20 Change Management Must-Knows to Shift and Thrive

by Alli Polin on November 1, 2016


Talk to almost anyone about change, and it immediately brings up feelings of stress. We like to get comfortable in our routines. Yes, we stretch, we grow, but at a pace that feels, well, convenient because we’re in control. Thriving when we’re out of control is a much tougher prospect; it takes us out of our sweet spot on our way to discover what we hope will be a new cozy place.

The bottom line to successful change, whether personal or organizational, is it requires change management. Winging it will take you somewhere, all change does, but it may not be where you want, or intend, to go.

Out of undergrad, I was hired as a change management consultant and never looked back. Since then, I’ve not only focused on organizational change but began to research and understand what creates change for each one of us as an individual.

Poor reception for some early change management programs I supported taught me that change management is not the same as project management. Early on, most of my change management experience was related to IT change. Successfully cutover from one system to the new system and boom – change management. Um, no. Unfortunately, that thinking glossed over the magic that would make the change stick and avoid pissing of critical employees along the way. Project management is about process and at its heart, change management is about people. 

20 Change Management Lessons from Working Over 20 years in Change

1. Organizational change management has three key aspects: Sponsorship (who is sponsoring the change? Make sure they are active, visible supporters.), Training (what do I need to know/do differently after the change), Communications (2-way during, before and after the change). You need to consider all of these pieces in a successful change program.

2. Identify a sponsor who has influence. If the sponsor does not have the necessary influence both up and down the chain, but instead is given the responsibility without authority, the change program is doomed from the start.

3. Conference calls can and should be a part of the communication strategy, but you need to go to where the people are too. The impact of looking eye to eye is hard to replace with a conference call. Besides, what do you do on a conference call? Check your phone, email, Candy Crush? Yeah. Most other people on the call are doing that too. Get out from behind your desk already.

4. A feedback box in the break room only works if you respond to people’s concerns. Addressing issues without telling people they’ve been addressed is not very useful.

5. Change management communication is more than just PR. It’s not a one-way deal. You need to create forums where you can listen to people’s concerns and respond. If you don’t have a firm answer, “I hear you” and “I’ll find out” or “I’ll figure it out and get back to you” works wonders.

6. You need to trust your employees. Give them opportunities to get together and talk about the changes even when you’re not in the room facilitating (i.e., controlling the situation). Make time to meet with them afterward and hear about their concerns, ideas and suggestions.

7. Don’t be afraid of implementing recommendations that come from the team to support the change. If your change management efforts consist of a bunch of senior leaders who lock themselves in a room for endless meetings and to solve every problem… it’s time for a change.

8. When your change requires the team to learn new skills, give them multiple ways to acquire the skills. A mix of job aids that can be posted in their workspace, live training events, webinars and online training are likely necessary. Change and learning are not one size fit all.

9. Remove other options. I know that this sounds harsh but if you’re asking people to change the way they live and work, but they can still do the same thing they’ve always done, and it works, do you think they’ll change? No, me neither. This applies to both organizational and personal change.

10. Be a stickler for the process. You may feel like a jerk, but new procedures, systems, processes, ways of working take time to be adopted. Training is not a magic switch; it’s only a single component of the overall change management solution.

11. Don’t assume cutover is the end of the change program. Continue to communicate, reinforce skills as necessary and have visible sponsorship. Share the successes, listen to the challenges and tweak ongoing.

12. If a change, no matter how well planned and well intended is a flop, change again. If something is not working, don’t suck it up or create dozens of workarounds. Shift. Change management is a journey, not a  final destination determined by a date on the work plan.

13. Talk about why the change is important, not only what it is. People buy into a vision before they buy into the pain of changing the way they live and work.

14. Change management is as much about the way people think about the change as it is what they do. You have to change thoughts to change hearts and minds. Help people step into a new perspective because their default is going to be “change sucks.”

15. Even people who say that they love change need support to get the change to stick. Yes, at first it’s exciting, but then most people default to old thoughts and behaviors. Think about the last time you tried to start something new that was a big change. Not easy to go it alone.

16. Don’t underestimate the effort or magnitude of the change management effort. To you, it might be a no-brainer because you’ve gotten to the mindset that the pain of change is better than the pain of staying the same. Others aren’t there yet and won’t be just because you tell them that it’s going to be better than today. Embracing change takes time.

17. Change can only happen once we fully let go of the old to embrace the new. Sometimes, we’re super crazy attached to the old ways of working and being. Acknowledge those feelings instead of simply trying to substitute with new shiny ideas and ways of working.

18. Change happens through relationships, not in silos or isolation. Whether it’s personal change or organizational change, we need each other.

19. Telling rarely creates a meaningful shift. Tell me I need to change, and I may sock you one. It’s also not enough to know what to do to instigate the necessary change. I should change but I’m still avoiding what I know I need to do. However, you can invite someone, as your equal, to join you on the journey.

20. Ask for help when you need it. On the personal side of change, that may mean finding a friend, coach or confidant who can help you process and help you forward. On the organizational side, acknowledge that change management is more than a line item as a part of a larger initiative. Change Management will make or break your other plans. Get help either internally or externally to increase your likelihood of success.

Change is a tricky subject. Numerous studies that say that up to 70% of all change initiates fail. I believe that’s because it most cases change is forced upon people. They have absolutely no control or real understanding. In truth, change is more than an outcome; it’s about people, morale and working together to create the future.

If you’re interested in personal change and transformation you may like this article: Want Someone to Change? You Go First.

If you’re challenged by change, let’s talk.

What’s your experience with change management? What would you add? 

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz November 1, 2016 at 7:33 am


An impactful list of things to know about change management! This is a great reference point, especially since successful leaders will always be faced with change and will need to lead forward productively.




Alli Polin November 1, 2016 at 9:17 am

Thanks, Jon. There were many times my clients assumed that changing systems was only an IT issue. The ripples throughout the business were unforseen and ignored until there was a groundswell from the pain of what they thought would be an easy swap. Change management would not have made the pain disappear but certainly made the transition an easier one.



Blair Glaser November 1, 2016 at 8:39 am

Wow, Alli! So impressive. Awesome list and spot on. I love what you say about saying goodbye to the old. It is such an important step that so many people are avoidant or unaware of. Great reminder to me to ask for help when I need it! Once again, great roundup.


Alli Polin November 1, 2016 at 9:19 am

Thanks for your feedback, Blair! Acknowledging and supporting the human side of change is what ultimately makes or breaks organizational and personal transformation.




Terri Klass November 1, 2016 at 9:41 am

Excellent points and post Alli! Change is a process and it’s never the change that is the issue it is our human reaction to change. I have worked with many teams that went through the stages from denial to acceptance of a change and each time it was about team member’s emotions.

Thanks Alli and will definitely share!


Alli Polin November 1, 2016 at 11:28 am

Change is always emotional. Even when we don’t love our current situation, at least we know it and understand it. The unknown could be better, could be worse. Why change? That answer is essential.

Thanks for sharing your experience too!



LaRae Quy November 1, 2016 at 2:06 pm

Loved this article on organizational change, Alli! One of the first things I learned was that change will not happen in an organization unless it is pushed down from the top…pushing up from the bottom only results in some form of revolt.

Will share!


Alli Polin November 1, 2016 at 9:26 pm

Without sponsorship that’s visible, engaged and committed, things fall apart. Interesting to think about revolt from the front lines. That’s where the need for change can first be more evident but again, without sponsorship, it can be a battle for sure.

I’m interested in Chery Gegelman’s perspective too since she is experienced with leading change from the middle. Hope she chimes in.

Thanks, LaRae!



Chery Gegelman November 4, 2016 at 5:28 am

Big smile! I was just about to comment on the post, read LaRae’s comment and was about to respond and saw your comment Ali!

I agree with LaRae that many times even workplaces that say they want to empower their employees at every level have lots roadblocks between what is and what could be. …But persistence and grit can and have resulted in needed change!

Without a doubt it is much more challenging to drive change from the middle and from the edge of government run or military organizations than within a privately owned or public company.

I was able to create a case for change and play a key role in influencing needed change for a state-run technical school system. (After 20 years of hiring managers requesting change and not being heard or responded to, but I could not have done it without the massive support from key business leaders throughout the state.)


Ingrid November 1, 2016 at 9:03 pm

This is terrific advice Alli. I once worked for a man whose mantra was “change for the sake of change”. You can imagine the chaos and confusion it caused in the workplace. When you don’t include the people down the chain in the bigger picture for necessary change, you are bound to fail. Buy-in at all levels is always necessary for success.


Alli Polin November 1, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Gee, sounds like a fun person to work for, Ingrid. Change for the sake of change misses opportunities left and right. It sounds like even he didn’t know why he was pushing the change except knowing that if you don’t change, you ultimately get passed by organizations that do.

Totally with you on buy-in. If the top is into it but not the middle, fail. The front lines but not leadership, fail…. and a few more iterations.

Thanks, Ingrid!



John Bennett November 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm

Thank you so much for this great list developed from your consulting experience!!! As you and most understand for sure, ‘change’ has been widely offered up (correctly in my opinion) as absolutely critical to improve the Effective Learning that education systems worldwide must facilitate.

It will be my pleasure to Consider each of these suggestions specifically in terms of appropriate changes in education. I am quite sure that there are many more qualified educators who will be doing the same!!!


Alli Polin November 3, 2016 at 11:15 pm

Glad you found it useful, John. I’m with you that these lessons can be extrapolated to any industry. Genuinely excited to hear more about your vision for Effective Learning and the education system. It’s one that’s near and dear to my heart with school age children.




John Thurlbeck November 4, 2016 at 9:45 am

Excellent post! ‘Nuff said!

Kind regards



Marie Chantal Zeh Nko'o née Biyha November 7, 2016 at 6:26 am

For me important thing in change management as you said is about communication before -during and after and moreover change is<>
But as LaRae said for successful change who should lead it?


Gary Gruber February 2, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Thanks for these 2o must know tactics, strategies. I endorse them wholeheartedly. I always liked working with people who when introduced to change expressed a sense of welcome and relief. They were the allies who were eager and enthusiastic partners in the process. Those were the kind of people I recruited, supported and wanted as part of the team. Those who resisted and tried to block change were either sidelined or moved along. While that may sound a little draconian, it really was in their best interests as well as ours.


Alli Polin February 2, 2017 at 7:05 pm

Thanks for your comment, Gary. It’s critical to identify those early adopters and advocates – they are key. As for getting blockers to leave, if given time and opportunity to accept the change, I understand. I’ve worked for organizations that were acquired and two years post-acquisition, there were people still trying to work things as we did with the old leadership and day in, day out, they’d come to the office talking about the good old days and how our new leadership team was awful – we knew better. What they did was create ripples of doubt and discontent that ended up a raging undercurrent for everyone in the office.


Proquotient July 13, 2017 at 5:25 am

It was interesting to know some of the tips in change management. Will definitely put this to use in suitable situations.


Alli Polin July 24, 2017 at 8:12 pm

Great! So happy to hear that they’re useful for you!




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