5 Critical Steps in the Change Management Process | HBS Online (2023)

Businesses must constantly evolve and adapt to meet a variety of challenges—from changes in technology, to the rise of new competitors, to a shift in laws, regulations, or underlying economic trends. Failure to do so could lead to stagnation or, worse, failure.

Approximately 50 percent of all organizational change initiatives are unsuccessful, highlighting why knowing how to plan for, coordinate, and carry out change is a valuable skill for managers and business leaders alike.

Have you been tasked with managing a significant change initiative for your organization? Would you like to demonstrate that you’re capable of spearheading such an initiative the next time one arises? Here’s an overview of what change management is, the key steps in the process, and actions you can take to develop your managerial skills and become more effective in your role.

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What is Change Management?

Organizational change refers broadly to the actions a business takes to change or adjust a significant component of its organization. This may include company culture, internal processes, underlying technology or infrastructure, corporate hierarchy, or another critical aspect.

Organizational change can be either adaptive or transformational:

(Video) 5 Steps in the Change Management Process

  • Adaptive changes are small, gradual, iterative changes that an organization undertakes to evolve its products, processes, workflows, and strategies over time. Hiring a new team member to address increased demand or implementing a new work-from-home policy to attract more qualified job applicants are both examples of adaptive changes.
  • Transformational changes are larger in scale and scope and often signify a dramatic and, occasionally sudden, departure from the status quo. Launching a new product or business division, or deciding to expand internationally, are examples of transformational change.

Change management is the process of guiding organizational change to fruition, from the earliest stages of conception and preparation, through implementation and, finally, to resolution. An effective management strategy is crucial to ensure businesses successfully transition and adapt to any changes that may occur.

Change processes have a set of starting conditions (point A) and a functional endpoint (point B). The process in between is dynamic and unfolds in stages. Here’s a summary of the key steps in the change management process.

Check out our video on the change management process below, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more explainer content!

5 Critical Steps in the Change Management Process | HBS Online (1)

5 Steps in the Change Management Process

1. Prepare the Organization for Change

For an organization to successfully pursue and implement change, it must be prepared both logistically and culturally. Before delving into logistics, cultural preparation must first take place to achieve the best business outcome.

In the preparation phase, the manager is focused on helping employees recognize and understand the need for change. They raise awareness of the various challenges or problems facing the organization that are acting as forces of change and generating dissatisfaction with the status quo. Gaining this initial buy-in from employees who will help implement the change can remove friction and resistance later on.

(Video) Top 5 Organizational Change Management Strategies | How to Manage Transformational Change

2. Craft a Vision and Plan for Change

Once the organization is ready to embrace change, managers must develop a thorough and realistic plan for bringing it about. The plan should detail:

  • Strategic goals: What goals does this change help the organization work toward?
  • Key performance indicators: How will success be measured? What metrics need to be moved? What’s the baseline for how things currently stand?
  • Project stakeholders and team: Who will oversee the task of implementing change? Who needs to sign off at each critical stage? Who will be responsible for implementation?
  • Project scope: What discrete steps and actions will the project include? What falls outside of the project scope?

While it’s important to have a structured approach, the plan should also account for any unknowns or roadblocks that could arise during the implementation process and would require agility and flexibility to overcome.

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3. Implement the Changes

After the plan has been created, all that remains is to follow the steps outlined within it to implement the required change. Whether that involves changes to the company’s structure, strategy, systems, processes, employee behaviors, or other aspects will depend on the specifics of the initiative.

During the implementation process, change managers must be focused on empowering their employees to take the necessary steps to achieve the goals of the initiative and celebrate any short-term wins. They should also do their best to anticipate roadblocks and prevent, remove, or mitigate them once identified. Repeated communication of the organization’s vision is critical throughout the implementation process to remind team members why change is being pursued.

(Video) What is Change Management? | Change Management Tutorial for Beginners | Invensis Learning

4. Embed Changes Within Company Culture and Practices

Once the change initiative has been completed, change managers must prevent a reversion to the prior state or status quo. This is particularly important for organizational change related to business processes such as workflows, culture, and strategy formulation. Without an adequate plan, employees may backslide into the “old way” of doing things, particularly during the transitory period.

By embedding changes within the company’s culture and practices, it becomes more difficult for backsliding to occur. New organizational structures, controls, and reward systems should all be considered as tools to help change stick.

5. Review Progress and Analyze Results

Just because a change initiative is complete doesn’t mean it was successful. Conducting analysis and review, or a “project post mortem,” can help business leaders understand whether a change initiative was a success, failure, or mixed result. It can also offer valuable insights and lessons that can be leveraged in future change efforts.

Ask yourself questions like: Were project goals met? If yes, can this success be replicated elsewhere? If not, what went wrong?

How to Manage Change Effectively

While no two change initiatives are the same, they typically follow a similar process. To effectively manage change, managers and business leaders must thoroughly understand the steps involved.

Some other tips for managing organizational change include asking yourself questions like:

(Video) Implementing an effective change management process with ServiceDesk Plus

  • Do you understand the forces making change necessary? Without this understanding, it can be difficult to effectively address the underlying causes that have necessitated change, hampering your ability to succeed.
  • Do you have a plan? Without a detailed plan and defined strategy, it can be difficult to usher a change initiative through to completion.
  • How will you communicate? Successful change management requires effective communication with both your team members and key stakeholders. Designing a communication strategy that acknowledges this reality is critical.
  • Have you identified potential roadblocks? While it’s impossible to predict everything that might potentially go wrong with a project, taking the time to anticipate potential barriers and devise mitigation strategies before you get started is generally a good idea.
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Developing the Skills You Need for Success

If you’ve been asked to lead a change initiative within your organization, or you’d like to position yourself to oversee such projects in the future, it’s critical to begin laying the groundwork for success by developing the skills that can equip you to do the job.

Completing an online management course can be an effective way of developing those skills and lead to several other benefits. When evaluating your options for training, seek a program that aligns with your personal and professional goals; for example, one that emphasizes organizational change.

Do you want to become a more effective leader and manager? Explore Leadership Principles, Management Essentials, and Organizational Leadership—three of our online leadership and management courses—to learn how you can take charge of your professional development and accelerate your career. Not sure which course is the right fit? Download our free flowchart.

This post was updated on October 25, 2022. It was originally published on March 19, 2020.

(Video) Ep037: Critical Steps for Intentional Leaders When It Comes To Change Management with Dr. Ian Brooks


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Who created the 5 stages of change? ›

The Transtheoretical Model (also called the Stages of Change Model), developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late 1970s, evolved through studies examining the experiences of smokers who quit on their own with those requiring further treatment to understand why some people were capable of quitting on their own.

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The Six Stages of Digital Transformation
  • Business as Usual.
  • Present and Active.
  • Formalized.
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Production management's responsibilities are summarized by the “five M's”: men, machines, methods, materials, and money.

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Mintzberg developed his 5 Ps of Strategy as five different definitions of (or approaches to) developing strategy. He first wrote about the 5 Ps of Strategy in 1987. Each of the 5 Ps is a different approach to strategy. They are Plan, Ploy, Pattern, Position, and Perspective.

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The 5 P's of management provide such a framework. The 5 Ps are: 1) Plan, 2) Process, 3) People, 4) Possessions, and 5) Profits. Planning is the key to the success of an organization.

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The three-C principle can help you overcome this change management challenge. Managers should ensure the changes they are communicating are clear, compelling, and credible.

What is the 5 stage model? ›

These stages are commonly known as: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. Tuckman's model explains that as the team develops maturity and ability, relationships establish, and leadership style changes to more collaborative or shared leadership.

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Do the five stages happen in order? The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are often talked about as if they happen in order, moving from one stage to the other. You might hear people say things like 'Oh I've moved on from denial and now I think I'm entering the angry stage'.

What are the five stages of change in social work? ›

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What is the most important step in change management process? ›

Communication in this stage is key, first among change management professionals responsible for devising a plan, and then to higher-level members of the organization to ensure a unified understanding of the process. Communicate change for a successful change process.

What is the first of the six key steps in management change? ›

Here are six steps to a successful change management process:
  • Identify the goals and develop a strategy.
  • Determine how the change will impact the organization.
  • Assemble your change management team.
  • Develop your strategy.
  • Implement your plan.
  • Perform a post-transition review.

What are the critical components in the change process? ›

Typically, there are six components of Change Management: Leadership Alignment, Stakeholder Engagement, Communication, Change Impact and Readiness, Training, and Organisation Design.

What are 5 digital forces? ›

Let's look at each of these five forces and examine the role and impact of digital business:
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26 Aug 2015

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Cheema says entrepreneurs should follow these five steps to lead a digital transformation.
How to lead a digital transformation in your business
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  • Sustain a change culture.

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  • Technologies.
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  • Results.

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To ensure the success of your digital transformation (DTX) initiative, consider the following four steps.
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Digital Transformation KPIs are indicators of the progress towards achieving DX goals. This way, businesses can track how their activity affects the digitization processes.

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  • Top-Line Growth. ...
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Three stages of digital transformation. The three phases present different opportunities for organizational learning. The first two stages, modernization and enterprise-wide transformation, are focused on reshaping the existing business. The last phase is about new business creation and uncovering new sources of value.

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For that reason, business leaders must understand the nuances of business transformation and digital transformation, and become familiar with the 3 pillars of digital transformation: people, processes, and technology.

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The 5M framework builds, on yet alters, the traditional view of the change-management process as a technical control strategy of planning, execution and evaluation. It does so by characterising it as a cultural art of influence in developing and deploying (Mindfully Mobilising) Maps, Masks and Mirrors.

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The following section defines five types of production and planning methods:
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What are the 7 stages of change? ›

More on the Stages of Change
  • Precontemplation: Not ready. Not now. ...
  • Contemplation: Maybe soon — thinking about it. ...
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How many stages are there in the digital strategy? ›

Four Stages of Competence in Digital Strategy.

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4 Steps for Successful Change Management
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  2. Step 1: Create a vision for the change you would like to make.
  3. Step 2: Stakeholder and Change Impact Analysis.
  4. Step 3: Stakeholder Activation and Change Advocates.
  5. Step 4: Communications Plan and Strategy.

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The ten processes of change are consciousness raising, counterconditioning, dramatic relief,environmental reevaluation, helping relationships, reinforcement management, self-liberation,self-reevaluation, social-liberation, and stimulus control.

What are 8 steps from the leading change? ›

  • STEP 1: Establish a Sense of Urgency. ...
  • STEP 2: Create a Guiding Coalition. ...
  • STEP 3: Develop a Change Vision. ...
  • STEP 4: Communicate the Vision for Buy-in. ...
  • STEP 5: Empower Broad-Based Action. ...
  • STEP 6: Generate Short-term Wins. ...
  • STEP 7: Never Let Up! ...
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What are the 3 C's of technology? ›

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Digital marketing revolves around these 5Ds: Digital Devices, Digital Platforms, Digital Media, Digital Data, And Digital Technology.

What are the top 5 10 tips to keep in mind when creating a digital presence? ›

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What are the 4M in change management? ›

Purpose This guideline indicates our requirement for 4M (Man, Method, Machine, Material) change control to our suppliers. 2. Scope of Application 4M changes occur at our suppliers. (Including the subcontractor.)


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