Over the past quarter of a century, change management has emerged, evolved and grown from foundational understandings to conceptual underpinnings and on to a recognized discipline. Prosci’s research and experience suggest that in the coming years the focus will shift toward advancement along three fronts:
Four distinct eras mark the evolution and growth of the change management discipline:
The first era of change management was the period before 1990. During this period, the focus was on improving our collective understanding of human beings, how we experience change and how our human systems interact and react. This era provided crucial insights, research and frameworks for understanding successful change. Some of the primary contributors during this time include:
Van Gennep was a cultural anthropologist studying rites of passage around the globe. He introduced change as happening in three states: separating from our current state, moving through a transition, and reincorporating into a future state (examples include adolescence, marriage, parenthood).
A social psychologist, Lewin introduced three states of change – unfreezing, moving, and refreezing – as well as force field analysis.
Beckhard was a pioneer in organization development and defined the discipline as “an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, and (3) managed from the top, to (4) increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organization’s ‘processes,’ using behavioral-science knowledge.”
Speaker, author, and consultant, Bridges described the states of a transition as the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning.
This list is certainly not exhaustive. Many other scholars from psychology, business, engineering and the social sciences added research and insights that helped shape our understanding of how people experience change. It is important to understand the roots.
Contribution of the Foundations era: An underlying understanding of how individuals and systems experience change.
The second era of change management was the decade of the 1990s. During the “on the radar” era, change management began to enter the business vernacular. The people side of change moved out of the academic and exploratory space and into concepts discussed at project meetings, in C-Suites, and around boardroom tables. Language began to form around the discipline of change management, and many of the guiding principles that still guide the discipline were articulated during this time. The first steps were taken to show that individual change does not happen by chance, but can be supported and driven with thoughtful and repeatable steps.
While there were many who contributed to putting change management on the radar, some of the most notable include:
As a recognized world leader, GE introduced the Change Acceleration Process as part of its larger improvement program.
In his seminal work, Managing at the Speed of Change, Conner provided invaluable insights on numerous change concepts and topics.
Jick’s Managing Change: Cases and Concepts included topical case studies and a chapter titled “Implementing Change” in which he shed light on the common pitfalls and introduced his Ten Commandments of Implementing Change.
LaMarsh’s work, Changing the Way We Change, developed concepts around the importance of the ability to change, the mitigation of resistance, and the enabling frameworks for supporting change.
First in a Harvard Business Review article and later in his book, Leading Change, Kotter described eight change failure modes and subsequent steps to address them.
Johnson’s Who Moved my Cheese? presents readers with a parable that addresses how people can deal with the changes happening around them and to them.
During the 1990s, change management landed “on the radar” with concepts and language that began to take hold in mainstream management. Geopolitical forces, economic development, budding new value systems (think empowerment), and shifting employee-employer relationships set the stage for an increased recognition of how important the human side of change was.
Contribution of the On the Radar era: Socialization of the phraseology and importance of the people side of change and conceptual underpinnings of an emerging discipline.
The third era in the development of change management was that of the 2000s, leading up to the present. This era of change management was marked by the formalization of the discipline. Where the foundations era gave us underlying understanding, and the “on the radar” era gave us concepts and language, a shift occurred as we entered the new millennium.
Growing out of a need for greater repeatability and structure, the change management discipline began adding formal structure and discipline on a number of fronts. Although founded in 1994, it was early in the 2000s that Prosci formalized and accelerated its research specifically in change management.
In 2003, Prosci introduced the first integrated approach to change management that leveraged organizational and individual change management processes and tools. The Prosci ADKAR Model, an individual change model, provided an outcome orientation to change management work: driving success one person at a time. The Prosci 3-Phase Process provided the structure, process and tools for creating customized change management strategies and plans. In 2005, Prosci started to formalize research and a platform for the innovators of the discipline, who started working to embed change management as a core capability of their organizations. And in 2021, Prosci enhanced the Prosci Methodology and tools to make applying change management more accessible, actionable and effective for change practitioners and their organizations.
In terms of the formalization of change management, we see it most in three dimensions:
Building on the underlying understandings and concepts that had been laid, practitioners began building and applying more rigorous structure to the work of change management, including more robust and repeatable processes and enhanced tools to support consistent application.
Organizations began creating specific jobs with a sole focus on applying change management on projects and initiatives (with significant growth since 2010).
Organizations began establishing and resourcing functions and structures to support change management application across the enterprise (such as a Change Management Office, Center of Excellence, or Community of Practice).
In addition to formalizing of processes and tools, positions and job roles, and organizational functions, steps were taken to formalize the profession of change management during this era. Professional associations, standards and certifications emerged during this time (such as the Change Management Institute and the Association of Change Management Professionals).
Contribution of the Formalization era: Structure and definition, along with tools and processes, that provided repeatability and credibility to a growing discipline.
So, what comes next? The last two decades have been marked by a meteoric rise in the awareness, understanding, application and codification of the discipline of change management. We are sitting at a pivotal point on the journey, and Prosci’s research and experience indicates that the maturation will continue on a number of fronts.
Enhanced integration with project management is consistently among the top trends identified by participants in Prosci’s benchmarking studies. Integration will happen both at an initiative level (integrating change management and project management on Project X) and at the organizational level (increased collaboration between PMOs and CMOs, and the creation of standard integrated methodologies). Additionally, change management will continue to incorporate the latest technology related to change. These technologies include both the tangible sort, such as social media, and the intangible sort, such as learning around neuroscience. Prosci has recently contributed to leading project management and organization development texts, reinforcing this collaboration.
Like raising a child, implementing successful change takes a village. Decades of research show just how important leadership, management and front-line associates are in times of change. Organizational change capability results not from a few expert specialists, but from within and throughout the organization. Enterprise Change Management—the term we use to describe embedding change capability into the organization—will become a central focus for many organizations and change leaders. This emphasis will expand past the innovators and early adopters, and start to infiltrate the early majority. Structured and intentional efforts to build individual change leadership competencies and to embed effective change practices into the fabric of the organization mark this shift in emphasis toward enterprise capability.
In 2004, when Prosci began delivering our Change Management Certification Program, we delivered one per quarter (four programs a year). In 2022, hundreds of certification programs will take place in locations around the world. While the uptake of certification has been remarkable, we are seeing an increased appetite for senior and experienced practitioners to continue their own personal development. Whether it is becoming an expert in applying change management in complex situations, architecting the approach to building organizational capability, or facilitating role-based training to increase the change leadership of others, advanced practitioners are yearning to improve their own and their organization’s capabilities. Prosci’s Advanced Certification Tracks provide these practitioners with a path for increasing their own skills and competencies.
As our discipline continues to evolve, you can choose which path to take, and there are increasing opportunities available for you to advance your own development. At the same time, you may be an early adopter and subject matter expert in your organization, playing a central role educating your entire organization on how change is strategically led and embraced. Finally, stay tuned-in and continue to learn about other emerging disciplines focused on improving change results, as this may be where significant growth and innovation for change management occurs.