How Can Change Management Really Produce Change?

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Lately I have been in conversations on the topic of change management. There is no one right definition because consultants can view this concept in slightly altered ways. Besides, one person’s view of change can be another’s view of slight modification. Either way, there needs to be preparation from the organizational, team and individual levels.

On a visceral level, change management is a mindset of how to prepare, equip and support people so they can successfully adopt change to drive organizational success and the resulting outcomes. If you peel away the layer of consultant-speak, it is really about how to influence people to change their behavior from “in the moment” to “future thinking.”

Lacking the ability to accomplish this will render an organization’s vision useless. Speaking of a vision, change management requires a clearly articulated vision, communicated to all levels in an environment that encourages employee innovation and commitment. Finally, you must have the intellectual and emotional investment from your people in order to make any sort of progress.

Change management is a term large consulting firms like to use. Like the old favorites “low-hanging fruit,” “quick wins,” “boiling the ocean,” and “granularity,” change management is sure to scare your people first and then make them defensive. People resist change, especially if what they have done for so long has, in their mind, contributed to the ongoing success of the organization. They, of course, are viewing their job function through a personal prism.

A simple tactic to use is to not use the term change management. Look through a thesaurus. Here you will find “improvement” or “refinement” or “enhancement.” These terms are intellectually digestible. They are mainstream and don’t promote vagueness.

How Can Change Be Made?

Okay. We move away from change management. Consider performance improvement. It is not a one-off exercise and should not be done at predefined intervals; it is ongoing. The process for improvement should be accomplished by working the steps backward from a vision and the steps are packaged in a series of milestones. Because the concept of change is based on reaching a desired future state, consider identifying destination and then work your back, as opposed to moving your current state forward. To be sure, this is an upheaval to the normal planning approach.

But let’s think how this can yield benefits. Consider the objectives accomplished, their associated measurements and overall employee performance. What will they look like two, three or four quarters closer to the present time from the future date of your company’s vision. By working backwards, you can get into more detail that will shed light on where you need to make enhancements in your strategy, structure, processes and direction. These elements will be much more apparent than if you were to plan and take action from your organization’s current state moving forward.

Change management has shortcomings. It may focus on matters that create change, but it ignores expected results. In other words, it focuses on the required outputs and ignores expected outcomes.  There is a fixation on the solution rather than on the benefits derived from the solution. This creates a significant expectation gap; what you get versus what you envisioned.

You Want Change? Then Don’t Forget Your People

The biggest risk to change, enhancement, improvement, or refinement is the people — and the consequence of ignoring them. By ignoring the benefits from the solution(s) your employees can provide, there will be an increase in costs along with the risk of having to rework designs, systems and policies. This will raise the level of frustration and anxiety. At this point, morale will plummet, and there is the probability of increased absenteeism.

As a leader in your organization, you want to avoid these pitfalls by getting your people involved at the earliest stages. Encourage input and give serious consideration to their ideas. You need to guide and support your people through all the milestones so that they can succeed.

Because the concept of change can make people nervous, implement a philosophy of innovation. Innovation tied to support and encouragement creates an environment that is engaged and committed.  While your workforce may be required to work harder, an innovative mindset will help it work smarter and more efficiently. This will result in performance that can exceed your wildest dreams.

And the best part? You have created a workforce that could have been resistant, resulting in poor productivity. Instead, you have created a first-class organization where there is a commitment to the vision resulting from an intellectual and emotional investment.

And like most workplace challenges, it begins with culture.

Three Fundamental Steps to Improve Your Culture

There are a number of elements associated with improving your culture and here are three basic ones:

  1. Tone from the Top. Leadership that acts as a cheerleader to gain the necessary trust to create a fertile environment for innovation. Leadership’s commitment is real and is ongoing.
  2. Values Tied to Innovation. Besides the components of trust, integrity and honesty, in order to encourage innovation there should be openness to suggestions. “I know what’s best” will not cut it for the leader and will certainly frustrate the workforce. The leader can and should admit that there are better ways to accomplish a task or refine a process. It does not matter at what level the employee is making a sensible recommendation. All suggestions should be given equal consideration. It becomes apparent if this is simply an exercise of “paying lip service.” The result? A workforce that remains silent to the detriment of the organization.
  3. Esprit de Corps. Every employee can make a difference. This should be communicated regularly. It would not hurt to allow each employee to be exposed to other areas of the organization and be tasked with coming up with at least one suggestion for improvement. And if a suggestion is adopted and the results are positive, recognize the team or individual.

If you constantly espouse “Our employees are our most important asset,” then you need to practice this philosophy and not relegate it to a framed tagline hung in the reception area or the company cafeteria.


About Steve
Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at