In the coming years, no other competency will be more important to your organization than the ability to manage change. Flexible and adaptable organizations will be the benchmark for long-term growth and sustainability. Building the competency to manage change is not like installing a new system or technology. It is a transformation in how the organization operates and leads people. It requires individuals to learn new skills and take on new roles. It requires a new approach to change projects.

Your organization will be successful at building change competency when change management is applied on each and every project, individuals at all levels of the organization have developed the competency to manage change, and change readiness has become a competitive differentiator. Change management will be evident in the organization's processes and structure, and visible in the actions and behaviors of executives, senior leaders, managers, supervisors, project teams and front-line employees.

Prosci's research in the building of change management competency - what we call Enterprise Change Management - has yielded a number of lessons as well as a roadmap for how to holistically build the organizational competency. This tutorial presents three different approaches for building change management competency along with action steps, pros and cons:

  • a project-centric approach
  • a skill-centric approach
  • a holistic approach.

Keys to building the competency to manage change

  1. Sponsorship - this transformation (i.e. Enterprise Change Management) requires sponsorship at the highest levels in the organization. In all five of Prosci's best practices studies over the past 10 years, active and visible sponsorship has been identified as the number one contributor to success. Building the competency to manage change is no different - it requires leadership commitment in terms of strategy, resources and actions.
  2. Structure - building the competency to manage change is both a project and a change. One of the most important lessons learned regarding change management deployment is that it must be managed as both a project and a change. From the project perspective, the effort needs a team, a plan, resources, time frames and effective project management. From the change perspective, the human side must be managed to support people throughout the organization to adopt solid change management principles, processes and tools. For many, "applying change management" is a significant change to how they operate.
  3. Strategy - the right deployment strategy will be unique for your organization. In the rest of this tutorial, several deployment roadmaps are presented based on what we have observed within organizations. The approach you select is ultimately based on your organization, but an effective approach requires a balance of tactics.

A project-centric approach

Who typically launches the initiative

A project-centric approach is often taken when the originator of the effort wears more of a "project hat" in the organization - such as an experienced project manager, a member of the PMO or a leader overseeing several projects in their own department or organization. This is primarily because the projects in the organization are within this person's scope of influence, hence they drive change management first into the projects within the organization.

Focus and goal

The focus of this approach is to attach change management to a handful of specific projects. This approach typically involves some sequencing and planning related to which projects are the first to apply change management. One approach is to begin with a single, major initiative that is highly visible. Another is to attach change management to several projects in a particular division - say IT, HR or the call center - or to projects within a particular region. All of these approaches begin with identifying specific change projects as a starting point and using change management on these projects.

High-level steps

  • Select first wave of projects that will be using change management
  • Certify the project leaders and change managers in change management for the selected projects
  • Train the other change management 'doers' - senior leaders, managers and supervisors
  • Implement change management strategies, follow up, and then decide on the next wave of projects to use change management


  • Easier to get off the ground
  • Can piggy back on project management experience
  • Creates short-term wins that can be leveraged for future change management rollout


  • Senior leaders and managers can get bombarded as multiple projects engage them and pull them in different directions
  • No economies of scale in building initial foundation and understanding in change management
  • Not all change that happens in organizations occurs as well-defined projects, and these 'non-project' changes may miss out on change management benefits

A skill-centric approach

Who typically launches the initiative

A skill-centric approach is often used when the originator of the effort has a human resources or training background. Many of these efforts originate in HR and are focused on developing the leadership competency to manage change. "Skills" is typically the focus because the originator (for example the director of training) has influence and control in the training part of the organization.

Focus and goal

The focus in this approach is on building skills and competencies to manage change in the organization. While projects may be marginally addressed, the initial focus is training. This approach leverages the fact that senior leaders, managers and project team members have specific roles and responsibilities, and that training is an effective tool for building skills associated with these roles.

High-level steps

  • Identify "who needs to know what" through a needs assessment relating to change management - at a minimum project teams, senior leaders and front-line managers and supervisors
  • Align change management into competency models and personal development plans
  • Deliver training to targeted groups


  • Creates the groundwork for individual competencies that ultimately must be evident for the organization to build the competency
  • Courses are already developed and ready to rollout, or can be customized with minimal effort
  • Integrates all key roles in change management - for instance senior leaders as sponsors and front-line managers as coaches to employees


  • Competencies are not internalized into core business processes
  • Change management may or may not be utilized on key change projects and initiatives
  • Learning change management, without having a specific project to apply the tools, can make it academic and have less impact
  • Can become "just another training program"

A holistic approach

Both the project-centric and skill-centric approaches have their merits and potential risks. Prosci's experience and research has shown that a holistic approach that addresses both of these areas, as well as the elements of process and structure, is the most effective when sponsorship for this change is at the highest level of your organization. Prosci's Enterprise Change Management Deployment Strategy Map identifies five areas where tactics should be developed to truly improve how the organization reacts to and manages change:

  1. Leadership tacticsECM_Strategy_Map_-_web.png
  2. Project tactics
  3. Skills tactics
  4. Process tactics
  5. Structure tactics

What does success look like in each element?

1. Leadership future state

  • All senior leaders are competent in their role as sponsors of change
  • Each project has an assigned primary sponsor at the right level for that project
  • Senior leaders are active and visible in their sponsorship activities

2. Project future state

  • All projects are applying change management on a regular basis
  • Project plans and change management plans are fully integrated for each project

3. Skills future state

  • All change managers are certified in change management
  • All project teams and project support functions are trained in change management
  • All senior leaders consistently demonstrate behaviors of effective change sponsorship
  • All managers and supervisors are trained and competent at managing change with their employees and coaching them through change

4. Process future state

  • A standard change management methodology is in place
  • Change management and project management processes are both under a process management and continuous improvement program
  • The funding process for new projects accounts for change management risks and requires change management plans
  • Regular reviews are conducted with the leadership team on progress of change management deployment and on Project Portfolio Management results

5. Structure future state

  • A team is designated for managing the deployment of change management
  • This change management staff group reports to the primary sponsor (as high as possible in the organization, given the enterprise nature of the program)
  • Tools and templates are available throughout organization
  • Project Portfolio Management is part of strategy work for the organization


  • Fully integrated program with highest likelihood of success; leverages leadership commitment to the change


  • Does require more time and resources up front; requires significant leadership presence

Key Takeaways

  • Building competency require sponsorship, structure and strategy
  • A project-centric approach is typically driven by  a project manager or a PMO. By applying change management to a handful of projects they begin to drive change management within the organization
  • A skill-centric approach is typically driven by a training or HR focused individual. They approach organizational change management as a development need for senior leaders and project team members
  • A holistic approach takes the pros of both skill and project-centric approaches while minimizing the risks by applying more structured and process

Download the eBook, "6 Tatics for Growing Enterprise Change Capability."


Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. 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.