Project Management

Wheedling the Mules & Winning Buy-in: Change Management in Project Planning

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Wheedling the Mules & Winning Buy-in: Change Management in Project Planning
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Wheedling the Mules & Winning Buy-in: Change Management in Project Planning

Have you ever gone to your favorite diner, expecting your usual bacon, eggs, toast and coffee, and the same friendly banter with your favorite waiter, only to discover that they’d changed the menu and she’d up and quit?

This kind of upset is enough to throw off your entire day. We’re creatures of habit, and lean in on the familiar to create routines and structure our lives.

The workplace is no different. Once we’re settled into a software system and become familiar with a group of colleagues and clients, adapting to change feels like pulling a train off its tracks.

Yet, change chugs on relentlessly, particularly in this age of innovation and technology. Just to remain competitive, organizations constantly need to upgrade systems, improve products and adapt new software into its departments.

If you’re spearheading innovation, resistance to change poses the greatest obstacle to achieving growth. A successful rollout strengthens the culture, and means the company reaps the benefit of the change almost immediately, while an ineffective rollout weakens the culture and results in a stagnant state of zero growth.

Are you wondering how to launch change with success? How to cultivate evangelists who propagate and support a launch, and how to convert the saboteurs who work to derail changes in the workplace? A solution is well within reach, and that’s just what we’re coving in this post.

What is Change Management

A Definition of Change Management

Let’s start by clarifying just what “change management” means.

According to Project Management PSI, change management is the “process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required desired business outcome. Change management incorporates the organizational tools that can be utilized to help individuals make successful personal transitions resulting in the adoption of and realization of change.”

At its essence, change management isn’t about rolling out a new system, or moving an office across town. Rather, it’s about achieving the personal transition that empowers people to adopt changes in the workplace. Its focus is on bringing individuals from a current state into a future state.

Changes come in all shapes and sizes. They can be practical, such as moving to a new office or changing office hours. Some changes are technical, such as introducing new software or upgrading systems from manual to automatic. Some changes introduce new product lines and business strategies.

While for some people, a change presents a minor speed bump in the work journey, for others the same change presents a massive, nearly impassable roadblock.

In order to bring individuals past this roadblock, a change cannot be implemented hastily or cursorily. Rather, it needs the full attention of the leadership and a change practitioner. A successful rollout requires strategy and a deliberate plan. Let’s look at some key components to a successful change management plan.

The 5 Stages of a Change Management Plan

The 5 Stages of a Change Management Plan

When an organization strategizes the rollout of a big change, it’s way more likely to reap the benefits of the change. Rather than fizzle and fall flat, the change empowers individuals and strengthens the company culture.

So what does a strong change management plan entail? Here are the five stages of a successful one.

1. Identify and Communicate the “Why”

Any successful rollout requires buy-in from all the individuals involved. When someone understands the rationale behind a change, and agrees it’s best for the company, he is willing to switch out of autopilot and consciously engage in integrating the change into the company.

How does an organization persuasively communicate the “why”? Generally, a trusted leader plays a pivotal role at this initial stage. Speaking to the audience in their language and articulating how the change benefits them inspires people to get on board.

When determining the approach of these initial communications, consider the culture of the company and its workforce. Are they conformist or individualist? Artistic or technical? Adopting the language to their sensibilities makes the message more receptive.

Also, it can be effective to create buzz in the office around the new tool or innovation several weeks in advance, through hints dropped at meetings or in company emails.

2. Cultivate Desire and Enthusiasm

We’re always telling ourselves a story. And if a change practitioner doesn’t develop and communicate the story behind the change, people create a story, one which may make the change difficult.

The story can make or break the rollout of a change. An aspirational story that invigorates and inspires the team is sure to cultivate evangelists and champions. A confused or muddled story, or one that doesn’t emphasize how the change benefits individuals, is sure to create saboteurs who resist the change.

Disseminating the story not only entails shaping the right message, but also utilizing the right tools. Swag with the story’s key message adds an air of festivity to the change. In a distributed team, tools such as webinars, interactive white boards, meetings and emails all serve to communicate the message.

At this stage, getting upper management on board is key. This allows managers to communicate the benefits of the change directly to employees. Transparency; being clear about the necessity of the change; also increases trust from the team.

3. Train the Team

This is one of the more obvious steps to implementing a change. So clear, in fact, that many change practitioners are inclined to skip the first two stages and jump right to training. However, the first two stages put individuals into the right frame of mind, making them more receptive to training.

During training, people want to understand how their role and responsibilities are impacted by the change. Even a practical transition like moving offices entails significant changes, such as a new key card, a new mailing address, and a new layout to the office.

There are many practicalities to consider with training, including identifying who needs to be trained, developing training resources, gathering the necessary equipment (projectors, whiteboards, screens) and allocating resources for reserving a space.

Reinforcing the learning with interactive quizzes, and singling out “change champions” encourages everyone to excel and helps the leaning “stick.”

4. Implement the Change

Perhaps this stage is self-explanatory. It’s always nice to accompany the implementation of a big change with some fanfare and celebration. This generates enthusiasm and a collaborative spirit that gets people on board.

5. Monitor and Reinforce

A change management plan doesn’t end with the rollout. It’s critical to monitor the change to see how things are going. Establishing feedback loops helps to identify pain points.

Be on the lookout for resistance, and have a plan in place to navigate it, as it’s certain to surface.

In sum, these five steps offer a framework for approaching an institutional change with a strategy and a plan. When executed thoughtfully and diligently, a plan allows for a smooth rollout with few challenges.

Success in Change Management

4 Tips for Success in Change Management

A change management plan makes the difference between whether or not a software system is adapted, or whether or not employees get on board with a new business strategy. Let’s cover some tips for creating a top-notch plan that’s sure to succeed.

1. Identify Who’s Impacted

Not everyone is impacted similarly with a big change. Some people’s workdays are entirely upended, while others are hardly affected at all. Consider the adoption of new accounting software, for example. The finance and accounting departments are faced with a huge learning curve, while the IT department may not even notice a ripple.

Focus the change management plan on those individuals who are most impacted. Take measures to cushion their transition, to provide them additional support, and to give them allowances during the transition phase.

2. Communicate “What’s in It For Me” (WIFM)

Cultivating desire and enthusiasm behind a change is all about helping people understand how the change benefits them personally.

When people understand that the change isn’t about “achieving growth” in the abstract, but about improving their own work environment and providing them with growth opportunities, they’re far more willing to get past the growing pains and adopt the change into their routines.

3. Plan for Resistance

Individuals impacted by a change generally fall into four categories: the agnostics who don’t care about the change, the evangelists who support it, the dreamers who aren’t aware of it and finally the saboteurs who actively work against the change.

This final category, the saboteur, clearly poses the greatest obstacle to success. A good plan, then, includes strategies for identifying and converting these people.

Listening is key to a “saboteur strategy.” Speaking one-on-one and listening to their concerns, emphatically, creates an open communication channel. Appreciate how the change impacts their workday, and do what you can to ease the pain.

If someone continues to resist the change, it may be necessary to escalate the issue to higher management.

4. Navigate the Transition Phase

A change is about going from a current state into a future state. However, a third state is integral to the process: the “in between” stage.

Rather than simply going live, a successful plan anticipates a transition stage. Some people need quite some time to adapt to a new software system, for example, even after a week of training. Allowing for adjustments and bumps in the road eases people’s struggles with the change.


Change is constant. As a philosopher once said, “You never set your foot in the same river twice.”

However, change is also a huge challenge. We’re all inclined to prefer the familiar and the routine.

A successful change management plan focuses on individuals. It communicates how the change benefits them, guides them over roadblocks and addresses their concerns. A good plan allows the organization and individuals to reap the benefits of the change more readily.

What’s your #1 tip to implementing a successful change management plan?

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