10 Lessons for Change Management Programs


Change management is a discipline used across industries and geographies to ensure adoption of a change. It could be driven by pursuit of competitive capability, revenue growth, new market share, regulatory changes or something else. Getting people on board for the change is the most important determinant of success. Yet, without stakeholder support, any initiative you are introducing will be worth very little. Here we introduce other frequent “lessons learned” while applying Change Management that could further impact your initiative’s success.

Research amongst 2,500 managers found that at least 30% of any performance increase could be attributed to an effective change management approach. In large projects, return on investment was 6.5 times higher where an effective change management approach was in place. In fact, respondents saw an average return of €6.80 for every €1 spent on change management.

Other studies have shown similar results; there is a direct correlation between change effectiveness and the gap between benefits expected and benefits delivered. Even an incremental investment in change management up front can generate accelerated success at the back end of a project.

10 Lessons for Change Management Graphic

However, the discipline of change management still hasn’t gained widespread support among executive leadership. Key reasons include: They do not understand the benefits of it; their companies lack trained resources for implementing it; they often mistake change management as a skill that project managers have, and their “change” budget tends to be an easy target during cost-cutting.

MI-GSO | PCUBED has compiled this list of “lessons learned” to help you get the mileage you are seeking out of your change management efforts. It also serves to act as a reminder of the activities to go through as you manage and communicate with your stakeholders.

Lesson 1: Assess the Degree of Change

The first important step is to figure out what the change actually is. What is the level or degree of change that you are trying to manage within the business. That requires conducting an impact or Change Readiness assessment to understand the level of change to be supported.

As the following diagram shows, the process calls for a measurement of two dimensions. One is the expected benefits. The delivery of a new application to a small division, for example, would be on the low end of expected benefits. A change that affects the entire organization with the potential to double business revenue would be on the high end.

Chart showcasing the degree of business change in projects versus the range of expected benefits.

The other dimension examines the degree of business change. Delivery to a small team probably has a local impact. As the type of change being introduced grows in cost and complexity, the higher will be the scope of change. For example, two divisions within a business merging or two organizations merging will have a higher degree of change. Communications, training and other aspects of change management require different strategies at each level based on the type of change at stake.

Lesson 2: Choose and Apply Your Change Delivery Model

Once the degree of change is established, you need to determine what change delivery model to follow. There are a number of solid disciplines out there: Kotter, Prosci, the Darwin Wheel of Change, and so on. Your job will be to choose a model that works for your organization. You will need to stick with it in order to be able to reliably measure people’s status along the change spectrum. Where are their hearts and minds? Do they believe in the project or program? Are they moving forward? Are they likely to use the new asset being delivered?

MI-GSO | PCUBED uses an approach called the 8E Change Management Model, which aligns the change delivery model to the stages of the project or program that is effecting the change. Each “E” outlines the steps in change delivery and asks a series of questions of the organization. For example, “Envision” asks whether you have defined a compelling vision that is relevant for stakeholders. “Engage” looks at how well the organization has involved stakeholders and potential change agents early in the process. “Excite” asks how extensively the organization has secured the enthusiasm of participants in the change. The project or program can proceed if all leaders pivotal to the success of the change are engaged, a change team exists with sufficient business representation, a clear and concise vision for the future has been developed and shared, and assessment has shown suitable preparedness throughout the business.

MIGSO | PCUBED's 8E methodology

We use a red-amber-green dashboard metaphor to delineate the engagement level for each stage in the transformation. A red light designates an area that needs to be addressed immediately before the program should move on; amber suggests that people are moving in the right direction; and green says that particular stage is on track in terms of engagement.

Lesson 3: Be Clear about How Change is to be Managed

Once the organization understands the degree of change and has a change model in place, it is time to define and engage the “inner circle” of change leadership and the wider change team. This speaks to governance: Who is going to drive the change at each level?

If the change is taking place across an organization, senior leadership should be providing a clear path for communications. They will need to deliver the messages and “walk the talk” so that people know to take the change activities seriously. The project and program management teams will provide the structure for change. Those aspects of a project or program are nothing new.

Triangle of Leadership, Project and Programme Management combined with Change Management provide a balanced 3 pronged approach.

However, what we also propose is the addition of the change management team itself to facilitate the “people” aspects of change. Change management is not an alternative to strong project and program management. It is to be carried out in conjunction with other management activities. This creates an environment where the changes introduced add the highest value to the organization. And help maximize benefits.

We have found that the most successful business transformations leverage all three components. Alongside the core change management team, it is useful also to look at appointing “change agents” in the organization. Change agents are engaged advocates of the change who can help embed the change in their respective areas.

Lesson 4: Understand the Business Benefits from the Change

Once the governance structure is set up, it is time to build the business case for change. Here you will define the risks for low adoption. We describe this as creating the “burning platform” for change.

The change management discipline continually needs to describe back to the business what benefits they are going to receive as a result of the work and investment being made. Often, business benefits are described in terms of the technology being delivered or benefits on a business-wide level. Those terms will not necessarily resonate with people in the business community. They really want to hear about simplifying administrative processes, improving sales, customer service or something comparable. Its articulating the real benefits for them rather than for the business.

We have found that in the surveys and open forums used as part of the change readiness assessments, people will use a certain vocabulary to describe the kind of changes they are or will be undergoing.

One effective technique, we have found, is to use that same verbiage when describing the business benefits back to those same stakeholders.

Lesson 5: Align Change Management Activities with the Overall Roadmap

The program team leads a large project or program by identifying what is to be delivered, scoping out the work, building and delivering it, and then closing it out. Change management activities are most effective when they fit within the stages of that journey. MI-GSO | PCUBED recognizes this, and so the 8E Change Delivery Model is fully aligned with the overarching program delivery methodology that we use.

Additional reading: Check out our case study on a recent HR Transformational Change Program.

In the early phases, as you go out and talk, you’re not going to have all the answers. You need to create a message that explains that with honesty. “I would like you to be involved in this. We don’t know all the answers yet. We’re trying to define the scope. So come and participate.” This stage involves identifying stakeholders and creating that shared vision of the future.

As you approach the delivery aspects of the program, the message will revolve around assurances that the work is ongoing. That you want stakeholders to be involved in those activities. “We’re working on it. We’re building the project based on your requirements. Come and help us test it.”

As the project goes into delivery and closure, the message will emphasize the need to bring in early adopters. “We are seeking people to use the new resource and become advocates. We need people who can talk with colleagues about the benefits and help get people moving in the right direction.”

In this final stage, it is also important to verify the sustainability of organizational and cultural change. You will plan the transition the residual change management activities to run within the organization.

Lesson 6: Rigorously Embed Project Manager/Change Management Capability

A major challenge of change management is that it is a relatively new discipline, particularly for large programs. What are the essential skills for effective change managers? These people are effective in several areas:

  • Stakeholder management;
  • Behavioral and cultural change;
  • Organizational design and process interpretation;
  • Preparing people for change; and
  • Sustaining change.

Underlying this entire skill set is communication. The ability to connect with various stakeholder groups for such purposes as motivating and training them; an understanding of the different kinds of communication mechanisms that work within the organization; and the savvy to understand what form of messaging is useful when.

Note that these skills aren’t necessarily congruent with the skills held by project or program managers. However, organizationally, change managers will probably work right alongside project or program managers within the project or program management office.

Since the skill set of change management is typically not embedded within the organization, the business may have to hire the service. Make sure to hire external experts who are not simply there to teach, but who are also capable of rolling up their sleeves and immersing themselves into the nitty-gritty of the change processes. At the same time, the business will want to build change disciplines internally. The caveat here is that we have found those individuals seldom stay because there’s little room to grow in their positions.

The Change Journey

In your communications it is important to remember that individuals move through change at different paces and in different ways.

The reaction won’t always be favorable. Quite often there’s a low point for the people doing the “today world” processes. Because the “tomorrow world” processes are new, they may need to perform both for a while. And they may not be very good at the new ones. As the project or program progresses, those experiencing the change will often move through stages. These stages include shock, rejection, frustration, anger and depression. This is due to them learning how to get the new IT resource to work the way they believe it supposed to work.

Change management helps guide them through those low stages as quickly as possible. Your goal is to get them to an emotional state where they are willing to listen, and talk about their concerns. You want them to understand why the changes are needed and be willing to eventually try out the new reality. Only then will they begin their move forward.

The faster that transition happens, the faster the business will begin to accrue the benefits from making the change.

Lesson 7: Regularly Assess Change Readiness

As you move through the change journey you will need to take time in your program to regularly assess the status of change readiness. Change Readiness is not static. You will need to take the organization’s “temperature,” in order to understand what the climate is for receiving the new asset or process.

MI-GSO | PCUBED finds surveying and interviews useful in this regard. Both are conducted with people from across the business. Participants are asked to respond to selected questions across the focus areas. One approach is to have them score each change aspect between one and five. One is a strong negative response and five is a strong positive response. They should also be encouraged to elaborate and comment.

Remember the eight “E’s”? Those are the same areas that we use to assess change readiness. For example, how do people score “Envisioning”? Do they have a strong and clear vision that appears to be understood and owned by all? What about “Enablement”? Do stakeholders believe that the barriers have been removed to pave the way for the change?


It is also important to find out what other factors may influence program delivery. For example, the team of people most affected by the new resource may have other activities pressuring them during that same time that it is being deployed. Those factors can sway how people respond to the change readiness assessment. These should be captured and taken into account as part of the project delivery.

Lesson 8: Communicate Findings without Sugar Coating

Once the change readiness assessment is done, communicate the findings of the survey back to the business leaders. You should communicate this to your audiences without sugarcoating or over-simplifying the results. It is easy to take nuanced survey results and try to squeeze the results onto a single slide. When you try out that slide with the audience, they may not recognize their responses. It will appear to them that their concerns have been lost.

It is important as a change management team to play back exactly what you hear. To get people more willing to be involved, they need to feel like they are being listened to. They need to recognize their own words in the terms you use in communicating with them; otherwise, they may not believe that you understand their challenges. Of course, you also need to tell them what you are doing to address their challenges, as noted in the next lesson.

Lesson 9: Link Findings to Actions

Once you have derived the findings regarding how people are feeling and responding to the change initiative, it is time to link those findings to specific actions and make appropriate changes. “Here is what you have told us. Here is what we believe that means. And, here is what we are doing to address that gap, problem or concern.”

As hard as it is sometimes, you need to learn to value those individuals who are most vocal in their objections. These are the people most willing to tell you whether something is going to work or not. Quite often project people will try to ignore objections. They believe that once the change is underway, participants will more readily understand why it was needed. In our experience it does not often work that way.

We were involved in a major change program within a bank many years ago delivering an IT asset into the branches. The implementation would naturally require changes to business processes as well. Until then, a customer would walk into the bank and meet with an individual banker in private. They would fill out the paperwork while with the attendant and then leave. Job done; customer happy.

In the new program, we added a computer and eliminated the private spaces. The banker would sit at the computer, entering the information directly into the application. Suddenly eye contact was gone. Privacy was gone. The personal contact between the banker and the customer was put in jeopardy.

But it was only when there was a drop in the number of products being sold that anybody outside of the branch operation paid any attention. Suddenly, we realized that we should have listened to the feedback those branch bankers were trying to give us. Adding a computer to the process was a vital part of the change. However, we should have monitored the business process more closely. We could have done additional training and considered what impact the change in work environment would have on the outcome. Lots of change management lessons learned here.

Lesson learned from that experience: Test the new IT asset and processes with the people who will be using them. Listen to the ones who are “shouting”. Respond by adapting the processes as needed and communicating back to them how it is you are responding.

Lesson 10: Recognize that You have to Manage Multiple Starting Points

The people who will be using the new asset or process, for the most part, are highly skilled and motivated to come into work on a daily basis. They do a good job, though with different experiences, attitudes and cultural backgrounds. Introducing a change to that imperils their goal. So you also need to recognize that as you move them into the new business process or new way of working, they will approach it in unique ways and from different perspectives.

Each individual may require a different style of training or a different form of messaging. This is so that they can individually understand what is coming and what is expected of him or her. As you survey or interview them, you will be able to determine if they find the new asset concerning or frustrating. You will also be able to see where they are in the spectrum of change readiness. Whether they are ready to jump in and try it out, or not.

This is not the only way to respond to change participants. But it does help formulate the messaging to the audience. Ensure that you play back the same words they are using in their discussions regarding the change. This will help them feel like they are being listened to. In addition, this will increase the likelihood that they jump on board.

A Parting Lesson

As you build out your project or program plans, we hope that you are persuaded about the value of integrating change management into the work that you are undertaking. MI-GSO | PCUBED has worked with hundreds of clients in locations around the world to help facilitate the organizational, cultural and people changes needed for successful business change programs.

Our services include:

  • Stakeholder management: The identification, assessment, mapping and planning associated with engaging people interested or affected by project and programs.
  • Communications: Targeted messaging and feedback mechanisms to ensure the right messages reach the right people in the right ways, at the right time.
  • Preparing organizations for change: Assessing for change readiness and impact; creating a shared vision, establishing a compelling business case, and defining an effective change management strategy and execution plan.
  • Organization design: Assessment of existing operations and the change impact to them, the creation of a high level vision of the future state and the identification of the change activities required to achieve the target operating model.
  • Behavioral and cultural change: Activities that drive and embed change within the organization through leadership and organizational preparedness, motivation, incentives and cultural adjustments.

This article was originally written by David Winters.

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