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Managing the people part of change

By Matt Poepsel, PhD

Successful change management comes down to building trust and managing transitions, whether the change will impact a team, a division or an entire organization. In organizations, change can occur as a result of a merger or acquisition or due to an executive leadership change. Market and economic forces can also bring about change. Other causes might be related to a restructuring or even the refocusing of a workforce to bring a new product or service to market.

Whatever the reason for a change initiative in an organization, our experience with clients has taught us that these types of transitions typically bring a unique set of challenges that, if not managed properly, can lead to failure. In fact, it’s widely observed that more than two-thirds of change initiatives fail. How can you make sure your organization doesn’t end up on the wrong side of that sobering statistic?

Consider the most common reasons why change initiatives fail:

  • Miscommunication of expectations
  • Organizational misalignment
  • Inexperienced managers
  • Lack of change leadership skills
  • Lack of internal commitment
  • Lack of executive sponsorship
  • Lack of reinforcement regarding new behaviors and systems

What’s the common denominator underscoring these causes? You guessed it: People!

Change can evoke fear in some people – a fear of what is being lost versus what will be gained. While that fear can result in people hindering your change efforts (unintentionally or otherwise), given the proper tools, support and environment these folks can be empowered to help themselves and others spearhead change initiatives.

If you’re responsible for a change initiative in your organization, consider how to best utilize the following “change agents” to help support your efforts:

Senior management can offer essential top-down sponsorship and ongoing reinforcement of your organization’s cultural values. They can also help establish a vision and clear direction for change initiatives and build a strong and committed team to help manage change.

HR can drive alignment around the desired culture through organization-wide programs. They can coach managers to effectively implement and drive change in their teams and nurture a learning and growth environment for employees.

Line managers can guide their direct reports through changes that impact their day-to-day lives and keep these employees engaged and motivated. They can also integrate cultural values into employee performance management practices.

Organizations that experience success during times of change typically create a framework that is supported by these six components: 

     Communicate the need for change to different audiences in targeted ways.
     Hone in on critical behaviors and skills that accelerate performance.
     Assess strengths, weaknesses, motivating needs and drives to optimize talent.
     Nurture an atmosphere of open collaboration.
     Get executive sponsors to establish a vision and set clear direction.
     Evaluate the process and adjust the strategy as needed. 

While it’s not uncommon for conflicts to arise from misalignment and misunderstanding during times of change, taking the time to understand the motivating needs that are driving certain behaviors will equip you to diffuse any situations that arise with relative ease.

Organizations that acknowledge and properly manage the people part of change – whether that change emanates from the corner office down to the mailroom – are more likely to increase their odds for long-term success.

To learn more about how to support a successful change initiative, check out these resources:


Matt Poepsel, PhD, is the VP of Professional Services at PI, the "Godfather of Talent Optimization," and the author of "Expand the Circle: Enlightened Leadership for Our New World of Work." For every N. E. Patriots game, he prepares food and drinks that originate from the opponent's region.

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