How to develop an effective change management plan

by Paul Kesler

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin

Change management

It is not sexy. It is a bit like the minivan that we purchased after my children were born. Of course, I wanted a sleek sports car. However, we needed a van with 100 cup holders, enough seats to transport a small army, and industrial-grade airbags to keep everyone safe. That is kind of what change management is. It is the process that you need to ensure that your project has the right people on board and arrives safely. Although it is not shiny and exciting, change management often gets overlooked – and that is a big mistake.

Business leaders regularly express that their organizations need to change and adapt very quickly to market trends yet many of those same business leaders don’t take the time to plan and execute changes well.  However, today, I am going to give them – and you – the tools to bring change management front and center, and make it sexy in the process.

The first step to preparing an effective change management plan is to get selective amnesia on this one item. Completely wipe your memory banks clear of what you think change management is. If we were being quizzed and asked what its definition is, most of us would very eloquently say something like, “Well thank you for asking. change management is quite simply the act of managing change.” Umm… no, sorry. Try again! Change management is so much more than that! According to, change management is defined as ‘minimizing resistance to organizational change through the involvement of key players and stakeholders.’

That means it is not just about managing a project that will bring about a change in how you do business. Change management is the development of a process and a plan to not only bring about necessary change but also to include active procedures to negotiate the change with key stakeholders; to anticipate and minimize their resistance to the planned transformation in order for it to be successful. If you are anything like me, you probably don’t own a crystal ball, but you can totally put on your Sherlock Holmes coat and weird hat that he wears and do some detective work. Who are the key players? What are people saying about the proposed change? What, if any, compromises may need to be made?

In order to make real, lasting, and positive changes in your business you need to take the time to ensure a well-thought-out plan is created and followed. A detailed plan that includes the ‘what ifs’ will go a long way in bringing about consensus and limiting disruptions down the line. I am sure that we all have examples within our careers where a wide-scale change was initiated only to go astray, and the business only realized the damage after it was too late. I personally recall an ERP implementation that took years to execute only to be received poorly inside the business by the end-users due to poor change management.

Here are some simple steps to help you develop your change management plan

Below is a simple process that I have found useful when leading teams and developing a comprehensive change management plan. By following this list, you should be well underway to organizing your team for a successful change event.

  1. Request for change – Typically this is driven at the executive level or from an external influence such as a new or existing customer or from external market forces. Lead your team through the current and future state exercise to make sure you have alignment on where you are now versus where you need to get to or be in the end. Involving all the right people from various functional departments and levels will ensure that your assessment is accurate and complete. It is extremely helpful if you can tie the change into the overall business strategy as it should become more apparent to the majority of the people why a change needs to occur. Be certain to emphasize this later in your change communications.
  2. Impact assessment – Ask yourself who will be most impacted by the change. Have we had well-thought-out conversations and dialogue not only to understand their needs but also how to communicate the impact the change will have on their day-to-day functions.
  3. Develop your plan – Pull in the right people throughout the organization to gain their valuable insights and experiences. This will most definitely lead to an overall better plan. Listen to their experiences and make sure to create a concrete communication plan that shares the vision, mission, and strategy that you are trying to achieve. Think of what barriers your team might experience and plan for ways to overcome those obstacles.
  4. Approve/Deny – A formal checkpoint. What do the senior executives or customers think about your plan? Has it been well-constructed and does it meet the needs of the business? How comfortable are the key stakeholders with your change management plan?
  5. Execute change – Identify and secure your change champions early and across the organization including people at different levels of the business. Review your plan on a regular basis with your team; ask what needs to be modified based on fluctuating conditions. Share quick wins inside your team and with the entire organization to spotlight those early adopters. You will be surprised at how this will now drive others to follow.
  6. Review/Reporting – Is your change sticking within the organization? What can you do to help those that are still resistant? What new, unanticipated problems have been uncovered? These are all things that you can get in front of through being comprehensive in your initial planning. What are the success metrics you identified that you can track and review on a regular basis to ensure the organization is still on track?

Make proper change management a priority and add these important steps to your project management toolbox. You will realize the multitude of benefits within your teams and the success rate. Also, the Sherlock hat will get rave reviews in the process! Trust me.


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