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The Complete Guide to Corporate Change Management

  • 13 Min Read

There are two constants in life: Change and resistance to it. In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about effective corporate change management.


Talking About Change and How to Manage It Effectively

There are two constants in life: Change and resistance to it.  

People are hardwired to resist change. Part of the human brain interprets change as a threat to our safety and so releases fear hormones to physically protect ourselves. That’s why so many people are reluctant to embrace innovation even when the rational part of their minds can understand its benefits. 

It could be a new technological tool that reduces administration time by half or a new expense reporting system; whatever its form, people will be slow to embrace change. We are attracted to the idea of this future working environment where life is easier, but we reject the mechanics of how to make it a reality because we are comfortable with the status quo.  

We know that most change programs fail to achieve their goals due to employee resistance and lack of management support. So, while many initiatives make rational sense to everyone in the organization, you need your teams to champion them in order to get strong results.  

In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about change management, including what it is exactly, why it’s important and how to implement a change management plan. Read on to find out how you can encourage your staff to overcome the psychological cost of being too attached to the present so that your district can stay relevant and better serve its community.

What Is Change Management?

Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with the implementation of new processes or procedures across organizations. This usually means a multistep plan that divides the project into manageable parts. Here’s an example of a change management plan:  

  1. Create a vision and plan for change. 
  1. Prepare your organization for change. 
  1. Implement the changes.  
  1. Give staff the support they need. 
  1. Embed the changes within your organization’s culture and practices. 
  1. Review progress and analyze results.  

What Is the ‘Change’ in Change Management? 

The change itself could range from a minor update in procedure that affects one group of staff to a complete process overhaul that changes the day-to-day lives of every employee.  

For a business, change management can mean the difference between success and failure for new initiatives. Some of these could include shifting from in-person work to remote or hybrid work, updating a learning management system (LMS), or changing employee benefit providers. 

A graph showing four stages of change management.

Change Management in Business 

Change management in business can involve the adoption of new technology, mergers and acquisitions, personnel changes, rebranding, or a combination of these. 

Examples where change management practices could be helpful: 

NEW TECHNOLOGY Technology is constantly advancing, meaning organizations will need to replace legacy systems. Employees are asked to submit expenses through a new platform to make tracking, issues and acceptance more streamlined. A new LMS is introduced to help employees complete training, compliance and professional development. 
MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS When two companies join together, employees of both will need to adjust to new processes. Employees joining the parent organization are reorganized to fit into the existing structure and hierarchy. The merged company undergoes a rebrand, requiring employees to replace existing brand assets (like email signatures, presentations and style guidelines) with new ones. 
PERSONNEL CHANGES Turnover is a reality in any company’s workforce, but how companies manage that turnover differs. A senior director leaves the company for a new opportunity, changing how employees report and fulfill their daily responsibilities. A team grows by 50%, leading to a change in day-to-day activities and responsibilities. 

Transitions are delicate processes, and the most effective change management considers the human aspect of dealing with change. Change management plans, therefore, need to find a way to inspire employees to be champions of innovation.  

The goal is not just to implement a new process or system, but instead to find a more efficient way of thinking where everyone understands the purpose and supports the new way forward.  

Making long-lasting change is not just about the process itself but about the people involved in implementing it. That’s why effective change management can be challenging, as it requires strategic planning, patience and persistence.  

In the next chapter we’ll outline why it’s important for organizations to have effective change management processes. 

The Human Side of Change

Involving employees in making decisions increased wins by 15% and giving employees primary ownership of implementation planning did the same by 24%.

This New Strategy Could Be Your Ticket to Change Management Success, Gartner, 2022

Why Businesses Need an Effective Change Management Process

Any change management—even poor—is better than none at all. 

Leaders are frequently tasked with increasing efficiency and maximizing profit and growth. They’re responsible for driving forward transformation of systems and practices across the organization where necessary, making high-level decisions that could impact the lives of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people.  

This means decision makers are often leading through periods of transition. Change management practices can help these adjustments run more smoothly by empowering leaders with a deeper understanding of how to implement change, which also improves their confidence in their abilities to successfully carry it out. 

Change Management Can Boost Performance 

Studies show that projects with excellent change management are six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management. Clearly, the application of change management would improve an organization’s performance, especially when you consider how much leaders oversee. There is a continuous cycle of analyzing data, considering improvement strategies, implementing and monitoring those strategies, and assessing the results. 

The upward trajectory of this graph shows that even poor change management can have a better impact on organizations than not applying change management at all. 

Poor change management: 15% effective
Fair change management: 42% effective
Good change management: 77% effective
Excellent change management: 93%

The Role Communication Plays in Change Management

When an organization undergoes a significant change, it’s natural for people to get overwhelmed. Immediately, their thoughts will turn to how it impacts them; they’ll need to process those feelings before they can begin to fully comprehend the change.

That’s where effective communication can make a big difference. You’ll want to keep people informed while at the same time getting feedback from your end users, whether that’s your employees or your clients. You’ll want people to understand:

  • why the change is happening
  • where to get support
  • what any additional impacts or risks need to be addressed

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) rolled out a major change in 2020, using a learning management system (LMS) to bring its full suite of curriculum offerings online. The company’s Chief Academic Officer, Nora McCaffrey, detailed just how important communication is for successful change management in our webinar, Catalyst for Navigating Change.

“We did constant and repeated share-outs,” she said. These were given biweekly to start, sharing progress updates and insights with executive leadership and the company’s board of directors.

Focusing on Feedback

The team also insisted on hearing and actioning feedback from those closest to the end user.

“We had sit-down time with our student services team, the individuals who are constantly on the phone with our students, hearing all of their ailments and successes,” McCaffrey explained.

But the work didn’t stop there: They ensured that all stakeholders had a chance to review the learning environment and courses so they could offer their feedback.

To do this effectively, they employed different methods of communication to reach the different function areas that would need to see the progress. They kept in mind three tenets along the way:

  • Who’s the audience?
  • What’s the purpose?
  • What’s the best method to reach them?

“We shopped it around everywhere so that they could see the development and progress and that really grounded them in what they’re seeing today, but it also gave them an opportunity to give their feedback before we went into full production,” she said.

“We also answered a lot of questions. And when we had our systems to go live, we went through screen by screen what the experience was. We had our enrollment team giving feedback. People felt heard. We implemented their feedback, or we would put it on a shortlist to be prioritized later if we couldn’t get to it right away.”

This approach ensured that the team had a chance to overcome their initial thoughts about what the change might mean for them, in turn ensuring they could understand the bigger picture.

Big Picture Planning

When the process was nearing the finish and it was almost time to roll out the entire new structure, McCaffrey wanted to enable each team to have their say. And while some team members focused on the day-to-day impact and questions, she made sure to keep the bird’s-eye view in mind.

“But a big thing that I found very impactful was I also made sure they understood the big picture. ‘What are we striving for? Let’s come out of the weeds for a minute and see where we’re going.’ And that was really impactful because it helped them see what the road map was.”

Since rolling out their new online platform with D2L Brightspace, the IIN has continuously communicated with its end users, using both their feedback and analytics within the LMS itself to make course improvements.

You can learn more about IIN’s change management strategy by watching the free webinar on demand.

How to Implement a Change Management Plan 

The first thing you need to do is assess the type of change you want to implement, which will inform how you want to execute it.  

Categorizing Types of Change 

You can classify change into broad groups according to scale, origin and style of implementation. We’ve already discussed how an innovation can range from a small change in one area of an organization to a complete shift in process. Let’s look at how the origin of change plays a role in the planning process. 

1. Origin

A plan for change can come from the leadership team that has considered which improvements their organization needs to make. Change can also be reactive, where external circumstances—such as government legislation or macroeconomic conditions—prompt consideration and action.  

In many cases, the type of change can be both planned and responsive. If revenue numbers don’t match their targets, for example, the leadership team might push to spend more on advertising to meet the quarterly targets. That’s responsive. To solve the long-term problems, though, leadership might opt to reinvent the company’s marketing strategy or introduce a new technology to help streamline tedious work. Those are planned changes. 

It’s important to have a sense of whether the change you want to introduce is planned or responsive because it will affect the scope of your project and will determine whether the change has an expiration date or is a deep shift that will last years. 


Planned change is the process of preparing the organization for new goals or a new direction. Examples include introducing new systems of technology, changing reporting lines or introducing a new strategic plan. In this case, the change is anticipated and comes from the top down.  


Responsive change entails making regular, targeted adjustments as and when necessary. This change relies on collecting data and assessing the experiences of staff, external stakeholders and customers.

2. Implementation 

You can also assess the type of change by considering the way in which it will be executed. Will it tackle processes and procedures, or will it focus on the way people think and act?  

Arguably, structural and cultural changes are intertwined because you can’t separate what people do from how they think. If you successfully introduce a new technology tool—which is a structural change—the open-mindedness and positive attitude toward the technology that ensues can be classified as a cultural shift. Likewise, implementing a cultural change where colleagues are encouraged to share their processes or critical paths could lead to a structural change in the way they share information because there is now an increased demand on the sharing of ideas. 

Structural: This method of execution focuses on the systems, structures and procedures connected to the organization’s intended goals. In business, structural changes emphasize specific systemic, structural and operational functions that need to be improved, like introducing a new instant messaging software that makes it easier to communicate across the company.  

Cultural: This method refers to change that addresses the way people think. If you want to improve organizational ethos and bolster initiative-taking, you’re considering a cultural change. For a business, that could mean encouraging people to fail so that they can learn from their mistakes, or changing the dress code so that people feel more comfortable wearing what they want without judgment.

The 6 Main Steps of Change Management  

We’ve assessed the leading scholarship on change management and highlighted the key steps to consider when creating and implementing a change management plan.  

1. Create A Vision and Plan for Change  

People will adapt to change if you can show them you have a compelling vision of what the future will look like. “The biggest mistake that we often see people make when they’re adopting new technologies is not presenting a compelling vision,” says Kassia Gandhi, academic affairs director at D2L.  

Consider your vision for a brighter future as your point of origin. It’s the idea you’re going to keep coming back to when the implementation process feels challenging. That’s why it’s important to construct your vision before you start preparing your organization for change. If you take the time to articulate your goals to yourself, you will be better prepared to answer staff questions in an inspiring way.  

As you start to create your plan, consider:  

  • What strategic objectives will this change help the organization achieve?  
  • What does success look like?  
  • Which metrics will you use?  
  • Who will be in charge of the implementation process?  
  • What specific policies and procedures will be followed?  
  • What is not included in the project’s scope?  

While having a strategy is vital, the plan should also account for any unknowns or potential obstacles that can appear during the implementation process and contingencies for overcoming obstacles. 

2. Prepare Your Organization for Change  

To successfully pursue and implement change, your organization must be prepared both logistically and culturally. Before giving your staff a sense of the required logistics, do the cultural groundwork so that your staff feel positive about change.  

During the planning stages, help your employees understand the need for change by encouraging them to recognize the pain points you wish the change to solve. If you can excite them, they will become your change catalysts, helping persuade any naysayers they encounter, which will help reduce resistance during the next step.  

While you may expect people to find your reasons for improvement compelling—for example, using a new LMS to improve training and professional development—they won’t be able to fully conceptualize your plan until they know how it will affect them personally.  

“That doesn’t mean you don’t need a strong vision for change,” says Gandhi. “You just need to make sure you’re addressing staff’s immediate concerns and how it impacts them, because otherwise they won’t be able to absorb your vision.”  

Once your stakeholders’ individual questions get answered (e.g., How will this impact me?), they will move through the change adoption process and start considering the impact overall (e.g., How can we do it better together?).  

3. Implement the Changes

Once the plan is in place and people are on board, it’s time to make it happen. This stage shifts gears, pushing the plan from the theoretical to the real. Focus on motivating your teams to take the essential actions necessary while also acknowledging any immediate successes. 

It’s important that your planning was done right to ensure things go off without a hitch. Ideally, the actual implementation will happen during a slower time for the business: You don’t want to be rolling out a new accounting software right as your business would normally be wrapping up its year-end. 

4. Give Staff the Support They Need 

You can group the way people approach change into five main segments on a bell curve, ranging from most willing to embrace change to most reluctant:  

  • Innovators and Early Adopters: “New things are good because they are new.”  
  • Early Majority: “New is good if my friend thinks it’s good.”  
  • Late Majority: “New is suspicious and to be doubted.”  
  • Laggards: “New is bad and not to be trusted.”  

Based on this model, you can create enablement and communication plans tailored not only to people’s specific roles but also to their adoption type (early adopters, early majority and late majority) because the needs of each group are different.  

After figuring out who your early adopters are, you can enable the people who are getting the most out of the change early on to put on demonstrations for their colleagues. Employees who are not yet enthusiastic about the change can then see what the possibilities are, which can motivate or inspire them. 

A bell curve showing innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.

5. Embed Changes In Your Organization’s Culture  

When a change initiative is over, staff can slip into the old way of doing things. It’s crucial you don’t let that happen. If you can embed the changes into the workings of your organization, this will help prevent backsliding. 

For example, if you stop sending hard copies of reports and transition to an online tool, tie that piece of administration into something your employees already do, like quarterly reporting. If you stack a change on top of well-formed habits, it’s more likely to stick.  

6. Review Progress and Analyze Results 

A change initiative’s completion doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a success. By doing analyses and evaluations, leaders can learn whether a change endeavor was successful, unsuccessful or a mix of both. Additionally, these may provide insightful information and lessons that can be used in future change initiatives.  

Every organization will require a unique approach to change, depending on how big the change will be, how quickly you want to move the change forward, and the kind of infrastructure and capacity you already have to facilitate the change.  

While research into change management can help guide you, remember that no one outside your organization understands the business in the same detail as you do. Your knowledge of the kind of support your staff might need and what sort of vision they will respond to, among other things, are invaluable to the process.  

Overall, Gandhi asks leaders to be patient: “Allow time; do not rush your results.” That doesn’t mean you don’t rush the change itself—just remember that making deep, fundamental change can take years, even though you can produce positive results from day one. 

Written by:

Chase Banger

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Table of Contents

  1. Talking About Change and How to Manage It Effectively
  2. What Is Change Management?
  3. Why Businesses Need an Effective Change Management Process
  4. The Role Communication Plays in Change Management
  5. How to Implement a Change Management Plan 
  6. The 6 Main Steps of Change Management