What Is Change Management?

Change management is the process of guiding organizational change from start to finish, including planning, implementing, and solidifying changes in an organization. It refers to how companies handle modifications, such as the implementation of new technology, adjustments to existing processes, and shifting organizational hierarchy. This process can look different based on the type of change you are conducting.

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Why Is Change Management Important?

Building a change management plan helps organizations make smoother transitions during times of change. You can mandate changes, but if you don’t have a plan for how to implement, monitor, and report on the success of that change, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Regardless of the type of change you want to make, change management gives you more control over the entire process – a process that is typically supporting a costly implementation plan and investment.

The different levels of change management include the following:

  1. Organizational or Transformational Change: This refers to large change management projects that are large in scale and scope. These change transformations are often dramatic, such as altering the organizational hierarchy, launching a new product, or undergoing digital transformation.
  2. Adaptive or Gradual Change: These change projects are smaller in scope and involve smaller changes to products, processes, strategies, and workflows. Adaptive change projects include implementing new software tools, hiring a new team member to solve an existing challenge, or updating a work-from-home policy.
  3. Individual Change Management: These change projects help individuals manage change to grow in their role and/or achieve specific goals. This could include learning a new skill.

Not all change initiatives will fit neatly into one of the levels of change management. In fact, it’s entirely possible for the levels to overlap.

For example, let’s say you are modifying your organizational chart and launching an upskilling training initiative for existing employees. If you also implement Workday to streamline your human capital management, your change would address all three levels.

Benefits of Change Management

All changes, big or small, benefit from well-thought-out change management. Change does not come naturally to people or organizations, so without proper management, you’ll likely hit barriers and waste time and money. Change management is the key to successfully implementing changes that stick.

The benefits of addressing change management at an organizational-level include:

  1. Proactively combatting internal resistance to change.
  2. Sets clear goals for change initiatives, allowing companies to monitor results.
  3. Creates strategies for implementing change effectively that can be standardized and applied to various change projects across the organization.
  4. Addresses and balances multiple aspects of change, such as people, processes, technology, etc.
  5. Empowers individuals and employees to navigate the change faster, allowing them to be more productive, faster.
  6. Enables the success of change projects, allowing organizations to find ROI on their transformation projects. 

Types of Change Management

You can apply different types of change management best practices and theories, depending on the specific change you are navigating. Think about how you might approach each of these four types of changes:

  1. Exceptional change: Isolated events that change an individual’s experience but don’t majorly affect multiple aspects of their life. For example, a name change would require some HR paperwork and a new email address but wouldn’t alter the person’s role at work.
  2. Incremental change: Gradual changes that do not require major or sudden shifts, such as upgrading existing technology.
  3. Pendulum change: Sudden swings from one state to another, often switching from one extreme to the opposing view or state. For example, moving from a 100% in-office work environment to a 100% remote team.
  4. Paradigm change: Changes that result in new beliefs or values and become internalized as the new norm. For example, successfully shifting from synchronous communication to a hybrid model that involves both synchronous and asynchronous communication.
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Top Reasons Why Change Management Initiatives Fail

To implement change successfully, determine why the change needs to happen in the first place. What are you trying to achieve, and why is that goal so important? How will the change benefit your organization, people, and processes?

Once you’ve settled on the overarching goal for your initiative, it’s helpful to understand what factors often trip up business leaders along their change management journey. Knowledge of the typical missteps can better inform your change management strategy.

Set your change initiative up for success by avoiding these common pitfalls.

1. Low level of internal buy-in

Without the support of leadership, the people most affected by the change, and internal change agents, your initiative is dead before it even begins. Establish change leaders early on to build internal support.

2. Poor communication

People need to understand why change has to happen and how it will affect them. Avoid vague announcements and mandates for change, and focus on clear, specific change communication.

3. Lack of measurement

Your change can’t be successful if you fail to define what success looks like. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics so you have a starting point, crucial milestones, and your desired end result.

4. Not people-focused

Many companies spend so much time planning the change itself that they neglect the people who will be affected by it. Even the most detailed change strategies can fail if they don’t focus on guiding people through the transition.

5. Inadequate training & onboarding

Whether you are adding new tools to your tech stack or adjusting internal processes, training is essential. Be sure to provide detailed, ongoing employee training during and after your software implementation process.

6. Lack of momentum

The ‘Enhanced Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model’ highlights the importance of sustained acceleration. Organizations often make the mistake of easing up on the change initiative too soon. It’s crucial to keep enthusiasm high all throughout the transition so you can continue to move toward your ultimate goals.


Learning from past mistakes provides historical references on what not to do. Look back at a few examples of change management failures now.

Tips to Manage Change Effectively

Based on our experience, here are six key change management best practices to follow to ensure an effective change transition.

1. Create a sense of urgency

Based on the ‘Enhanced Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model’, this focuses on presenting the change as an urgent and exciting opportunity. You must showcase to those impacted by the change that it will help them be more productive and do their job more effectively.

2. Roll out in phases

Breaking your initiative into phases helps you avoid overwhelming your team with too much change all at once. Small, gradual change is more accessible to adopt than significant changes all at once.

You should also start with an initial beta test to a small test group or department. Once you work out any bugs in the beta phase, roll out the change to a large group, and then to the entire company.

3. Address resistance

Explain how the change will impact specific departments and individuals. You can avoid resistance and help your employees adapt to change by addressing any internal hesitancies from the beginning.

4. Use a variety of training methods

Not everyone learns in the same way, so it’s important to provide guidance through a variety of training methods and types of employee training formats. You should support your end-users and employees with a mix of learning styles, including using:

  • Traditional instructor-led training
  • Online learning with an LMS
  • Videos
  • In-app guidance and on-demand support 

5. Establish change leaders

Without internal buy-in, your initiative is over before it even begins. Change leaders help motivate the entire team to push forward with the transformation. Your change leaders should include a mix of employees from various departments impacted by the change. These leaders should be well-liked across the company and can influence opinions. 

6. Ask for feedback

Listening to your team is a great way to improve your change management process and address any concerns or resistance. This will provide you with ways to improve future change rollouts, and get your individual employees involved with the process.

How to Build a Change Management Plan

A change management plan guides you and your team throughout the transition. These six change management plan steps (with change management templates to help you get started!)

  1. Create a change proposal: This is your argument for why the change needs to happen. Document the benefits, impact, and reason for the change.
  2. Identify change leaders: These are your vocal supporters of the change, usually senior-level management and other influential leaders. Be sure to mix a variety of roles on this change team.
  3. Create a change management communications plan: This is your plan for how you will communicate every aspect of the change to the people affected by it.
  4. Set goals and KPIs for the change: This is how you track the success (or failure) of various aspects of your change initiative. Create a plan to analyze the change after it goes into effect with goals and KPIs tied to business goals and outcomes. Make these visible to everyone in the organization to evangelize the project.
  5. Invest in change management tools: These are tools you need to support a new change project. These tools many include employee training software and change management software.
  6. Create a change management training plan: This is the outline for how training will be administered. You will need to collaborate with department leaders and the L&D team to create personalized change training plans that are contextual to each role.

Popular Change Management Models

Change management models are theories, concepts, and methodologies that serve as guides to successful change. While they do not provide step-by-step instructions, they do create a framework for managing the entire transition.

Before you choose a change management model, think about what you plan to modify. Certain models are better suited to specific types of changes. For example, people-centric changes often benefit from emotion-based change management models, such as the Kübler-Ross Change Curve or the Bridges’ Transition Model.

For changes that focus more on processes and systems, models such as the ADKAR Model or the Enhanced Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model can be very beneficial. Both models are outcome-oriented and provide a framework for accelerating transformations.

ADKAR’s Change Management Model

The ADKAR Model is built around five key outcomes, all around limiting the resistance to organizational change. They are:

  • Awareness
  • Desire
  • Knowledge
  • Ability
  • Reinforcement

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Kotter’s 8-Step Model guides you to do the following:

  1. Create a sense of urgency.
  2. Build a guiding coalition.
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army.
  5. Enable action by removing barriers.
  6. Generate short-term wins.
  7. Sustain acceleration.
  8. Institute change.

Change Management Software

Change management tools include software and apps that support the change process. You can use them to provide training, create knowledge bases, track progress, etc.

The tools you choose will depend on the type of change you are making. For example, if you are implementing Workday as your new human capital management software, you can use a digital adoption platform (DAP) to provide in-app guidance for your employees.


The digital adoption tool will support the change by helping users onboard to Workday quickly and easily. Plus, with Whatfix’s DAP, you can provide guidance through a variety of formats, such as step-by-step walk-throughs, balloon tips, videos, and written guides.

You can also use change management tools to track the progress of your initiative and gather feedback from your team. Many organizations use tools like The Change Shop or something as simple as Google Forms to solicit feedback from employees, keep notes on people’s preferences, and adjust plans accordingly.

See how Sophos drove effective change management on Salesforce with Whatfix
12,000 support ticket reduction.
342% ROI on change project.
1,070 hours saved.
Table of Contents


Organizational change management refers to the ways companies handle changes to the people, processes, tools, and systems in their organization. To manage change, organizations need a plan for implementing changes and solidifying those changes as the new norm.

There are four types of organizational change to know:

  1. Strategic transformational change: Large-scale changes that require significant adjustments, such as updating your company’s mission statement or employee benefits package
  2. People-centric change: Adjustments that have a considerable effect on people, such as redefining roles and responsibilities, modifying leave policies, or hiring new employees
  3. Structural change: Major changes to organizational hierarchy, usually caused by mergers and acquisitions
  4. Remedial change: Reactionary corrections to unexpected problems that need to be solved immediately, such as hiring a replacement for an employee who put in their notice or addressing customer complaints

The change management process is how you get from Point A (the existing state) to Point B (your desired change). Those steps include:

  1. Determine the reason for the change.
  2. Set specific goals for the change.
  3. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and milestones to monitor progress.
  4. Refer to change management models.
  5. Create a change management plan and implementation strategy.
  6. Designate change leaders.
  7. Implement change.
  8. Gather feedback.
  9. Analyze progress and results.

Change management can be applied to various industries and functions — anytime you make a significant change to how things work within an organization, you’ll need to manage that change.

Here are a few change management examples across industries and functions.

  • Enterprises: A large company moving to hybrid work/
  • SaaS Companies: The introduction and launch of a new product.
  • Healthcare: Hospitals switching to a new electronic medical records system.
  • Sales Teams: Sales organizations change how they log deals and opportunities in their CRM. 
  • Grocery Stores – Adopting a new curbside pickup service.

No change initiative is perfect, but you can always learn from the experience. To continuously improve upon your change management process, you have to track and analyze each step. During and after your initiative, think about the following questions, and let them guide you toward a more effective process in the future.

  1. Determine the reason for the change: Did you make a convincing argument for the change?
  2. Set specific goals for the change: Did you achieve those goals?
  3. Establish key performance indicators and milestones to monitor progress: Did you hit milestones and achieve your desired KPIs according to your established timeline?
  4. Refer to change management models: Did the change management model guide you through your specific change initiative?
  5. Create a change management plan and implementation strategy: Was your strategy detailed enough to serve as a helpful guide throughout the transition?
  6. Designate change leaders: Were your change leaders vocally supportive of the change and able to persuade others to be supportive?
  7. Implement change: Did the implementation process go as planned and stick to your established timeline?
  8. Gather feedback: How did the people affect by the change feel about how the process was handled?
  9. Analyze progress and results: Which parts of the process went well, and which aspects need improvement?
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