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What Is Change Management? The Ultimate Guide in 2023

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Change is inevitable. If everything stayed the same, life would become quite boring. Even routine-oriented people benefit from switching it up every once in a while. Change is easier said than done. Sometimes, events alter your life in unexpected and scary ways. You may see change management happen at work when there’s a leadership shakeup. 

Change can be intimidating, but it often makes you a better employee and person. You’ll learn new strategies and explore schools of thought you’ve never seen before. Find out more about the change management process, theories, models, and more.

What Is Change Management? 

Change management is managing change within an organization, whether transitioning from one CEO to the next or introducing new software for employees to learn. Change management principles come into play when you guide your colleagues through the transition and teach them how to adapt and thrive in the new environment. 

Change is gradual, and you’d be hard-pressed to rush it. The change management process is strategic and can require days, weeks, or even months to implement, depending on the scope. The United States votes for a president in November, but the federal government doesn’t inaugurate the next commander-in-chief until Jan. 20. Why is there a gap? It takes time to use change management tools and prepare the executive branch for the next presidential administration.

Imagine you’re the new owner of a professional sports team. The change management process is critical because billions of dollars and team pride are on the line. Your changes may start with current front office members, coaching staff, and roster. You’re the CEO of the franchise, and changes to your regime will dictate how your team performs in the upcoming seasons. Tough decisions will arise, but they’re necessary for success.

Use another example where you’re the head of a marketing company. Today, you’ve decided to convert to a new software system. The program will make your colleagues more effective and productive. However, it might not run smoothly at first. You must convince your co-workers that it’s better than the old system. 

You may encounter hesitancy and resentment, but you need to get everyone used to the system and make it a part of your company’s culture. Over time, the detractors will get on board and see why you made the changes. Help your employees transition and work out any bugs in the software. A seamless conversion is challenging, but improving your operations is worth it in the long run.

What Does the Change Management Process Look Like?

Change doesn’t happen overnight. The change management process will look different depending on what industry your company is in. Imagine you’ve just taken over a fleet management company, and your first decision is to swap the current fleet for electric vehicles (EVs). The base model of change management includes the following steps:

  • Development: Change is a powerful word, but it requires concrete plans for what will be different in your organization. In this stage, develop the strategies for converting the fleet. Start by converting 20% of your vehicles, or begin with a specific department.
  • Preparation: Once the organization has decided on changes, it’s time to prepare the employees. Give them time to learn the new requirements, which can be overwhelming. Prepare employees by educating them on EVs and listening to their opinions. Use presentations, data, and insight from industry professionals to demonstrate why the change is positive.
  • Implementation: The third step is the most critical part. Your change management training is handy when it’s time to implement the changes. Swap the cars until every vehicle in the fleet is electric. Along the way, help your employees understand the EVs and how they work. There are differences your employees should know about maintenance.
  • Building: The fourth step includes building off the implementation. At this point, you’re instituting EVs as a part of your company culture. Use this time to monitor longtime and newer employees to ensure they’re keeping up with the changes. Culture takes time to build so change management can be tedious. EVs have become vital to your business, and you’ll make them an integral part of your hiring process.
  • Analysis: The change management process introduces better ideas. However, it’s hard to see everything go without a hitch. You may encounter bumps in the road with your EVs. Document these problems in your analysis so you’ll have data to show what went right and wrong with the cars. Evaluate employees once the process is complete and see how your change management framework can improve.

Famous Change Management Models

Researchers and thought leaders have explored the ideal change management plan and template for decades. Here’s how these theories have evolved. For each model, let’s stick with the idea that you’re a business owner seeking to convert the fleet to EVs. 

Lewin’s change management model

Change management has been a valuable tool for hundreds upon thousands of years. Lewin’s Change Management Model was one of the first theories to describe change management. This school of thought comes from Kurt Lewin, a German-born social psychologist who moved to the United States in the early 1930s. 

By the 1940s, Lewin developed his change management theory that many still use today. Many companies seeking organizational change management use Lewin’s method to enact alterations. This model includes three steps:

  • Unfreeze: The first step in change management is to unfreeze. Unfreezing refers to preparing the organization for change. You’re getting ready to transport people from one idea freezer to another. As the fleet owner, you unfreeze by explaining to employees why you’re changing to EVs and outlining a timeline for the transition. 
  • Change: The second part of Lewin’s change management theory is the change itself. It bears repeating that change is scary and can take some time. You swap the vehicles one by one until all 20 are electric. Assist employees by teaching them maintenance to ensure the investment remains worthwhile.
  • Refreeze: Now, it’s time to refreeze and put the changed culture in the freezer until it’s time to change again. Freeze the employees by ingraining EVs as a part of company culture. Use it in hiring practices and ensure everyone is on board with using them and embracing environmental responsibility as the company’s core values.

In 2020, researchers used Lewin’s change management model1 to improve the workplace culture at a pharmacy school. The study combined Lewin’s theories with a modified version of the Delphi technique. This process includes collecting opinions on an issue and driving toward a consensus among the subjects. The researchers found that Lewin’s change management process guided the administration in a better direction and improved job satisfaction among the faculty.

The Deming Wheel

A few years later, another change management process arose called the Deming Wheel. This system comes from Dr. Edwards Deming, an engineer from Iowa. He developed the PDSA cycle from a book by Walter Andrew Shewhart. Shewhart published Statistical Methods from the Viewpoint of Quality Control in 1939, which outlined how companies should execute mass production in manufacturing. 

With inspiration, Deming created the Deming Wheel in 1950, just five years after the end of World War II. The steps for the wheel include design, production, selling, and conducting market research. 


Deming had a remarkable influence in Japan after World War II. The post-war era brought a boom in auto manufacturing with the rise of popular automakers like Toyota. In Japan, Deming’s wheel became the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle. The steps for your fleet management company include the following:

  • Plan: Planning is where it all begins. This stage includes researching EVs and determining which make and model is best for your company.
  • Do: Once the planning has finished, it’s time to do it like Shia LaBeouf. Purchase the EVs and assign them to your employees.
  • Check: After a month, check the employees’ satisfaction with the EVs and identify the issues they’ve encountered.
  • Act: Find the common weaknesses your employees have identified and take steps to improve their experiences. For example, a few drivers have complained about the handling, so you upgrade the sway bar on all vehicles.

After four decades, Deming introduced a slight alteration2 to the PDCA and swapped checks for study in 1993. Nowadays, many know the theory as the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle. Deming disliked check and preferred the nuance of a word like study. If you’re studying a process, you’re focusing on how something works and how to improve it. He also feared others could misconstrue check to mean hold back, as in the government’s checks and balances. 

In 2020, Vietnamese-German University in Binh Duong, Vietnam, examined the PDCA cycle in practice. The study surrounded sustainable packaging and how to use PDCA for quality improvement. The subjects used PDCA to replace styrofoam with new material to see if using the environmentally friendly product was more durable. The test results showed it performed better in drop tests, leading the researchers to conclude PDCA was effective3 in finding a cost-effective solution for their packaging. 

Kotter’s change management plan

Dr. John Kotter is a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School. He has written 21 books, one of which is Leading Change. This 1996 book includes Kotter’s change management model—an eight-step plan for instituting change in the workplace. Kotter’s program contains the following:

  • Creating urgency: Kotter’s first step is to create urgency. As the new owner, you stress the urgency of swapping the fleet for EVs. The strategy is best for investors, customers, the environment, and more. Urgency breeds motivation in this instance. 
  • Building a coalition: One person can’t institute change by themselves. You need a coalition of people who believe in the next steps for the company. Recruit supervisors and company leaders to support and discuss the EV plan with subordinates. 
  • Developing the vision: Outline your goal and how to achieve it. For example, you want all 20 vehicles to be electric. Each month, you will swap two cars. 
  • Communicating the change: You must show the organization your vision and get everybody on board. Use detailed presentations to display why you’re electrifying the fleet. Be positive in this phase because your goal is improving the company. 
  • Removing obstructions: The road to EVs may face some bumps, like the price point or hesitant employees. The federal government offers tax credits for purchasing EVs, and you can hold meetings with the dissenters and find common ground.
  • Setting goals: Set achievable goals for the EV switch. By the end of the year, you’ll have six EVs in the fleet. Show encouragement and praise for employees who lead during the transition. Recognition and praise go a long way in today’s workplace. A Quantum Workplace study finds employees are nearly three times more likely4 to be engaged after receiving praise. 
  • Maintaining momentum: As your company switches to EVs, keep the momentum by updating team members on progress. Share industry articles about EVs to demonstrate why investment will help the company. Track progress and determine the necessary steps for achieving your goal. 
  • Making it stick: The eighth and final step is making it stick. The change you make needs to be sustainable. If one of the EVs needs replacement, select another in its place. You should make EVs and environmental responsibility a part of your culture and use these ideas when recruiting new members. 

In 2021, Rush University researchers tested5 Kotter’s change management model in higher education. The study’s goal was to increase interprofessionalism in place of the previous structure of silo and hierarchy. The researchers found Kotter’s framework was fruitful in accelerated change. Using it removed barriers to change and led to a conducive work environment for employees at the academic medical center. 

Do you want to implement change management theories for your new hires? Check out the guide: How to Thrive in a Virtual Workplace in 4 Steps.

ADKAR change management model

In the early 2000s, Prosci developed a change management model through its founder, Jeff Hiatt, who started the company in 1994. Prosci has helped companies institute organizational change management based on scientific principles. The ADKAR change management acronym includes these steps:

  • Awareness: First, your company needs awareness. Employees need to know that changing to EVs is necessary to move forward. Numerous manufacturers are ending their production of gas-powered cars, so now is the time to jump to EVs. 
  • Desire: Then you have to generate desire. Get your colleagues excited about EVs because they’re the future of auto manufacturing, and your company is on board. Let employees know they’re essential to powering an environmentally conscious organization.
  • Knowledge: Your team needs knowledge of how the change will happen. How will you transition the fleet from gas to electric? What maintenance tips do they need to know? Educate your employees on EV charging, lithium-ion batteries, and other essential parts of being an EV owner. 
  • Ability: This step involves action. You need to convert the fleet to EVs one car at a time. Along the way, your team will gain knowledge of the vehicles and embrace the change. Purchase EV charging stations for your locations to ease the transition and make things easier for your employees. 
  • Reinforcement: Once the change to EVs comes, you need to sustain it. When it’s time for a new fleet, stay with the EV market. Only switch if an alternative comes along that’s demonstrably better. Make EVs a part of your company culture and reinforce the idea when hiring.

A 2020 Vlaams Diergeneeskundig Tijdschrift study applied the ADKAR change management6 principles in veterinary practice. The researchers aimed to help livestock veterinarians with profiling in antimicrobial stewardship. The study found that ADKAR helped determine what prevented successful behavioral changes in the farmers and how they could reduce using antibiotics in livestock. 

Change Is an Evolutionary Process

Change has happened since the dawn of time. It’s part of evolutionary DNA. The first humans have been around for nearly 6 million years7, and their bodies and minds look significantly different than today. Did you know humans didn’t understand bipedalism until 4 million years ago? They went 2 million years without walking on their feet. It may happen slowly, but change is an evolutionary process practiced for millions of years.

Some people may stick their noses up at change, but those resentments come from fear of the unknown. The best changes in your life may be the most difficult choices to make. For example, say you’re in the market for a new jacket. The coat you typically buy lasts a year and costs $25. There’s a better jacket that costs $100 and lasts five years. Paying more money may be difficult, but you’ll see long-term satisfaction by investing8 instead of immediate gratification that wears off quickly. 

Notable Change Management Quotes

Change happens daily and affects everyone. Some of the most famous world leaders and public figures have endured change and shared their wisdom with these five change management quotes.

1. “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”—Douglas MacArthur 

2. “The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do.”—Amelia Earhart. 

3. “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”—Albert Einstein

4. “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”—John F. Kennedy

5. “If you’re walking down the right path and willing to keep walking, eventually, you’ll make progress.”—Barack Obama

Change Management FAQs 

What is change management?

Change management is a practice where you manage change. Your organization could be going through a leadership transition or finding new ways to conduct business. If you’re in charge of the change management plan, it’s your job to usher in the next era. You’ll help your colleagues become accustomed to new ways of doing things. 

Why is change management important?

Change management is important because alterations in the workplace can be challenging. People get accustomed to a routine and certain ways of doing things. Asking them to change, especially after decades of practicing their habits, can be a lot to digest. Organizational change management is often gradual. Too much at once can deter employees unless the necessary adjustments are dire. 

What is the process of change management?

Change management framework varies by company, but the process looks familiar regardless of your industry. Implementing change starts with developing the adaptations and preparing employees for the new techniques. Then you slowly incorporate the changes until they become widespread in the organization. After enough time has passed to gather data, the change management leaders should review the process and declare if any further adjustments are necessary. 

Are there change management jobs?

Change management jobs are available for people who embrace new things and want to help others. Companies hire consultants and specialists who develop organizational change management strategies. These professionals are integral to the workforce because they bring necessary adjustments.
Consider getting a change management certification if you’re in the market for this career. Professional organizations like the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) have programs for you to join. Passing the exams results in a certificate demonstrating you’re a professional who can implement best practices in adult education. 
Do you want to learn more about management training programs? Check out the guide: Management Training Programs: 5 Things to Know.

Change Management Key Takeaways 

Numerous change management models are effective. Here are the biggest takeaways for incorporating change in your organization. 

1. Change management manages change from beginning to end, whether it’s new leadership, software, or other elements employees need to get used to. 

2. The change management models typically center on these steps: development, preparation, implementation, building, and analysis. 

3. Change is an evolutionary process humans have endured for millions of years. Being stagnant can lead to dull days, lower productivity, and ignorance of better practices around you.

4. Companies will hire you as a specialist or consultant if you enjoy change management. You’ll work with organizations to ensure the transition to a new phase goes as smoothly as possible. 

5. The modern examples of change management started in the early 1940s with Kurt Lewin. More recent theories came in the early 2000s with the ADKAR model. As humans become more competent, there will likely be even better theories soon.

Do you want to learn more about effective management? Check out How to Be a Good Manager: A Guide for Every Personality Type.

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