"Change management takes change management." This may sound like a simplistic observation, even just common sense. However, your success as a change management practitioner will ultimately be determined by how well you understand and operationalize this concept in the work you are doing within your organization.

Obstacles and potential failure await practitioners who overlook or forget to apply change management to their change management efforts. In some cases, those change management efforts will get a head nod, but no meaningful action. In other cases, your work may simply occur in the margin and have no impact on the project you are supporting. Your success at applying change management on projects in your organization will be tied to how you manage the people side of the change: "applying change management".

The cobbler's children

There is an old adage in the United States: "the cobbler's children have no shoes". The point of this adage is that when we work too closely to something, we occasionally neglect it for ourselves. This is a very real issue for change management practitioners.

Countless change management practitioners have fallen into the trap of becoming enamored by their "solution" - in this case change management - and committing the very same errors they coach others to avoid. As a change management professional, you would chastise a project team for developing a new technology and then simply dropping it on employees. You would tell them how important it is to make a compelling case for why the change is needed, to explain the risks of not changing, and what is not working today. You would tell the team how important it is to have active and visible sponsors participating and demonstrating their own commitment. You would coach them to provide appropriate and adequate training, positioned at the right time in the project lifecycle. You would clearly explain the risks of simply dropping a solution on employees.

In reality, you take change management as your "solution" and make every one of the mistakes listed above. You don't share why it is important. You don't make a compelling case about the risk of not applying change management and why we need change management right now. You don't secure adequate sponsorship for change management. You send people to training without the proper context. You fail to manage the individual and personal change that your coworkers experience when you ask them to apply change management.

Change management practitioners need to apply what they know about change management to the task of getting others to adopt change management - and avoid being the cobbler's children.

What are some of "the changes" you need to occur?

Here are just a few of "the changes" you need others in your organization to make in order for change management to be successful on a particular project:

  • You need your senior leaders to become great sponsors of change - going beyond signing a check and a charter to being active and visible participants.
  • You need your managers and supervisors to effectively coach their direct reports - going beyond announcing change to truly advocating for the change and then supporting individuals through their own change processes.
  • You need project leaders to dedicate or bring in resources to manage the people side of change and to integrate change management activities into the project lifecycle.
  • You need project team members to translate their solutions into the individual change that is required of specific employees who are impacted by the project or initiative.
  • You need project sponsors to request or demand change management on the initiatives they fund.

Each of these are unique and specific changes to how someone does their work. It is no different than when you ask a front line employee to follow a new process, use a new tool or follow new protocols. When you ask others in the organization to "apply change management" you are often times asking them to make a change from how they have done things in the past. Managing these personal transitions is at the core of "change management takes change management".

Applying the ADKAR model to "applying change management"

The Prosci ADKAR Model describes the five building blocks of any successful change as:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge on how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change

To start the change process, an individual first needs to understand why the change is needed. Following an answer to why, an individual must make the personal choice to participate. Once this decision is made, a person needs the knowledge on how to change and the ability to implement the change. Finally, without reinforcement an individual will slide back into what they had done in the past and the change will not be sustained. This model applies to changes at home, in the community and at work - it describes the five outcomes that together, result in successful and lasting change.

Now, think about applying the same five building blocks to the change: "applying change management".

  • Awareness of the need for change management
  • Desire to participate and support change management
  • Knowledge on how to apply change management
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviors of change management
  • Reinforcement to sustain change management application

When you begin treating "applying change management" as a change that you must manage, you introduce and address change management in a new way. The first aspect of using change management to get others to apply change management is in the individual change realm. Below is a table with some example action steps for just one of the changes above.

ADKAR Model analysis and action steps for supporting the change:

Build Awareness and Desire:

Help them connect change management to what they care about

  • Make a direct connection between effectively managing the people side of change, and financial and strategic performance
  • Show that the success of organizational change is tied directly to the success of individual change
  • Provide data demonstrating that effective change management dramatically increases the probability of meeting objectives, finishing on time and finishing on budget (see the data here)
  • Document the unnecessary costs and risks resulting from not managing the people side of change effectively
  • Declare that: "If you want to realize the ROI you expect on the projects that you are funding, we need effective change management and your role as sponsor is key"

Build Knowledge and Ability:

Help them understand their role

  • Share the roles and responsibilities - clearly articulate what they need to be doing
  • Share the biggest mistakes sponsors make - highlight what they should avoid doing and the risks
  • Leverage the research (learn more about the latest benchmarking on best practices in change management)
  • Use examples of good and bad sponsorship

Build Ability and Reinforcement:

Help them fulfill their role

  • Create a sponsor roadmap for them (a deliverable of Phase 2 - Managing changeTM in Prosci's methodology)
  • Do the leg work for them
    • Build presentations
    • Craft key messages
    • Write the text of emails
    • Get them on calendars
  • Coach them
  • Give them recognition and a "pat on the back"
  • Make it as easy as possible for them to be the "face and voice" of the change

A list with all the above elements should be built for each of the audiences you are asking to do change management. Think about the different audiences you'll be engaging:

  • Project leaders
  • Project managers
  • Project team members
  • Executives and senior leaders
  • Managers and supervisors
  • The "solution technicians" who design the changes
  • Communication specialists
  • Training specialists
  • Learning and Development specialists

Each of these groups will make a change when they begin adopting and applying change management. How will you build Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement for the change "applying change management"?

What you can do

  • Identify the changes that you need to occur - who needs to change, what do they need to be doing and how different is this from what they are used to doing
  • Make a compelling case for the value change management has to offer
  • Clearly and concretely articulate exactly what you need to be done
  • Provide the necessary training, skills and tools to help the people you are asking to make this change be successful
  • Acknowledge the work they are doing and celebrate the impact that they are making on the project and the organization when they apply change management


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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.