Change and change management. On the surface, these terms may seem interchangeable. However, there is a significant and important difference between change and change management. When there is no clear delineation, the result is confusion and lack of clarity on what is needed to move a change initiative forward. The better we can separately define and address change and change management, the better position we will be in as change management practitioners with a clearer scope and shared sense of direction and purpose.

While change is about moving to a future state, change management is about supporting individual employees impacted by the change during their transitions—from their current state to their future state. 

change management supporting employees

Change is...

At its most basic level, change is a movement out of a current state (how things are today), through a transition state, and to a future state (how things will be done). Change happens all around us: at home, in our community and at work. Changes can be internally motivated or externally motivated. The change can be a dramatic departure from what we know or it can be minor. Changes can be anticipated or unexpected. But in all cases, the fundamental nature of change is a movement from the current state, through a transition state, to a future state. The notion of these three states of change is prevalent in change management literature and in other improvement disciplines.



Typically, we take an organizational perspective when talking about change. For example, we are:

  • Moving to documented and managed processes from ad hoc processes
  • Moving to an integrated system from numerous legacy systems
  • Merging two organizations
  • Introducing a new product to the market
  • Introducing new equipment into the manufacturing processes
  • Moving to call center specialists from a generalist model

Each of these examples has a clear current state and a clear future state. A project or initiative in the organization is undertaken to give structure to the effort of designing the future state and developing a solution for the transition state.

However, every organizational change ultimately has individual impacts—the tens, hundreds or thousands of employees who have to do their jobs differently when they adopt the solution. This is the role of change management.

Change management is...

Change management is necessary because organizational change—moving from an organizational current state to an organizational future state—ultimately impacts how people do their jobs (likely many people).

  • Someone executes the newly documented and managed processes
  • Someone accesses the new integrated database
  • Employees in the newly merged organization must work differently
  • The new product will impact how someone does their job

Change is about moving to a future state. Yet change management goes further by supporting individual employees impacted by the change through their transitions from their current state to their future state associated with the project or initiative. 

Unified-Value-Prop-croppedSome employees will rapidly embrace change. Others will be reluctant. Some will be happy with the change and others will be upset by it. Some employees will change quickly, others may take some time, and there may be a group that will not embrace the change at all. Change management provides the process, tools and principles to support the individual transitions precipitated from an organizational future state.

The connection, then, between "change" and "change management" can be characterized as follows:

The changes in our organization create new future states for how we operate. To reach those future states, individual employees have to do their jobs differently. The attainment of the organizational future state depends on the success of individuals reaching their personal future states. Change management is the structured and intentional approach to enabling individual employees to adopt the changes required by projects and initiatives.

The underlying point here is that the results and outcomes of a project or initiative are defined by and depend on employees adopting the change, so change management is an essential tool for delivering results and outcomes.

eliminating the confusion

Below are several tips for practitioners who may be experiencing the confusion over change and change management.

1) Identify the confusion. Are you experiencing this confusion with anyone you are supporting? In your work, have you seen confusion or lack of clarity about change and change management? If so, who are you seeing the confusion with?

  • Project leaders and teams
  • Solution designers and developers
  • Executives and senior leaders
  • Other change management practitioners
  • Others

2) Use the states of change. Introduce and position change management by describing the states of change at both the organizational level and the individual level. Start the conversation about the current state, transition state and future state. And then continue the conversation to focus on individual current states, transition states and future states.

Exercise: Using two columns, have your audience (project team, senior leader, etc.) define the future state of the organizational change on the left side. Then on the right side, have them define five specific individual future states that the change will cause. Use this article as a guide.

3) Introduce the notion by asking a simple question. Who will have to do their jobs differently as a result of this project or initiative? This is the beginning of the process of segmenting out the impacted groups so you can address them specifically from a change management perspective. By asking and helping answer the question, you are establishing a working relationship with the project team that provides a solid start for your change management work.

Exercise: Prosci uses a framework for connecting people to business results through a four-column activity. Have your audience create four columns on a sheet of paper. The first column is Project: have them write the name of the project. The second column is Purpose: have them write the reasons for the change. The third column is Particulars: have them detail the specific changes to processes, systems, organization structures, etc. resulting from the project. The final column is People: have them create a list of the individuals and groups who will do their job differently after the project.


The Seven Concepts of Change PDF

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.