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What is Change Management? (+Techniques and Best Practices)

December 18, 2018

Change is uncomfortable.

But often times, change is necessary for innovation. No one has ever built the best version of anything without discomfort and struggle.

Plenty of internal or external pressures may force an organization toward change. Everything from mergers to changing consumer markets to technological advances can prompt a business to pivot. Changes can also occur on a minor scale, including ones in project deadlines, scope or direction.

Change can put a company back on track or push it in a better direction. The mishandling of a new software rollout could mean a terrible return on investment (ROI). Alternatively, if it’s handled well, it could bring instant productivity benefits to an organization. As long as its pivot is well managed and organized, an organization will come out in a better spot than where it started.

That’s where change management comes in.

What is change management?

Change management encompasses all the processes, techniques and tools that facilitate and create structure for a smooth organizational change from the individual level all the way up to the company level.

Change management techniques include everything from the utilization of project management software to map change to the creation of communication protocols to formalize the process of spreading information. At its core, the goal of change management is to prepare and support individual organization members in adopting changes. 

Types and levels of change management

The scope and nature of a change are going to determine which levels are going to be impacted. Massive changes in company culture or the relocation of an office are going to be felt at every level. However, smaller changes like project milestone adjustments may only affect an individual or a team. Change management will differ depending on which levels are being addressed.

Individual change management

Individuals make up the backbone of an enterprise, and the smoothest transitions take place when employees are given support on a personal level. Change management at this level is all about understanding the needs of the individual people when a transition occurs.

This can come in the form of coaching, training or task management. Simple check-ins may be all that’s necessary if a change isn’t significant. The goal with any individual change management technique is to build confidence so the transition is handled well.

Organizational change management

Individuals aren’t disparate parts of a company; they make up teams and groups that work together on projects. Often times, project teams don’t have the capacity to provide personalized change management to each person within a group. Identifying and preparing teams that will be affected by a change or are due for one requires organizational change management.

Organizational change management can look very similar to individual change management. It usually requires project teams to bring awareness about the change, provide coaching and training, and offer organizational leadership.

The difference here is that it’s done on the scale of teams rather than individuals. Project managers will often turn to organizational change management first and then provide individual change management to those who are particularly affected by a change.

TIP: Learn how a work breakdown structure can help organizations undergoing changes in 2019.

Enterprise change management

Addressing changes across an entire company is the highest level and requires enterprise change management. Unlike the previous levels, this one is unconcerned with project changes, and instead focuses on an organization’s capability to handle change on a macro scale.

This can include changes like broad promotions, rapid growth and location moves. The ability to effectively implement enterprise change well indicates that a company is flexible and will be more resilient to fluctuations. If a company can adapt to new federal regulations quickly, it will have a clear advantage over competitors spending more resources over a longer period of time to meet standards.

Change management practices

Change management is an amorphous mix of communication practices, models and tools. Utilizing the right tool or technique at the right time is imperative for successful change management.

Change management models

Change management has been a popular subject since the 1950s, and scholars have created countless models to guide the change process. Searching “change management models” pops out an absurd amount of results, so the key here is to understand what kind of change you’re dealing with to select one that fits best.

Most models are specific to a level of change management, so that would be the first thing to check. Other models are intended for particular types of changes, so make sure both of these aspects align with the model you select.

Communication techniques

An obvious way to effect change management is communication. While it sounds simple, poor communication is often a large factor in project and change adoption failure. Both digital and verbal communication need to be addressed in a change management strategy.

Email and internal communication software are great by themselves, but project managers must make an active effort to ensure those lines of communication are open and used effectively. Additionally, the power of verbal, face-to-face communication cannot be stressed enough. Some problems are best hashed out in person.

Project and task management

Project management software and task management software are irreplaceable tools in a project manager’s repertoire. However, change management isn’t a built-in function for them, and utilizing these tools with change management in mind is still necessary.

Project managers can do this by keeping the best interests of teams in mind when using these software solutions. While it may be easy to simply move up the deadlines for a project in a tool, those changes can be easily missed without additional communication.

Why change management matters

Change is inevitable, and there’s no better way to choke a business than to let it stagnate. Understanding how to lead your company through change is critical for a number of reasons and provides significant benefits to its competitiveness.

Project success

Research has found that the quality of change management has a profound impact on the likelihood of a project’s success. Teams with the highly rated change management are nearly 80 percent more likely to meet or exceed project objectives compared to those with the lowest rated change management.

Change management makes teams and individuals more agile and flexible, ensuring they can pivot quickly when objectives change.

Keeping up and staying competitive

There’s no two ways about it: The world moves fast these days. Technology, best practices and standards are constantly in flux. Being able to quickly identify and implement new software or techniques means a team can hit the ground running every time. Having a robust change management regimen ensures companies can stay competitive with industry standards no matter when they might change.


Properly employed change management techniques can ensure that projects and plans are made with team members in mind. Asking individuals and teams to pivot quickly or without warning will make it much more difficult for them to be successful. Even if they are, these kinds of jerk movements can breed resentment and cause burnout. Change management can prevent this by forcing the well-being of teams to the forefront, and their performance will be better for it.

Next steps for undergoing change

Change can be a difficult and messy time for organizations and individuals. Learn how project management techniques can help you manage in 2019.

What is Change Management? (+Techniques and Best Practices) Managing change effectively can be a make or break in business. Learn what change management is and how to employ change management techniques and technologies to stay ahead of the curve.
Jazmine Betz Jazmine is a former senior market research analyst at G2. In her free time, she's playing video games or watching Lord of the Rings for the hundredth time.

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