Change Management Process: 7 Steps to Successful Implementation

Learn what change management (CM) is as well as 7 key steps to implement as part of the change management process.

Written by: Josh Brown

Published: March 29 2022

In the business world — and, really, the world in general — change truly is the only constant.

Speaking bluntly, if your company isn’t always prepared to effect internal changes as necessary, you’re going to quickly fall behind your more progressive competition.

This is where strategic change management comes in.

What is Change Management?

Change management (CM) refers to the systematic and strategic processes involved in facilitating organizational change within a company.

Here, organizational change can refer to a number of things, such as:

  • Improving team processes and workflows
  • Introducing new tools and technology to the team
  • Shifting operational and business goals, overall

In short, organizational change occurs whenever there’s a significant departure from the current way of doing things within a company.

That said, organizational change can occur in a variety of ways. Most commonly:

  • Adaptive or Developmental Changes refer to the incremental changes made to a team’s processes and policies over time. Adaptive changes don’t typically interrupt the status quo all that much — but are necessary to at least measure up to industry standards at all times.
  • Transitional Changes represent a clear shift away from the status quo with regard to a certain process — with an even clearer shift toward a more effective option for your team. For example, an online retailer may decide to switch from their current ecommerce platform to one that better suits their growing needs.
  • Transformational Changes are those which shift the very foundation of an organization in fundamental ways. Expanding to new audiences or geographic areas, or introducing new product lines or value-added services, are all examples of transformational change.

Why a Strategic Approach to Change Management is Crucial

Regardless of the intensity and severity of the upcoming change to be made, a strategic approach to change management is vital to your success.

There are a number of reasons for this, such as…

Create a Foundation for Dynamic Operations

In today’s ever-changing, ever-evolving world, teams need to be ready to adapt, transition, or transform their operations at any given moment.

But, if change isn’t seen as a natural, regularly-occurring phenomenon throughout your organization — and instead of seen as something that only happens “as needed” — your employees will easily become resistant to it.

And, even if your team is onboard with a certain change, approaching said change haphazardly will hinder their ability to actually implement it as planned. In fact, roughly 70% of change programs fail due to employee resistance and lack of support.

More than just effectively facilitating change at individual moments, a solid approach to change management will allow you to build opportunities for growth into and throughout your overall operations. In turn, your employees will become much less resistant to the changes being implemented — and will actually welcome these changes with open arms.

Develop Repeatable Processes

On a more practical level, developing effective change management processes means you’ll have solid workflows to follow when implementing new changes to your organization.

Will you need to tailor your approach for each individual instance of change? Absolutely.

Still, having a standardized, repeatable change management process will allow you to hit the ground running without having to reinvent the wheel time and time again. Since you’ll have the basics* covered as a matter of course, you’ll then have more time and energy to dedicate to the specifics of your plan.

(*Note: We’ll cover what these “basics” of change management are in a bit.)

Set and Achieve Clear Goals

As a report from the change management specialists at Prosci shows, teams with a solid and strategic approach to CM are six times more likely to reach their project goals and objectives.

Now, there are actually two benefits to discuss here.

For one, this shows that a more standardized approach will allow you to set more realistic and attainable goals. Secondly, your team will be better able to do exactly what needs to be done to create the changes needed.

Overall, you’ll have a more clear idea of what a given change will “look like” for your team — which in turn will make it much easier to gauge your progress moving forward.

Effectively Prioritize Resources

Prosci also found that teams with effective CM processes are 5x more likely to implement change on or ahead of schedule — and twice as likely to keep the initiative on or under budget.

And that just makes sense: With a clear plan and specific goals in place, you’ll know:

  • What resources will be needed
  • How much of a given resources will be needed
  • How these resources will be used throughout the project

Again, there are two things to consider here. 

Yes, a solid plan of attack will allow you to effect change more quickly and efficiently — that is, in less time, and while using fewer resources — than you otherwise would have. For your more time- and resource-heavy initiatives, a proper approach to CM will allow you to rationalize these expenses to your executive team.

(We’ll come back to this later, as well.)

Make Continuous Improvements to Change Management Processes

Your approach to change management in itself will be subject to change as time goes on.

The more standardized and systematic this approach is, the easier it will be to make laser-focused improvements to your processes. In contrast, identifying the “main culprits” of a haphazard CM project gone wrong will prove near-impossible for your team.

You can’t eliminate all of the variables involved in a given change management initiative. But, keeping things as uniform as possible is the key to identifying the specific strengths and weaknesses of your approach — and doing whatever’s necessary to improve your team’s efforts in the future.

Challenges of Effective Change Management Implementation

To be sure, implementing strategic change management isn’t always easy.

(If it was, a strategic approach wouldn’t be necessary in the first place…right?)

All kidding aside, there are a number of challenges to watch out for as you implement and improve your CM processes.

Employee Resistance to Change

Unfortunately for our purposes, resistance to change is a common trait among all humans.

On some level, then, your employees will be at least somewhat resistant to any changes you have in mind for the organization. This resistance will only become more intense if you’re not prepared to help them navigate the change — and do so on their terms. 

(In worst-case scenarios, employee resistance can be the cause of failure for certain CM initiatives.)

Organizational Silos

Organizational silos can wreak havoc on your change management initiatives in two key ways.

For one, a lack of alignment regarding your goals and rationale for implementing a change can cause resistance on a more foundational level. Similarly, your team members may be less likely to buy into an initiative if they don’t see how it fits into your company’s “big picture”.

Again thinking more practically, communication silos and the like can cause a number of bottlenecks and other points of friction throughout the CM process. This is especially true for remote and distributed teams.

Employee and Team Capabilities

A huge part of preparing for organizational change is ensuring your employees are able to handle the new way of doing things as you’d planned.

No matter how talented, knowledgeable, and dedicated your employees are, it’s your efforts to enable them that are important here. If you’re not prepared to give them exactly what they need to make the change (e.g., instructions, tools, training, etc.), your chances of success will diminish significantly.

Effective and Efficient Resource Management

The entire concept of change is built around uncertainty — making it incredibly difficult to accurately predict how much time, money, and other resources a given initiative will require.

This is true for all instances of change, but especially if:

  • You’ve yet to implement strategic change management
  • It’s your first time implementing strategic CM processes
  • You’re implementing wide-scale, transformational changes

In any case, resource management while implementing change will never be an exact science. As we’ll discuss, the best way to mitigate this issue is to approach your resource usage as intentionally as possible at all times throughout your CM efforts.

7 Key Steps of an Effective Change Management Strategy

Over the years, academics and CM specialists have devised their own strategic approaches to change management.

A few examples:

  • Prosci’s ADKAR and CM Methodology
  • Bridges’ Transition Model
  • Mckinsey 7S

To be sure, a discussion of each of these in detail is worthy of its own dedicated article. For our current purposes, we analyzed these various models to better understand the key steps organizations must take as they look to facilitate change.

Here’s what we found.

1. Identify the Need for Change

All change management initiatives should begin the same way: 

With a member or members of your team recognizing that something isn’t going as well as planned — and that significant change is needed to get things back on track.

(This means teams should never initiate a significant change to their operations without a clear reason for doing so. Avoid the trap of making changes for the sake of making change at all costs.)

This initial recognition can occur on different levels, depending on the situation:

  • Ground-level team members might recognize a bottleneck or blocker in their workflows
  • Managers might notice a dip in productivity, or missed opportunities for increased productivity
  • Executives will identify ways to save on expenses and maximize profits

Once a problem has been recognized, you’ll then need to dig deeper to identify the source of the problem. Instead of simply putting a bandage on the issue, pull it out by the root — and put something much better in its place.

(This will also help you avoid making lateral changes that don’t actually address the true cause of the problem.)

This root cause analysis will be the driving factor behind your change management processes, as it will keep your team focused on making changes that have a significant and powerful effect on your operations.

2. Define Your Goals — and Their Intended Impact

Once you have a clear idea of what needs to change, you’ll want to flesh out the rationale behind your decision in order to define your goals for the initiative.

(For example, while removing bottlenecks is obviously a good thing in any case, you’d want to define the intended impact of removing a specific bottleneck for each CM instance you initiate.)

First, nail down your overarching quantitative goals. Depending on where the change is occurring and how it was initiated, this may refer to certain OKRs and KPIs, or it might focus more on the business’ finances.

Then, think qualitatively to create an image of your organization after the change has been implemented. Think not just of the visible and tangible improvements (e.g., streamlined workflows, available resources, etc.), but also the underlying benefits of the change — from increased employee success and satisfaction to improved team culture, and more.

As your vision for the future becomes more clear, concrete, and attainable, you can start forming the basis of your approach to the current CM instance. While you’ll get more into the specifics later on, you should at least know by now whether the change to be made will be adaptive, transitional, or transformational.

3. Get All Stakeholders Onboard

Ideally, a number of team members will already be onboard with the upcoming organizational change.

Assuming the change was recognized at the managerial level, though, team leads may have to generate buy-in from both their higher-ups and those working under them. In this case, you’d want to start at the top and work your way down.

When approaching your executive team with a proposal for organizational change, your overall focus should be on profit and productivity. Typically, this means framing your proposal in terms of money saved, additional money earned, and/or potential opportunities for future financial gains.

(Once you’ve sold them on the financial aspects, you can then show how the proposed change aligns with your company’s mission and vision.)

From there, focus on getting your employees onboard with the change. This involves:

  • Identifying who, specifically, is involves and will be impacted
  • Communicating how the change will positively impact these stakeholders
  • Providing clear information as to what will be required of these individuals throughout the initiative

It’s also important, at this point, to reiterate offers of support and guidance to your employees, and to otherwise provide a low-stakes environment for the change to occur in.


Resistance to change is natural. The best way to fight it within your organization is to get all stakeholders onboard with your plan from the very beginning.

4. Develop Your Plan Collaboratively

Once you’ve gotten everyone on the same page, you can start working together to create a plan for organizational change.

As mentioned earlier, you’ll now revisit your overarching goals with your various stakeholders — framing these discussions in ways that are relevant to the individual. While you’ll have the ultimate say in defining OKRs, KPIs and such, listening to your employees at this stage will ensure the goals you set for them are attainable and realistic.

You can then work together with your team to identify the resources needed to implement the change successfully and efficiently. Also, create a timeline for the plan based on these available resources and any directives you’ve received from above.

Once all involved parties know:

  • What needs to be done
  • When it needs to be done by
  • What resources are available to make it happen

…you can then begin putting a plan together in full.

As you put this plan together with your team, keep everyone involved to ensure best practices are followed consistently — and that potential problems within your plan are identified and addressed immediately.

With all hands on deck, you can be nearly certain that your CM efforts will go according to plan.

5. Enable and Implement Changes as Planned

At this point, you’ll be ready to begin implementing the organizational changes you have planned.

Again, this will look different depending on the individual circumstances. In all cases, though, there are a few best practices to follow.

For one, open lines of communication between all stakeholders are needed to keep everyone on the same page and moving in the right direction. As uncertain as organizational change is to begin with, missed messages and miscommunications can cause even more confusion for your team.

All stakeholders will also need open access to any resources needed to effectively implement change. From basic documentation and company info, to helpful tools and software, to knowledgeable teammates and team leads, these resources should be readily available to ensure all involved parties can always accomplish what they’ve set out to do.

Finally, stakeholders must be given ample time to implement the necessary changes into their workflows — while still having time to complete their core tasks as needed. Though you’ll have addressed this during the collaborative planning stage, time management will become a crucial task as your change management efforts get underway.

6. Manage Change, Track Performance, and Celebrate Progress

As you begin implementing the change, there are a number of things you’ll need to do to keep everything on track.

First, you need to continually reinforce what “being on track” actually means:

  • Staying on or ahead of schedule
  • Using resources liberally but productively
  • Gradually internalizing the change as the “new way of doing things”

As your team starts making headway, it’s important to acknowledge their efforts, along with any progress they’ve made. Bring quick wins and other relatively minor improvements to the surface, as this will keep your team motivated from both a practical and emotional standpoint.

Also, be sure to nip any hang-ups or other problems in the bud before they have a chance to derail the project altogether. Again, this is why contingency planning is so important at the earlier stages of the CM process.

Finally, keep your team and individual employees aware of how the change being made is impacting their work lives — and what the future will hold as they continue pressing forward. This again ties into motivation, while also working to ensure the change “sticks” as you wrap up the initiative.

7. Solidify Changes and Set the Stage for Future Growth

As you wrap up a given change initiative, you’ll have two key tasks ahead of you.

For one, all stakeholders should take part in a post-mortem project review. Here, you’ll discuss what went well, where things got off track, and what you can do to improve your approach to change management moving forward.

You also need to ensure the changes you’ve implemented “officially” become the new way of operating for your team. This may mean making changes to your standard operating procedures, your employee handbook, and any other relevant internal company documentation. These changes should also be reflected in your internal and external knowledge bases, as applicable.

Change Management and Knowledge Management: A Perfect Combo

As you document these changes, you'll want to make use of a knowledge base tool to store and organize this information. By making use of knowledge base software, you'll be able to better track any changes that are made to your documentation as well as ensure the latest version is available. Not only that, but these processes can easily be shared with any employees that need access to the information.

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