Change Management Models You Should Know (and Use)

Two colleagues discussing change management models

Over the last three years, organizations have gone through an average of five major changes. More than half of change projects fail. 60% of their success depends on HR. These figures are supported by studies and make one thing clear: It is important that you know how change works. This article offers models that will be useful in times of change.

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Change management is largely the management of employees. What do they need, and how can you keep them motivated or re-motivate them? These are the questions that guide change managers, because changes can only be mastered together.

A Model for Each Scenario

If you are facing a change project, use models that help you guide and direct individual concerns and team dynamics toward achieving positive outcomes. Here are three concrete scenarios that each require a different model:

Scenario 1: Two Departments Are Being Combined

Your organization goes through an internal restructure. Two departments are being merged, e.g. Marketing and Communications. A new organizational chart has already been made, the employees know each other, but have so far worked in different offices and only learned of each others’ projects sporadically. How can you, as the HR professional, help with this change? By introducing team development initiatives in cooperation with management. Talk with the executives and define together where you see challenges in the cooperation and what projects are coming up first. Then bring the employees together to work on one of the planned projects, and have them work together in a protected environment – without pressure, more like an experiment. In this context, it helps to familiarize yourself with the following theory:

The Model: Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing

The team life cycle from psychologist Bruce Tuckman (1965) is helpful when new teams are being formed. First, the team members find each other (Forming). Then, they define their goals, which is when tensions and power struggles occur (Storming), until the group agrees on rules (Norming) and focuses on the task (Performing).

Change Management Models: Team Life Cycle

When changes are happening, this means new constellations for staff almost all the time, such as the forming of new teams. When you are training executives or building new teams, take the time to watch (with this model in the back of your mind) how the employees are coming together. You can also intervene and ask what your colleagues need and how they are doing. This creates trust and is crucial during times of transition.

Scenario 2: A Department Is Moving to Another Location

A department in your organization is relocating to a different office, e.g. from an attractive city location out to a town in the country, 100 kilometers away. A change like this will shake up your employees at first, because it impacts their private life. They will wonder how to deal with this. Commute? Work remotely? Quit? They may have very negative feelings, feel unsure and will ask the big questions first: What will my family say? What if I lose my job? It is still too early to suggest concrete solutions. So therefore, what is required from you as the HR professional is empathy. Ask the employees about their concerns or even fears, and let the managers know. There is a well-known model to help with this:

The Model: Needs Pyramid

The Maslow model comprises five classical levels that motivate humans: physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, individual needs, and self-actualization. These are expandable and should always be seen within their context (culture, socialization, etc.). They are relevant for change projects because safety, for example, is a central aspect that you need to consider when dealing with employees. Extended needs, such as autonomy and appreciation, also play a significant role. Employees should know and feel that they are needed.

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It is a common belief that employees fear change. But that isn’t necessarily true. People are prepared to change if they understand its necessity and their contribution to it. Read how you as an HR professional can integrate your managers in the right way, and what you should completely avoid doing.


Scenario 3: The Sales Department Is Changing Its Compensation Model

Tough times: Competition has intensified, and sales are declining. The Sales management team believes it is necessary to change the incentive model. The acquisition of new orders should be rewarded more, while base salaries should be reduced. You are asked to support the managers in presenting the new model. To do that, you should first have all of the details and the background of the decision explained to you, and then communicate with all of the right internal colleagues (in Legal, Communications, possibly Workers’ Council). The more perspectives you learn, the more considerate you can be with what and how you communicate. This is important, because otherwise, employees will hear what they want to hear: That management wants to put them under pressure financially, thinks that they are not performing well enough, etc. The following model provides a good description of how messages can be received in very different ways.

The Model: Four Sides of Communication

According to the four-sides model (fact, self-revealing, relationship, appeal) by Friedemann Schulz von Thun, messages work on a relationship level. As such, they carry different information, but ultimately should have a targeted effect. Keep this in mind when communicating with employees, but also with management. Let’s assume, for example, that you say “The market requires…” The employee may then think “…and where am I in all of this?”, whereas a manager sees it as a neutral, legitimizing fact. And here we have it: your potential misunderstanding. This is exactly what you need to avoid if you want to master a challenge together.


When you advise the management team, refer to these models. Doing this, you will be emphasizing your competence (through the scientifically-based approach) as well as providing assistance. Communication or Stakeholder Management are often perceived as something obvious – but they really aren’t. Poor communication and a lack of information are the most common points of criticism cited by employees when we talk about change implementation. If you can act with tact and finesse, you have already completed a large part of it.

How to Make Change Work

Read this guide to learn how you can facilitate better change processes for your company.