Keep These 10 Change Management Principles Top Of Mind

emoloyee learning change management principles

What are some change management principles that really make the grade? Any time that you’re leading change within an organization, you need to come equipped with an idea of how you’ll do it and how you’ll see it through. 

For that reason, in this article we offer 10 essential principles that can help drive conversations, strategies, and action plans that revolve around making change last in your organization. We hope they help inspire you! 

Why Does Change Management Matter?

Change management matters because change, in any organization, is both an art and a science. Ushering employees through change is a complex, delicate, and involved process, and it matters because it can have a real effect on how well your business operates.

That’s why the principles behind how you do it, why you do it, what people know about it, and why they should care, significantly impact the outcome.

Essentially, change management matters because, without it, companies are doomed – particularly in these days of increasingly rapid change.

The 10 core change management principles we discuss below are a synthesis of several expert perspectives on managing change in organizations, but they have one thing in common: Successful change management only takes place when hearts, minds, and actions are aligned.



Section 1: Preparing 

Create A Compelling Vision For Change (And A Sense Of Urgency)

Have A Plan, But Adapt It

Get Buy-In From The Top

Section 2: Sharing

Communicate Openly, Often, And At The Right Time

Work With Culture, Not Against It (And Be Prepared For Resistance)

Make Both The Rational And The Emotional Case For Change

Use Both Formal and Informal Methods of Engagement

Section 3: Engaging 

Act Like Change Matters - Starting At The Top, Going All The Way Down

Use The Power Of Internal Influencers And Cheerleaders

Engage People (Celebrate Small Wins Early, But Don't Celebrate The End Until It's Really Over)

The Top 10 Change Management Principles

1. Create A Compelling Vision For Change (And A Sense Of Urgency)

If all stakeholders – from senior management to entry-level employees – understand why change is taking place, what will happen if the change is unsuccessful, and why it’s important to them personally, then change is more likely to happen.

More importantly, stakeholders will spend less time, and energy fighting the change, and more time championing it.

But this vision must be driven by business imperatives: After all, why change if it’s not important? It must also be framed in a context that stakeholders can understand. This statement may seem obvious at first – of course, people need to understand the reason for the change, and their role within it.

The difference is: Change needs to be framed in a way that all stakeholders can understand.

How much information should be provided? It depends.

A broader overarching strategy including financials is critical for sign-off at a senior level. But as change rolls across and down an organization, stakeholders will have different perceptions, which require different levels and types of information to help overcome resistance.

2. Have A Plan, But Adapt It

Before a great change management plan is drawn up, its architects will have reviewed as much data, and analyzed as many systems and behaviors as possible so they can redesign systems, and processes as necessary.

In many ways, that’s the easy part. When other people get involved, however, even the most perfect plan starts to go awry.

PwC and Strategy& recommend that "a formal approach for managing change – beginning with the leadership team and then engaging key stakeholders and leaders – should be developed early but adapted often as change moves through the organization."

Even the most carefully prepared plan must be adapted when circumstances change. While it is important to prepare thorough plans early – a more agile change management methodology will allow for greater flexibility and, ultimately, a more successful project.

One way of putting it is: Develop early, adapt often.

3. Get Buy-In From The Top

A successful change management principle should inform a concrete initiative. Quite simply, it all starts with getting buy-in from the top. When senior leaders (including the CEO, ideally) are aligned and committed, change is far more likely to go ahead.

The leadership team provides strength and direction by articulating their vision. However, there is a difference between senior leadership committing to a program – in theory – and actually changing their behavior in a way that visibility demonstrates their support.

As Aguirre & Alpern point out, “Senior leaders must visibly model these new behaviors themselves, right from the start, because employees will believe real change is occurring only when they see it happening at the top of the company.”

When everyone in the senior leadership team ‘walks the walk’, rather than just talking the talk, it shows everyone below them that this initiative has sticking power. Senior leaders who change, first, show that the change is possible which, in turn, motivates employees to do the same.

4. Communicate Openly, Often, And At The Right Time

It may feel like overkill, but communicating with employees using every possible method – from email to discussions with line managers, from using the intranet to putting notices up on bathroom stall doors – is actually key.

If an employee has heard so much about the change management initiatives that they become bored with it, that’s a sign of successful change management communication because it means ‘the new way of doing things’ has already become ‘the way we do things around here’.

But, beware. There is such a thing as communicating too soon or sharing information that isn’t relevant to employees.

Be aware that employees need to know how the change will affect them, how they need to adapt, and why it’s important. At the beginning of a change process, therefore, information should be more detailed and persuasive. They need communication that will help them buy in.

5. Work With Culture, Not Against It (And Be Prepared For Resistance)

How do leaders work with your corporate culture while making sure they’re sending the right messaging and telling the right story about the need for change?

This change management principle starts by aligning the change with what it really means for your company, and how it resonates with your corporate values.

Cultural values are what your company stands for, above all else.

When change happens, identifying the core perceptions, values, beliefs, and behaviors that must be considered is invaluable. They’re the bedrock of successful change. When change management programs are designed around values, the infrastructure, and programs that are necessary to drive change can flow smoothly, and evolve.

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6. Make Both The Rational And The Emotional Case For Change

As a change leader, it’s easy to assume that everyone affected by the change understands the issues, feels the need to change, and sees the new vision as clearly as you do.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Those involved in change management projects often make the mistake of assumption, which results in them providing disjointed, incomplete, or unconvincing information.

Employees fundamentally want to know why they have to change. They will seek both rational and emotional reasons before they commit to making change happen. It’s vital to ensure that a balance of these two elements (logic and motivation) appears in communications.

It is also essential to explain the formal case for change as fully as you can. Obviously, certain employees may need to, or be permitted to, know more than others but beware: Employees aren’t fools. If you don’t provide good reasons for why change is necessary, the gossip mill can start – potentially undermining change projects before they even begin.

It’s also important to ensure that messages are tailored to different audiences. For example, the finance team may have different expectations or questions than the marketing team. Make sure that your messaging speaks to all groups’ pain points in a way that helps them understand the change, and get on board.

7. Use Both Formal and Informal Methods of Engagement

One way of preparing for adaptation is by making sure that people know how to adapt their behavior. Using both formal, and informal engagement methods helps make this happen.

What are formal, and informal methods of engagement?

These are the levers that change-makers can pull to enable successful change.

Formal elements include organizational structures, how people are rewarded, the ways that people engage (e.g. meetings, reviews, etc.), training, and development. Informal solutions include the emotional drivers that motivate (or demotivate) people to act or sustain behavior.

8. Act Like Change Matters – Starting At The Top, Going All The Way Down

As we explained above, leaders must make the changes themselves.

However, while change initiatives roll down from the top, real change happens in the middle and at the bottom of the typical corporate hierarchy. That means that change plans have to help model behavior all the way down.

It might help employees to know how their actions have to change. For example, they might need to start prioritizing thoughtfulness over efficiency.

Maybe the key change requires them to use a different system or document their work in alternative ways. Perhaps they need to respond to customers differently.

In some instances, it might help to role-play how behaviors should change. In highly regulated environments, it might help to provide a formal list of dos and don’ts.

Regardless of what needs to change, never forget that employees need to know why they’re making the change happen, what it means to them, how they need to change their behavior, and how it will help the company. The most successful change initiatives happen when employees don’t just understand the need to change, they actively support them.

9. Use The Power Of Internal Influencers And Cheerleaders

Who leads change? Senior management has a critical role to play, as do change leaders, project managers, and HR. Employees certainly make change happen.

But what truly builds momentum for change? The conviction of people who buy in to the change and want to help make it happen.

Sometimes these people are called cheerleaders. You might know them as influencers. Or they may just be key power brokers who can make change happen, or, conversely, prevent change from happening.

Depending on the power, and influence dynamics in the organization, it is wise to use both formal and informal power holders appropriately, at different times during the change process.

10. Engage People (Celebrate Small Wins Early, But Don’t Celebrate The End Until It’s Really Over)

Is the change working? Be honest. Aguirre & Alpern warn that sometimes leaders are so eager to claim victory they don’t take the time to find out what’s working, and what’s not, before announcing a project’s success.

Change fatigue is real. Regardless of how well change management is applied, employees eventually become tired of changing. This can decrease employee engagement, and productivity, as well as negatively affect employee wellbeing.

To overcome this lethargy, change management should ideally happen sequentially (rather than concurrently). It also helps to support employees through that journey – for example, by providing training, and development, great communication, and other coping mechanisms, as appropriate.

For example, sometimes providing an external Employee Assistance Program is useful to help employees cope with particularly stressful times of change.

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Change Management Principles: How Can HR Lead The Conversation?

Regardless of how well your organization implements these change management principles, HR has a key role to play.

HR is fundamentally set up to communicate with employees about things that matter.

Therefore, HR also has a critical role to play in setting up formal engagement mechanisms such as bonuses, and incentives, to help drive behavioral change.

But, HR can only lead a conversation on change when they have the time to host that conversation in the first place. Therefore, implementing an HR software that keeps a record of employee data, can generate reports, and can log all pertinent changes is a must.

Click the button below to learn more about how Personio can help during each stage of the employee lifecycle, so your team can focus on making change last!

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