The 5 Keys To Implementing Change Management Successfully

by | Dec 29, 2015

exec_coach_blog_aug_06Much has been written on the subject of organizational change management, and one such seminal work is Dr. John Kotter’s Leading Change (1996). Kotter’s research uncovered a dismal statistic: Only 30 percent of change management initiatives succeed. In 2008, the global consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., surveyed thousands of executives and found that, still, only one–third of change programs survive.

In the business world, the daunting challenge of complex change cannot be avoided. Often urgent, it is worth the time to carefully analyze and manage, especially guiding the process towards success. When demonstrating change to executives and business owners, I rely on the following five-key model, which is especially useful when a puzzling change project in their organization hits a roadblock. Consider it for yourself. This model describes the components of a successfully managed change program as well as the five distinctive roadblocks that emerge if one of these components is lacking.

Key #1: Vision

This single most critical element of change management often fails to garner the attention it needs. Within the context of change management, the question is, “What is your vision of the outcome of the proposed change?” (i.e., the visionary aspects of how things will function once the anticipated outcome of the proposed change is in place). Do not confuse this vision statement with your corporate vision, and failing to fully understand the real challenge is often a trap for management.

Setting out a clear vision and gaining acceptance by all players cannot be underestimated. It deserves the greatest investment of time and energy to establish because, as the Japanese proverb states, “Action without vision is a nightmare.” When business owners have a poorly defined, shortsighted, or narrow vision of the expected outcome, a general lack of tolerance for change represents probable failure. Moreover, the idea falls short of being the galvanizing force necessary to drive change in an organization and instead becomes the nemesis of that change. Roadblock #1: Without vision, confusion endures.

Key #2: Skills

What skills are required to achieve the functional change that your organization is tackling? Consider the tasks you’re planning to accomplish, and then match those requirements with the people on your team. Developing job position descriptions and matching them with the skills of your team members are effective ways to tactically assess your situation. Taking an inventory of your team’s or organization’s skill sets will help you identify and determine if you have the right people doing the right jobs.

When a team is tasked with a project that they don’t feel competent to master, or if a colleague cannot or will not complete an assignment, a sense of unease and frustration can seep across the team and destroy the outcome. Roadblock #2: Without the right skills, anxiety exists.

Key #3: Incentives

Having a motivated staff is essential. Regardless of the nature of the change, your team has to implement the project in the end. Money and bonuses are good incentives, but better work/life balance and a positive, respectful work culture are tremendously powerful motivators that can propel people towards implementing change. The energy of team members can be quickly sapped by insufficient incentives. Questions and comments, which may slow or confound progress and plague your team, may be, “Why should we be doing this? We don’t see the need. The way we do it now works, so if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” Roadblock #3: Without appropriate incentives, a company will plateau.

Key#4: Resources

These encompass all the physical, technological, and financial elements that your team needs to ensure success as you move forward. Your most important resource are the humans doing the work; ultimately, they are your most formidable foe if not handled with kid gloves. Most efforts associated with change are easily thwarted by those who are currently doing the job and have a “fear of change” and the insecurities associated it.

Change is disruptive, and it means learning new skills and methods that could be avoided “if I stop this madness in its track.” Giving consideration to what will be needed once the change is implemented is critical. Investments, infrastructure, facilities, appropriate tools, operating systems, application software, and time all need to be in place. Although your team members may be skilled and motivated, their best efforts will stall or severely set back a project without critical resources. Roadblock #4: Without proper resources, frustration occurs.

Key #5: Key Action

This is what keeps everything (i.e., your project) in existence: making change possible. Although your vision identifies the destination, skill sets, incentives, and resources are the vehicles that drive your action plan to completion. The first part of the Japanese proverb noted earlier is, “Vision without action is merely a dream.” If we have vision, skills, incentives, and resources in place, but then leave our people without a plan, objective, or a sense of priority, the team cannot perform. People will go off in their own directions, following personal initiative and horse sense rather than a team plan; inevitably, someone will have to be reined in or rerouted. Roadblock #5: Without action, we have false starts.


Managing complex change — any complex change — begins with a vision. You have to know where you are going with certainty, and then decide what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. The other elements of change management need to be in place as well, bookended with a clear action plan. By implementing these five keys — and avoiding the five roadblocks — you may find yourself in the 30 percent completion percentile. Would seeing the results of managing complex change favorably improve over Kotter’s statistic appeal to you?

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