How do you begin to have the "what is change management" discussion? And how does the person you are talking to impact how you have the conversation? Below are some tips and thoughts on how you can be more successful at building buy-in and support for change management by changing how you talk about change management.

Two paths for Building change management Buy-in

While it is easy to begin a change management discussion with a formal, academic definition of change management, this may not get you the results you are looking for. Prosci defines change management as "the application of a structured process and set of tools for managing the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome." And while this definition is certainly correct, is it enough to get a project manager or Six Sigma black belt or CIO excited and interested in change management? Probably not.

When introducing change management to someone, there are two different paths you can take:

  • Path #1 - This is change management
  • Path #2 - This is how change happens, and here is a solution to drive better outcomes and results

Path #1 is a more academic approach. Here, your focus is on what you do as a change management professional. This path typically revolves around a more formal definition and presentation of change management. You may provide some examples of the types of activities you would complete when applying change management (for example, readiness assessments, stakeholder identification, impact analyses, communications plans, etc.), but this is a "me focused" approach.

Path #2 is a "you focused" approach. Rather than leading with change management, you first establish some realities of change that can be easily agreed upon and understood. You build your story for change management by first establishing some common ground regarding how change happens. For example, consider asking the question "What percent of your project outcomes are linked to people changing the way they work?" then positioning change management as an important part of the solution.

Below is one way to tell the story using Path #2.

Example Explanation of CHange Management

Organizations create change by introducing projects and initiatives. The project or initiative you are working on right now is one of these vehicles of change. These changes impact how certain employees do their jobs, requiring them to exhibit new behaviors, use new tools or technologies, or follow new processes. Your change ultimately causes a group of individuals (i.e. Andy, Becky, Charlie and Debbie) to do their jobs differently.

The ability of your project or initiative to deliver results and outcomes is intrinsically and inextricably tied to these individuals doing their jobs a new way. Your new processes will only deliver value if employees follow them; your new tools will only deliver value if employees use them. Because change success depends on individual employees doing their jobs in a new way, a tool to support those individual transitions is essential to capturing the value of projects and initiatives. Change management is a solution to help you deliver on the results and outcomes you need from your project because of how changes really happen - one individual at a time.

This is a unique perspective on how to introduce change management - starting with what your audience knows and their role in change rather than with what you do as a change management professional. With this approach, you can create common ground and build the support and buy-in you need for applying change management.


In addition to taking a path that begins with the reality of change rather than beginning with change management, you can also build more support and buy-in for change management by putting "change management" into the language and context of your audience. For example, is there a way to talk about change management to a Six Sigma practitioner by anchoring your story to what they know, care about and value?

You can begin effectively anchoring change management in the context of your audience by answering three questions:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What do they care about? What is their language and context?
  3. How can you talk about change management from their point of view?

6 Examples of Different Change Management Audiences

Below are several examples for talking about change management in the context of different practitioners and specialists in your organization by connecting change management to what they know and care about.

1. Project management practitioners

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Project management is about sequencing activities and resources to meet requirements through the achievement of defined MILESTONES.

How can you talk about change management from their point of view?

When we ask an individual to change how they work, they must achieve certain personal milestones to make the change successfully. Change management is about sequencing people-side activities so that individuals achieve their own personal MILESTONES and are able to make a change to how they do their jobs.

2. Six Sigma specialists

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Six Sigma is about applying a structured methodology to improve the quality of outputs by minimizing VARIATION in the process.

How can you talk about change management from their point of view?

People experience change as a process. The "output" of a change from a people-side perspective is individuals doing their jobs in a new way. Change management is a structured methodology for reducing the VARIATION in how an individual employee experiences the change process resulting from projects or initiatives.

3. Lean specialists

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Lean is a structured discipline for improving performance by isolating and eliminating WASTE and non-value-adding work from a system.

How can you talk about change management from their point of view?

When a change is introduced by a project or initiative, there is the potential for waste and non-value-adding activities during the transition (resistance, waiting for answers, confusion, stress, loss of focus, wasted training). Change management works to eliminate WASTE created during the change process by minimizing non-value-adding activities and supporting individuals in their own personal transitions.

4. Operational Efficiency specialists

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Operational Efficiency focuses on increasing the OUTPUTS yielded by given INPUTS in a business operation or process.

How can you talk about change management from their point of view?

When changes are introduced, the individual-level outputs are employees reaching their own future state (doing their jobs a new way) based on the input requirements of the project or initiative. Change management increases the likelihood of achieving these individual-level OUTPUTS by enabling EFFICIENT transitions.

5. Senior leaders

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Finance, finance, finance. Strategic direction. Creating an environment for success.

How can you talk about change management from their point of view?

To improve financial and strategic performance, senior leaders fund and authorize projects and initiatives. One critical success factor for these efforts is individual employees adopting the change. Change management directly contributes to the FINANCIAL and STRATEGIC outcomes of projects and initiatives by enabling the future state.

6. Anyone you run into on the street

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

What is a change that they have had to deal with in their job? While you may not know the change exactly, you can likely come up with a change they have experienced recently. If you are having dinner with a school principal, the introduction of a new curriculum could be the example. If you are chatting with the agent at the rental car desk, then a new order system could be the example. Just pick a change they experienced personally.

How can you talk about change management from their point of view?

"Remember when [your organization] recently tried to [make some sort of change that impacted you]. It was probably pretty hard on you. Change management helps make it easier on you, by helping the team leading the project to engage employees throughout the change process."

What This Means for You

These three questions can be the secret to building support and buy-in for change management. By using the language and context of the other person, you can position change management as their solution for driving results and outcomes. By becoming more "you focused" instead of "me focused" in your presentation of change management, you can create a more compelling case for change management and ultimately get the head nod and commitment you need to successfully apply change management.

Roles in Change Management download article

Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is a globally recognized leader in change management. With over 15 years of experience, his work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results. As a respected authority on change management, Tim has had the privilege to speak and engage with many of the Fortune 100 leaders and their companies.

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