Change Management 101: What Every Change Manager and Change Leader Needs to Know BEFORE Jumping into Implementation

Are you the leader of a change effort and stuck in the weeds? Have you read the latest Change Management book, but no one seems to be following you? Are you frustrated that your team or your organization seem to have forgotten that you shared your vision with them already?

It could be that you have a sense of your vision but you haven’t defined it in detail. It could be that your vision doesn’t captivate your team. It could be that you are focusing your efforts on creating the perfect plan. It could be that you are all about implementing but haven’t focused on preparing for or planning the change.  This article highlights the important difference between managing change and leading change. I then go on to share the first three keys to successful change.

Leading Change versus Managing Change

Leaders don’t force people to follow them; they invite people on a journey. (Charles S. Lauer)

In today’s world of on-going change coupled with a scary rate of failure, it is super important to realize, or remember, that there is a massive difference between leading change and managing change.

It is so easy to mix up these two very important roles. For your organization to be successful in your change efforts, you cannot afford to mix up these roles or their responsibilities.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. (Peter Drucker)

The Change Leader is the Captain of the ship, the one who determines WHERE the organization needs to go, and provides the ongoing drive and resources necessary to reach the goal.

The Change Manager is the First Mate, responsible for the crew, overseeing the details of the change voyage and managing the resources; figuring out HOW to get there.

Clear Vision

Without a vision, change can dissolve into a list of confusing, incompatible, time-consuming projects that either go in the wrong direction or nowhere at all. (John Kotter, 1996)

Having a clear vision is THE most important part of your change. We need clarity around where we are going – a compelling, comprehensive and clearly-defined change goal.  What will it look like when we are there? What will we need to get there? How are we going to get there?

We need to start sketching in as much detail as we can, as early as we can.  It’s not enough to say we want to be ‘an employer of choice’. It’s not enough to say we need to ‘be a team’. What does that really mean?  It may mean high(er) employee satisfaction rates, measured through satisfaction surveys, absenteeism, sick leave requests, innovation measures, low(er) turnover. It can mean whatever you want it to mean, for your organization and for your stakeholders, but, you have to be clear.

The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime. (Babe Ruth)

Committed Champion

If you’re a champion, you have to have it in your heart. (Chris Evert)

I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion. (Billie Jean King)

Regardless of the size of your change, you MUST have a champion.  The Champion is the person with the excitement, drive and vision to see you through the difficult times and to celebrate the good times.  The Champion is the person who can speak intelligently and passionately about the change.  The Champion is the person who defines and then supports the resources necessary to achieve the change – yes that means the time, the dollars, and the people.

The primary task of change leaders is NOT making people feel comfortable during change; it is helping them to succeed despite their discomfort. (unknown)

The Champion determines (with input from others of course) whether the change is a business imperative or a good idea. They openly demonstrate and endorse the change. They authorize resources and have the power to both reward and reprimand.

The Champion must be at the top of the ladder for the change.  A manager should NEVER be selected as the champion for an organization-wide change initiative.  They won’t be taken seriously, they won’t have the necessary clout, and they certainly won’t be able to effectively reward or reprimand.  The Champion must have the respect of the people involved in the change.  If not, there will be a lot of lip service paid to their requests, but nothing will really change.

The Champion has to be the model of the change. Whether it is developing a high-performing team or turning a billion-dollar organization around, the Champion sets the tone AND maintains the energy.  If the Champion is paying lip-service to the change, all of the employees will also pay lip-service!

Continuous Communication

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. (George Bernard Shaw)

Of course, we all know communication is important.  Without communication, you will be relying solely on ESP.  This may work in some circles but, for most of us, we need steady communication, through numerous channels, delivered over and over.  As leaders, we need to repeat our messages over and over and over again.  Why? Because sometimes people just aren’t listening, or they forget, or they aren’t following the details.  As leaders we hate repetition, but it is absolutely critical.  It also serves to show everyone that we are still focused and still committed to the change.  People need to understand where they fit in.  They need to understand why the change is necessary, AND the benefits to them and the organization, AND what’s not changing, AND what the challenges are expected to be.  Tell the whole story!

Change is a disruption of expectations – successful change requires an expectation of disruption. (unknown)

The field of Change Management has been around for years, and there are millions of dollars thrown away every year highlighting that we still don’t understand it. If you and your organization follow the tips in this article, you will be well on your way to being one of the select few that are able to implement a successful change!

About the Author

Sharon Parker

Sharon Parker has demonstrated expertise in individual and organizational development and change management, and has held a number of senior advisory positions within the Canadian federal public service and the private sector. Her firm, CoreShift Inc., specializes in supporting executives in leading individual and organizational change. She holds an Honours B.A. (Psychology) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Queen’s University. Sharon is a facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Change Management program.

Change and the Common Company

Every organization is DOING change management and many even have a dedicated change team. In the past 20 years, the practitioners and researchers in the field have seen a shift from hiring change management consultants to developing change management teams within an organization. Based on my experience, I provide my insights on the change process and suggest a practical approach to managing change in an organization.

When I first began working in this field, large multi-million dollar companies hired ‘experts’ in change management. We were bright, young and energetic consultants who worked not unlike the days of Frederick Taylor’s factory workers—working on small, manageable chunks of the overall change. Few of us were experienced enough to see the whole change process as a complex system. Many of us were educated in the theory of change, but few had actually experienced any organizational change. Now, many organizations have dedicated teams or individuals, usually working out of the HR shop, to assist in whatever changes the organization is undertaking. Most of these people are actually experts in the organization, who have received some level of formal training or education in change management. Yet, for large scale changes, these same organizations commonly call on outside experts to coordinate change efforts. Hopefully these outside experts work with their internal colleagues to create a collaborative change solution. I have found that quite often, the internal consultants have a decent approach, framework, or methodology, but not the understanding of the nuances of the approach or the rationale behind the approach. I believe it is critical for change experts to share our knowledge and experience with our internal consulting colleagues, leaving them even more knowledgeable than they were—and dare I say it—maybe we can, in turn, learn a thing or two from them. One way facilitate this collaborative learning is to share an approach that one doesn’t necessitate a PhD to understand, and that can be adjusted to fit the organization, and the change. I’ll share one such model later in this article.

Unsuccessful major change initiatives fail because they do not achieve what they set out to do, not realizing the intended benefits of the change. This is true regardless of whether the organization is public or private sector, and regardless of the use of internal or external change experts. One of the key reasons for the failed change is the lack of consistent, coherent, and compelling communication. We have likely all experienced the “grand announcement” type of communication. What is missing in many organizations is communication that is truly two-way, where the receiver asks questions and confirms their understanding. What is missing is communication from the receiver’s frame of reference; what is missing is communication about: Why? Why now? What’s changing? What’s not changing? What will the future look like?

Over the past 20 years, practitioners and researchers in the field have developed a better change vocabulary, recognizing the difference between managing and leading, between change management and change leadership. Most people in the fields of business, change, and organization development recognize the terms “change champion” and “change agent.” Some of this group, however, may not be able to differentiate between transactional, transitional, and transformational change. Let’s clarify these terms; a common understanding of change language is critical. Much of the information that follows is synthesized from Ackerman Anderson and Anderson (2001). I recommend this as one resource for those interested in gaining a detailed understanding of the change process.

  • Transactional change represents the improvement of an existing skill or way of working that does not measure up to expected future needs. Transactional changes are improvements, within the box, of what is already known or practiced.
  • Transitional change is more complex, and occurs in response to the need for more significant shifts in employee behaviour. Richard Beckhard and Rubin Harris (1987) were the first to suggest that Transitional changes needed to be, and could be, managed. Typically, transitional changes can be managed as projects with timelines and budgets, and without the need for deep personal change.
  • Transformational change is the least understood and most complex type of change, requiring a radical shift in organizational culture, individual behaviour, and individual mindset. The specific end-state in transformational change is largely uncertain at the beginning of the change and becomes more defined as the change process unfolds.
  • Change Leadership focuses on the big picture and creating excitement and followership. Change leaders, who are also known as sponsors, champions, etc., have the passion and persistence to rally the troops to see and embrace the change vision.
  • Change Management is the structured approach to shifting or transitioning people from a current state to a desired future state. Change managers/agents share the leaders’ passion for success, and are the ones to critically unpack the facets of the change, helping to plan and execute the detailed change process required to achieve the desired future. Change managers/agents quite often head up components of the change, working with their change colleagues to coordinate the various aspects of the change. Change managers sit on the change steering committee, headed by the change leader.

I would argue that organizations seeking to implement a transformational change require both a robust change leadership coaching approach and a coherent, coordinated, and feasible change strategy.

A good change strategy is both a document and an action. The development of the change strategy begins to raise awareness and interest in the change. The key components of a change strategy include the following:

  • Stakeholder map
  • Impact assessment
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Training plan (by stakeholder group)
  • Communications plan (by stakeholder group), and
  • An evaluation and monitoring plan

Typically, change practitioners/experts create the change strategy in line with the defined phases of the change. One change approach, among many, is based on the work of Richard Beckhard (1987) which I have modified to Why x What x How>R. This is a multiplicative formula, since experience has shown that focusing our efforts on just why we need to change, or just what is changing, or just how we will change, does not create enough momentum to move those involved in the change through the inevitable dips in energy and productivity and overcome resistance (R). Another part of the change formula that the Queen’s IRC has developed is to identify the tasks for change leaders in preparing and planning the WHY, WHAT, and HOW of the change and the tasks for the change managers in implementing the WHY, WHAT, and HOW of making the change a new reality.

The final piece to the change process is change leadership coaching for change leaders and change managers. I have worked with many executives who really feel overwhelmed by the need to lead the change, manage the change, manage the day-to-day operations, manage their people, lead the organization, be the face of the change and the organization, and deal with the sense of loss that all change entails. While receiving coaching, these executives understand their strengths and weaknesses in a safe and confidential environment while continuing to lead their people and their organization.

In summary, successful change demands a coherent, coordinated, and feasible approach, supported change leaders and managers, clear, compelling and coordinated communication of the why, what and how of the change, and a little help from a coach.


Ackerman Anderson, L. S., & Anderson, D. (2001). The change leader’s roadmap: How to navigate your organization’s transformation (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Beckhard, R., & Harris, R. (1987). Organizational transitions. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

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