here to Stay

Written by Tim Creasey

5 Mins



Over the last ten years, organizations have placed a greater importance on managing the people side of their projects and initiatives. The transition of "change management" from being viewed as a soft and fuzzy waste of time to a critical success factor has been dramatic. Articles and programs on managing change are showing up in the project management world, the HR world, and nearly everywhere in between. Industry publications are focusing on leading the people side of change. Interest in change management is at an all-time high. Case in point, in 2004 Prosci was conducting one open enrollment certification program each quarter; today we deliver two or three open enrollment certification programs each month across the US and are struggling to meet the ever increasing demand.

Change management has certainly created a buzz in businesses and organizations across the globe. But what direction will change management take in the future? This tutorial presents some of the top trends in change management identified in the 2007 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking study.

Best practice findings on biggest changes in change management

In the 2007 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking study, we asked participants about the biggest shifts they had seen in the discipline of change management over the last several years. The top four changes in change management, according to 2007 study participants, were:

  1. A greater recognition of the need for change management - Overall, participants saw change management moving from a "nice to have" to a "must have" on key initiatives, with greater interest throughout the organization.
  2. More structured and formal processes - Participants noticed a greater use of systematic approaches to managing the people side of change, moving away from the ad hoc approaches of the past.
  3. Better understanding of what 'change management' really is - While there are still many different definitions for change management, participants commented that there was a more common understanding emerging.
  4. Integration with project management - Change management activities are more integrated with standard project management activities, rather than being viewed as a completely separate undertaking.

Why change management is here to stay

To be clear, the popularity of change management is on the rise. Change management is showing up more and more in literature and in conversations at organizations across the globe. Expectedly, there is also an emergence of 'practitioners' and consulting services - some who have experience and expertise and others who do not. Below are three reasons change management is here to stay, both as an internal competency and as an expected skill of consultants.

  1. It is applied to changes; it does not prescribe specific changes
  2. It is a leadership and management competency necessary throughout the organization
  3. Change is not going away


1. It is applied to changes; it does not prescribe specific changes

One of the tests of a fad (something that is popular today and gone tomorrow) is that it is prescriptive, as defined by Danny Miller and Jon Hartwick in their Harvard Business Review article "Spotting Management Fads". Most of the fashionable business and management approaches over the last several decades have focused on a particular business issue and presented the specific, often over-simplified, actions required to solve the problem.

Change management is different in that it is applied to change in general; it does not present the solution. Change management takes, as its input, a change that has already been arrived at by business leaders evaluating opportunities and potential threats to their organization. Once a change has been prescribed - by whatever means being used - change management answers the question: how do I get my employees to embrace, adopt and utilize this change to how they do their work? At each Prosci certification program, participants bring a wide variety of changes from process improvement projects, restructuring programs, IT projects, mergers or acquisitions. Some bring projects that impact a workgroup of 12 employees while others bring enterprise-wide initiatives impacting 60,000 employees. In each case, the participants walk away with a customized approach to managing their particular change - not a prescribed solution on what to change.

Since its focus is on building support, minimizing resistance and accelerating change, change management its applicable to a huge variety of large and small projects and initiatives. In this way, it is more like project management. Project management does not prescribe a change, it provides structure and tools to the tasks required to implement a project. And, unlike many of the business fads of the recent decades, project management has persisted since it is applied to changes rather than prescribing what to change. Change management will likely follow a similar path.


2. It is a leadership and management competency necessary throughout the organization

Many of the business and management programs of the past few decades have been done by few within the organization, while the activities of change management are done by most of the organization. Take Business Process Reengineering as an example. Many organizations created BPR teams or task forces during the 1990s. These teams evaluated operations, documented as-is processes and designed to-be processes. However, much of the work associated with BPR resided in a few trained (or untrained) individuals or external consultants.

Change management is different because the activities of "managing change" are fulfilled by members of the organization - from the most senior leaders to front-line supervisors. Active and visible sponsorship - repeatedly cited as the number one success factor for change - must be done by those who authorize and fund changes. There cannot be a proxy for sponsorship, the role must be fulfilled by senior leaders in the organization. Front-line supervisors and managers play a key role in supporting their direct reports though change. The unique relationship between employees and their supervisors dictates the interaction, one that cannot be replaced by a specialized team or group of experts. One final benchmarking finding that supports the contention is around preferred senders of key messages. Employees expect to hear business messages related to change from senior leaders and personal messages related to change from their supervisors. Neither of these "preferred senders" are subject matter experts on a particular improvement approach.

Across the board, the activities and roles of "change management" come to life in the behaviors of leaders and managers in the organization. In this way, "leading my people through change" becomes an individual competency that managers can learn and foster. It takes all parts of the organization to effectively manage change, much different than the specialized groups associated with most business and management fads.


3. Change is not going away

Business and management fads that focus on a particular opportunity or problem can lose steam when priorities move to a different or new opportunity or problem. Change management, however, is applied to any type of change that impacts how people do their jobs. And, given the current climate, the pace and quantity of change in the coming years is expected to continue to increase.

Think about just a few of the common drivers of change present in any business or organization:

  • Strategic planning - How many strategic plans state, "We will continue doing things the same way we did last year?" The answer, of course, is none. Each year, the strategic planning exercise and the execution of the plan cause change to how organizations behave.
  • Market and industry pressures
  • Customer demands and issues
  • Supplier requirements and offerings
  • Technological advancement and evolution
  • Even the business and management programs which come and go cause change to how the organization operates.

In the near term, and the long term, organizations will be facing more change than ever. This means that the demand for effectively managing the people side of these changes will not diminish, but will continue to grow. Regardless of what is motivating the change, change is here to stay. Likewise so is effective management and leadership of that change.


Change management is certainly demonstrating permanence in organizations across the world. The internal competency to lead change is increasing and more structured tools for change management are being integrated into day-to-day leadership practices. The future direction for change management based on Prosci's work with clients suggests that change management will become an expected leadership competency for managers at all levels in an organization, and change management will become a normal part of change projects as it becomes integrated with project management.