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Change Management: The Consultants Role

By Kelly N. Burrello, Msc.,
DTG Senior Associate and Director of Research


Change Management is about how to get users to accept a new business process--and the technology that enables it. The guiding principal of change management is that human beings make companies work, not technology. Technology is just a tool, and users have to be excited about it, believe in it [be] trained in it, and supported in it. Change management is about making sure all of those things are included from the beginning as part of the project.

To design a successful strategy of change managers must become skillful at diagnosing the forces pressing for change and the resistances to change. The change problem might be large or small in scope and scale. It might focus on individuals or groups, one or more division or departments, the entire organization, or one or more aspects of the organization's environment. For example, is the company facing an immediate threat to its survival? It is important that managers effectively diagnose the external and internal forces that threaten the company's survival. Secondly, managers must assess and implement strategies for combating these forces.

Change management experts focus attention, specifically, on resistances to change--both organizationally and those of individuals within the organization. The change management model operates under the premise that people and organizations are innately adverse to change. The general argument is that when confronted by rapid change, people [and organizations] get frustrated, freeze up, get rigid and rebel against the changes.

Managers must be adept at addressing the inevitable resistance of staff to a change. Change management argues that the most effective way to make needed changes is to identify existing resistances to change and to focus efforts on removing or reducing as many as possible. Consultants working in this arena assist organizations to effectively address and overcome the forces that are commonly associated with organizational and individual resistance to change:

Individual resistances to change include:

bullet Selective attention and retention
bullet Habit
bullet Dependence
bullet Fear of the unknown

Organizational resistances to change include:

bullet threat to power and influence
bullet the organizational structure itself
bullet resource limitations
bullet fixed investments not easily altered
bullet interorganizational agreements


The following is a story that demonstrates how hard people will work to avoid change and solve problems despite an explicit need for change:

There's a little town, and it's about halfway up a mountain in a bend in the road. The hairpin turn is a terrible hazard, and about once a month, cars go flying off into the valley below. It's awful. The town council gets together and they look into how much it's going to cost to regrade the road, put in signs, and install a guardrail--in other words, make the thing safe. Well, it's going to be really expensive. In fact, it's going to be so expensive that they decide they just can't afford it. But the cars are still flying off the road, and people are getting hurt. They don't like that, and they want to do something, so they solve the problem of the dangerous road in what they believed was a less expensive way. They put an ambulance in the valley.

The ambulance in the valley story demonstrates how projected costs, habit, selective attention and fear of the unknown lead organizations into making poor business decisions. For a company facing an immediate threat to its survival it should be less concerned with how much it costs to fix the road, and more concerned with what it costs not to fix it?


1. Unfreezing: This step involves reducing the forces maintaining the organization's behavior at the present level. During this period the organization and the individuals within it are saying goodbye to their old way of doing things. Change leaders are telling people to let go of what feels to them like their whole world of experience, their sense of identity, even "reality" itself. Unfreezing can be successfully accomplished by introducing information that shows discrepancies between behaviors desired by the organizational members and those behaviors they currently exhibit. It is important that the staff has had input in identifying the discrepancies and desired changes. Staff must also be included in planning and carrying out specific actions to correct the identified problems.

2. Moving: This step shifts the behavior of the organization or department to a new level. It involves developing new behaviors, values, and attitudes. Although the staff may have let go of their old ways they will find themselves unable to start a new. This "neutral" zone is full of uncertainties and confusion. Simply coping with it takes most of the staff's energy. Because the neutral zone is so uncomfortable the staff are driven to get out of it. If a change is going to be successful organizations and its people should spend more time in the neutral zone so that they can become acclimated to the new way of doing things. In other words, people can not do the new things that the new situation requires until they come to grips with what is being asked.

3. Refreezing: This step stabilizes the organization at a new state of equilibrium. This stage (also referred to as "moving forward") can be disconcerting for the staff because it puts one's sense of competence and value at risk. In organizations that have a history of punishing mistakes people hang back during the final phase or change, waiting to see how others are going to handle the new beginning. This phase can be successfully accomplished through the use of supporting mechanisms that reinforce the new organizational state, such as organizational culture, norms, policies and structures.

Change management experts argue that the way in which leaders present their case for change can make a world of difference in the kind of reaction that results. By involving others (i.e., the staff--those affected by the change) in decision-making managers can avoid bruising egos, and increase staff members' levels of self-esteem.


Consultants working with organizations undergoing change should take the following essential steps:

bullet assist the top management to come up with a [one minute or less] statement that describes the change and why it must happen. Define the project objectives and scope. Tell employees what they can expect to happen. Provide personal coaching to the leader(s) while the organization is undergoing change.
bullet assist in the creation of a "transition team". Select the right people to comprise the team. Enlist the support of other senior managers and stakeholders in the project objectives and scope. Provide a channel for key managers to provide direction at key decision points in the process. Be sure that someone is responsible to each detail of the transition. Ensure that timelines for all changes are established. Ensure that budget and resources are allocated for the design phase;
bullet work with transition team to create a positive network of conversation about the project. The transition team should listen and respond to staff concerns, and provide updates on the project's progress;
bullet develop and implement change management training programs for the employees. The training might involve methods to help people to let go of the past, such understanding and accepting symptoms of grieving; helping people to articulate new attitudes and behaviors needed to make change work; and a reiteration of the 4 P's of transition communication:
Purpose: Why we have to do this
Picture: What it will look and feel like when we reach our goal
Plan: Step-by-step how we will get there
Part: What you can (and need) to do to help us move forward;
bullet work with top management and the transition team to remove organizational obstacles that inhibit the transition teams ability to carry out its tasks. This might include tossing out the old rule book or procedures manual; and
bullet work with management and the transition team to create temporary solutions to temporary problems resulting from the transition.


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BPR On Line Learning Center. 2000. Change Management Roles of Executive Sponsors by Project Phase. http://

Bridges, W., and S. Mitchell. 2000. Leading Transition: A New Model for Change. In Leader to Leader. 2000. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc. Publishers.

Denham, M., N. Blackwell, and R. Dickhout. 2000. Designing the Right Change Program For You and Your Organization. Ivey Business Journal. May 2000 v64 15 ps26.

Goff. L. 2000. Change Management. Computerworld. Feb 14, 2000 p54(1).

Nichols, F. 2000. Change Management 101: A Primer. Robbinsville, NJ: