7 Concepts of Change

Oct 20, 2022

Understanding these 7 concepts of change is central to the ultimate application of change management practices in your business. When you truly understand how change happens, It will make operating your business much easier.Here are the 7 concepts:

Senders & Receivers

Messages must come from the right sender, and go to the proper receiver, in order to increase the likelihood the message is internalized.

In most large business changes, senior managers and change management teams are the senders of key messages. They typically follow a process described in a defined communication plan. In some cases, unfortunately, managers and project team managers simply just execute the communication activity, check off the box, and move on. They often fail to assess what their employees actually heard and how that information was translated. What employees take away from management communications does not necessarily align with what the senders intended.

Awareness around the need for change can be achieve when the receivers have internalized the senders’ message

Many factors can influence what an employee hears and how that information is interpreted. Examples include:

  • Their career or educational plans
  • Their situation at home or with personal relationships
  • Their experiences with other changes at work
  • What they have heard from their friends or colleagues
  • Their current performance at their job
  • How satisfied they are with work
  • Whether or not they trust the sender

Now multiply these factors by the number of employees that are receivers of the change message and you can begin to appreciate the challenge faced by many businesses as they communicate with their employees. Realizing that what employees hear and what managers say is not always the same is the first step to understanding that change management cannot be reduced to a set of generic activities or steps. Change management requires attentiveness, insight, and a results-orientation to be successful.

Key Lessons

  • Repeat key messages 5-7 times (at least)
  • Use face-to-face communication whenever possible
  • Answer WIIFM and make feedback for employees easy and non-threatening
  • Utilize Q&A format with questions provided by employees
  • Constantly gather information from employees to understand their interpretation of change activities and messages.

Resistance and Comfort

In change, there is a big dynamic with resistance and comfort during a change. Do not underestimate the power of comfort with how things are done today. The natural reaction to change is resistance. Every individual has a threshold for how much change they can absorb, which includes:

  • Their personal history
  • Their current events in their life
  • Their current changes at work

Some employees will resist the change no matter what; even when employees can align the change with their self-interests and belief system, the uncertainty of success and fear of the unknown remain a significant barrier to the success of changes.

You should anticipate resistance to change the norm, and not the exception. Your goal for change management is not to eliminate resistance, but rather to minimize the impact this resistance has on employees and the business.

When evaluating resistance and comfort, you will need to answer questions like:

  • Do you expect your organization to be resistant to or accepting of change?
  • Do you anticipate pockets of resistance from some employee groups or strong resistance from certain managers?
  • How has your organization dealt with resistance to change in the past? – Will this history or managing resistance work in your favor or work against you?

Because of the importance of this type of assessment, a complete readiness assessment is a part of the change management process. Understanding the readiness for change through this assessment will help you develop the most effective change management strategy for your business.

Key Lessons

The three critical and relevant lessons for change management practitioners related to employee resistance are:

  1. Do not react to resistance with surprise. Expect it and plan for it. Be patient with individuals as they work their way through the change process
  2. Assess resistance not only from individuals natural aversion, or dislike to change, but also baed on how much other change is goin on (what is the capacity for more change)
  3. Persistent resistance from mid-level managers is dangerous for success of the project. Proactive resistance management will be an important part of your change management plans.
    •  Visit Top 10 Steps for Managing Resistance

Authority for Change

You must have the right level of authority to properly sponsor a change. The number one success factor cited for implementing change in research studies with more than 600 organizations is Active and Visible Executive Sponsorship. This factor alone is cited more frequently than any another requirement for successful implementation of business change.

The connection between resistance and authority is that employee resistance to change will INCREASE as the authority for change decreases. Lack of a strong executive or senior change sponsor is a good predictor for failure of change projects.
Conversely, the presence of strong sponsorship is a good indicator for project success.

In addition, some employees will distrust the change sponsor even if that sponsor holds a senior position if:

  • They see frequent incompetence
  • They have a history of failed changes

Sponsorship has a critical role. The credibility of leading sponsor for change will be judged by employees (this could be good or bad for the change). As a business owner trying to make changes, you will need to be aware that this issue of sponsorship at the right level is a go or no go issue for a change project.

The sponsor role does that decline over time. when asked about the greatest mistake executive sponsors make, research participants cited (1) walking away from the project too soon or shifting priorities midstream and (2) Not being active and visible through the project.

Change management practitioners or consultants must play a key role as the coach to the change sponsor. Part of this role will be making the sponsor aware of the critical nature of their involvement at each phase of the project and provide them with the guidelines and tools to be success. Guidelines are presented in the sponsor planning section.

Key Lessons

When evaluating your Authority for Change, answer the following questions:

  • Does your change have the required level of sponsorship or authority to endorse and support the change?
  • How is your change sponsor viewed by employees in the organization today?
  • Does your change sponsor have a history of successful changes?

If you do not have the needed sponsorship for your change, then you have two options:

  • Secure the necessary sponsor at the right level in the organization
  • Scale back the change to match the sponsorship you do have

Value Systems

Your values along with the values of each individual make up the values of the organization. How does this impact managing change?

The value systems in business have undergone a gradual shift over the past 50-60 years. This shift is driven by an increased focus on customers and on the individual contributes that employees can make to the business. This shift in values creates an interesting dilemma and potentially serious issues for managers wanting to introduce top-down changes, or large change initiatives.
These issues became more evident with the large re-engineering projects in the early 1990s.
Senior managers faced with financial crisis needed change immediately. They required fundamental and dramatic change to business processes, systems and organization structures to keep pace with the competitors and a rapidly changing marketplace.
Mandated top-down change produced surprising results. As managers in some companies sought to mandate major change throughout their organization, they were surprised to find widespread resistance from employees and mid-level managers. WHY? To understand the source of this employee resistance, you must first understand the shift in values that has occurred in the workplace.

Traditional Values

Immediately following WWII, the world economy entered a growth mode. Production volume was a key component of this growth. Business models focused on productivity and output. The business values fostered during this period were best characterized by Peter Block in his book, Stewardship, as:

  • Predictability
  • Control
  • Consistency

Similar to those values found in military hierarchy, these values were common place in many businesses. In some businesses, they are still present today. In this value system, business managers want:

  • Predictable performance and outcomes
  • They value tight control over the day-to-day activities
  • They value consistency in work performance

Employees are rewarded and encouraged to perform the same each day. This is consistent with business objectives focused on mass productive. With this traditional value system, change is managed under a strict change of command. Managers have tight control over employees, and they expect compliance with any change.

A military filed group has similar attributes. When a change is made, soldiers are not busy talking about WHY the change is being made, and what caused the change (wondering if they want to be a part of it). They simply act. “Where do we need to go, what do we need to do.”

Value Shift

From the early 1970s – 1990s, an era of quality and customer focus emerged. Programs within many companies began to change the role of employees. Examples include:

  • Toyota (Quality Circles)
  • Ford (Quality is Job #1)
  • Motorola (Six Sigma)
  • At&T (Statistical Quality Improvement)
  • Xerox (Benchmarking)

The focus shifted from mass production to mass customization and personalization. The customer was king, and quality was paramount. TQM became the buzz word. In this environment ,the role of employees began to change. Employees were now being asked to:

  • be responsive to their customers
  • Improve their day-to-ay work processes
  • Take ownership for the quality of your work

New Values

The values began to shift from predictability, control and consistency to:

  • Flexibility and empowerment
  • Accountability for results
  • Ownership (of work output and work processes)

Managers began place more control in the hands of employees, empowering them to make decisions that impact customers. Employees were accountable for their work output and quality and took ownership for not only the product or service, but the process of producing products and delivering services.

Old ValuesNew Values
ResponseHow high?Why?

As you might expect, making change happen in the old system may have been easier to implement than change in the new system. In fact, employee resistance to change in the new system can be great enough to stop the change. In a value system of accountability, ownership, and empowerment, employees are engaged in and take ownership of their day-to-day work (exactly what you want). Now more than ever before, employees have control and access to business information. The flip side is that employees may resist change more in this new value system.

Key Lessons

When examining your culture and values, you will need to answer questions like:
  • How would you characterize the values of your organization?
  • Do employees have a strong sense of ownership and accountability for their work output? If yes, what caused that value to take hold in your organization?
  • Do employees take responsibility for making improvements in work processes as part of their normal job responsibilities?
  • What happens when managers try to take over or mandate change to these work processes?
  • Does the value system in your organization result in employees accepting Top-Down mandated change or resisting this type of change?
Critical factors include:
  • This shift in value systems in business today explains why, more than any other factor, change management is not simply another task for major change projects.
  • Change management for many large change projects is the most important and frequently cited success factor overall – even above and beyond the actual business solution
  • Change management as a discipline must now address both the organization and the individual
  • As a change agent or change management practitioner, it is no longer sufficient to implement general organizational change management activities.
  • Individual change management models, like ADKAR, are necessary to address the value systems that drive individuals to hold on to their current way of doing work.


Incremental vs. Radical Change

You must have the right tools for the right job. Employees’ reaction to change the need for change management is directly impacted by how employees perceive the magnitude of the change (on the busines and on themselves).

Incremental Improvement:

  • TQM
  • Six Sigma

Radical Improvement

  • BPR
  • Re-engineering
  • Restructuring

Changes can be broken down into two types:

Type 1: Incremental Change

In this change environment, a change will take place over a relatively long period of time.
The objectives of the change will be incremental improvement to business success and usually has a recurring component such that the improvement efforts continue over time
These types of changes are not typically driven by financial crisis, or immediate demand for improvement, but rather a general focus on improving key business areas over time.
e.g. deployment of Six Sigma or continuous quality improvement methods into a company.

Type 2: Radical Change

In this change environment, immediate and dramatic change is required over a short time period.
Often driven by critical issues facing the business (including crisis situations), these changes are intended to produce dramatic performance improvement.
The business change is often not an improvement on today’s processes, but rather a replacement of the current processes with something brand new.

With gradual or incremental change, employees have more time to adjust to the change. Change Management is still required, but the scale of the Change Management activities will be different. With both types of change, you can have small and large changes.

In some cases the change will impact a single work group, and in other cases the entire enterprise.The size and type of the change will affect how you will scale and adjust your Change Management process to fit the situation.

Key Lessons

  • Change Management programs are the most effective when they are scaled to fit the change.
  • No two changes will require exactly the same process or same level of effort. Even the activities and roles will change.
  • Applying a “one size fits all” approach or a “standard” process is simply not appropriate.
  • During Phase 1 of the Change Management process, you will identify the unique attributes of your organization and of the change, and scale your Change Management strategy to fit your change. In this process you will address questions like:
    • How would you characterize your current change – incremental or radical?
    • What is the nature of the change?
    • Would you consider your change small (impacting only a part of the business and a few employees) or large (impacting the entire enterprise)
    • How do you think the size and type of your change will impact your team’s change management activities?

The Right Answer is Not Enough

You may have the right key to the right lock, but the solution behind the door may not be the right solution to your challenge.

A common pitfall among business managers iis the assumption that the correct or “right” answer to a business problem is sufficient to eliminate employee resistance. However, a good solution design does not necessarily imply that implementation will be successful, or that you will actually realize the business results you expected.

The error that can occur in this situation is forcing solutions onto employees because of that belief that “it is the right thing to do” or “we know what is best.” For managers who take this approach, employee resistance may actually increase and the change may not realize the desired business results.

The correctness of the solution is not the key. Research results show that the key messages employees want to hear to do not even include a detailed analysis of why this particular solution is better than alternatives. In other words, the correctness of the design is not the key to securing employee support for the change

Key Lessons

– Are you falling into the trap of thinking that the right solution is enough to combat resistance? Answer these questions:
– To what degree can employees participate in the design and verification of the new solution ono this project?
– Is the general attitude of the managers to tell employees the “right thing to do” or to tell employees what business results are desired, and then let employees participate in developing the solution?
– In most cases, the best CM Strategy is to engage employees early in the design process and involve them in the creation of the solution. This approach builds buy-in and ownership.
– It may not always be feasible to involve every single person to the degree they may want to be included. In these cases the project team must be aware that when the change is introduced, employees are not simply evaluating the correctness of the solution. Employees’ initial focus will be on the impact of the change on their personal and professional lives.
-If a project team forces a “perfect” solution onto employees simply because it is the right thing to do, they can find themselves falling into the trap of ignoring employee feedback and reactions. The net effect is more resistance to the change and less focus on the needed business results.
– On the other hand, if project teams are determined to mandate their solutions onto employees, they risk employees disengaging from the process and not achieving the business objects.

Change is a Process

The concept that “change is a process” has been well documented in Change Management literature for many years including early work by Bridges and by Beckhard and Harris. By breaking change down into discrete process elements, change management practitioners can adapt their strategies and techniques based on the unique attributes of that phase.

The most common lesson from this model for change is that managers must avoid treating change as a single meeting or announcement. The manager’s role in change must be active and visible in all phases of the change process.

A second important practical application for this concept is that Change Management activities must be tailored according to where you are in the change process. As a project moves from one phase to the next, the change management activities will shift to meet the changing needs of the organization. A larger lesson is that change must be viewed both as an organizational process and as an individual process.

Change is an Individual Process

A larger lesson that can be extracted from this concept of “change is a process” is found when you examine the individual change process. The ADKAR model characterizes the process for individual change in five[5] key steps.

  1. Awareness of the need to change
  2. Desire to participate and support the change
  3. Knowledge of how to change
  4. Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis
  5. Reinforcement to keep the change in place

Not Everyone Changes at the Same Pace

While using this ADKAR model, consider that some individuals change faster or slower than other people. In other words, the time it takes for each individual to go through each phase is different, and the time it takes for the entire process is also different.

Organizational Profiles Using ADKAR

Consider that each person does not find out about the change at the same time. This is especially true for large-scale changes.
When the CM Processes or activities treat the organization as a uniform mass, they are not as effective as they could be. In some cases, they miss the mark entirely. This is especially true for communications plans and tactics for large change projects.
CM Models that ignore the individual component of the change process tend to view the organization as a uniform entity. Processes and activities are based on the organization as a whole.
The result is that some groups are left behind and in many cases the wrong messages are being sent at the wrong time.

Speed of Change

A final observation that is important for CM teams is to match the speed that employees navigate the change process to the speed of the business change.

  • On the Y-axis of the figure, the standard phases of a business change are listed.
  • On the X-axis, the standard phases of personal change are shown. Successful change is defined at the upper right hand corner of this model. At this point, the business change has been fully implemented and employees have the desire, knowledge and ability to implement those changes.

Common failure points for change are shown in the figure below failure A occurs when attention is paid only to the business change and little or no attention is paid to the employees who are affected by the change.
The result is higher turnover, loss of valued employees, reduced productivity and delays in the project.

Failure B occurs when the focus on employees is so extreme that the business change is not implemented fully and business results are not achieved.
This failure mode is possible when the resistance from employees is sufficiently great as to prevent or reduce the effectiveness of the change.

Either failure point is unacceptable from a business perspective. Successful change happens when both the business changes are made (e.g. process, systems, tools, organization, job roles) and employees have the desire, knowledge, and ability to implement these changes.

Key Lessons

This Concept of Change as a Process generates multiple lessons for Change Management Teams.

  1. Managers must avoid treating change as a single meeting or announcement. The manager’s role in change must be ongoing, active and visible in all phases of the change process.
  2. Change Management activities must be tailored according to where you are in the change process.
  3. Effective change management requires both an organizational and individual change management approach
  4. The timing for successful change should be dictated by the needs of the business to succeed and not by the readiness of employees.
    • The faster the change, the more change management is required to prepare and enable employees.


  1. Change agents must be conscious of both a sender’s mentality, and the receiver’s perspective.
  2. Employee resistance is the norm, not the exception. Expect some to never support the change
  3. Visible and Active sponsorship is not only desirable but necessary for success
  4. Value systems have a direct impact on how employees react to change
  5. The size of the change determines how much and what kind of change management is needed
  6. The “right” answer is not enough to successfully implement change
  7. Employees go through the change process in stages, and go through these stages as individuals.