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Managing Change Initiatives

Managing change initiatives is never easy. People react in so many ways to change – angry, frustrated, resistant, depressed, hurt. Rarely do you find a large group of people excited about the change – it is just too unknown and causes worry and concern.

When you are faced with implementing change within your organization, first, take the time to analyze the current situation to understand why the change is occurring. You will need to communicate with others about the change and get their buy-in.   This post will focus on the beginning process of handling a change initiative.

Let’s look at an example.  Let’s assume that two groups within the same organization are going to be merged.  One is responsible for internal communications and the other for external partner communications.  You have been assigned to manage the change initiative – which is to merge the two groups into one.  You know that there is some overlap between the two groups, but they each have their own way of working.  You are being asked to manage the entire process from start to finish and determine the best way to accomplish the task.

Getting started

First, do a bit of research.  Ask these questions of the individual(s) assigning you this project:

  • Why are these groups being merged?
  • Are there any plans on what will be done with employees who have the same role and responsibilities? Or shall the team make recommendations.
  • What will the end result look like: what is success when this change is complete? (You are looking for more than the 2 groups will be merged – for example, expenses will be reduced, there will be no redundancies in processes, efficiencies will be realized.
  • Who are the sponsors (those initiating) this change initiative? (Likely these are the individuals who assigned you the task – but you want to clarify the information and determine any others who you should be reaching out to.)
  • What communications have been done so far regarding this initiative?

Your goal is to find out why there is a need for this change – which, in this example, is to merge these two groups.  Until you clearly understand the change initiative, you will be unable to determine the best path to take to accomplish the task.

You need to clearly understand the reason behind the change, and the implications of such a change, in order to effectively communicate with all interested parties and address the issues they will have over the merging of the two groups.  You certainly will understand some implications immediately upon being assigned the project – potential loss of jobs, process issues – but you’ll learn of more implications as you start to dig into the details with the team.

Once you understand the situation, pull a team together to assist you in analyzing options for merging the two groups.

In the example above, we might include the following on the team.  We are assuming your role in this situation is to manage the entire change initiative as the change agent for the project.

  • A project manager to manage the project day-to-day
  • Process improvement specialist
  • Business analyst
  • Directors and Managers/supervisors of each of the two groups
  • Individual department members from each group
  • Others from within the organization who interact with these groups

Keep the team at a manageable size – no more than 8 – 10, for the entire project.

Determine who’s on board with the change initiative

Do not assume that people on the project team necessarily support the effort – they may not support it and you may need to gain their support to ensure success.  You want to know who is not supportive and you may learn this through comments they make, individual discussions, or from others.

You also need to understand the general perception of the change initiative throughout the organization. Who supports it? Who does not?  The more you understand how people feel about it, the better you’ll be able to determine how best to move forward.  You are going to have individuals concerned about what is going on – it is human nature.

If past change initiatives within the company have not been successful and individuals feel that change is “shoved down their throats,” you can imagine the support you will have for this initiative.  Or maybe in the past employees were told no one would lose their job and then, when all is said and done, people were out of work.  Trust isn’t there and employees are likely to outright distrust any new initiatives.  The more you know the better you’ll be able to manage the situation.

Bear in mind also that it is not just staff level employees who may fight against the change, you may also have individuals in the management and leadership ranks who don’t want to see change happen. Certainly clients –both internal and external partners who will be affected – may be against the initiative.


Communication is key with any change initiative.  Discuss with others the benefits of the change.   Do this in small groups, one-on-one discussions, water cooler conversations, through emails, a company newsletter, a portal, lunch & learns, breakfast get-togethers,  etc.  A variety of ways to communicate with employees within the organization helps to get the word out!  Stop by someone’s desk and ask their thoughts.  What do they think?  As individuals perceive that you are interested in their thoughts and opinions, they will open up to you. You want to have these discussions – even the tough ones – the more you communicate with people and let them open up to you – in a safe environment – the more likely you can change their opinion and get them on your side:  supportive of the change initiative.   Remember – you need this support to ensure a successful end result.

The initial team meeting

The initial team meeting should be to discuss the challenge that lies ahead: merging two groups into one.  You want to use this meeting to get ideas and thoughts on the table.  As the team to think about:

  • Who will be affected by this change?
  • What obstacles need to be overcome?
  • What resources are needed to manage this initiative?  Are outside consultants required for expertise that doesn’t exist in-house?
  • What will success look like?

You will want to begin work on your action plan – how you will go about determining the appropriate steps to take to merge these two business units.  Do not jump toward developing your project plan for the transition just yet.  Take the time to ensure the following is done:

  • Research into current roles and responsibilities in both groups
  • Opportunities for new roles and responsibilities when the two groups are merged into one
  • Target audience each group serves
  • Key people who support is needed to ensure success
  • Communication plan about the initiative (internal)
  • Communication plan about the initiative to external partners
  • Identification of pockets of resistance and a plan to overcome that resistance and get buy-in

Once you develop and get approval to move forward with your transition plan, develop your project plan.  Include plenty of time for communications.  Be prepared to answer a variety of questions:

  • What will happen to employees in those groups?
  • Who will communicate with external partners and internal clients?
  • How will clients be affected?
  • What will be the processes of the group once it is combined?

Of most concern to the employees who currently in those groups is what will happen to them.  You should have a plan in place with the support of Human Resources and the project sponsors as to what will happen with employees in those groups so they can be prepared for changes.

Your project plan

Once you have approval on how you intend to move forward, make sure your project plan includes the following specifically for a change management initiative project:

  • Detailed communication plans for all interested parties:
    • Internal clients and external partners
    • Employees
    • Executives/sponsors
  • Risk management plan
  • A timeline for the merger of the two groups (likely this will be done in phases rather than all at once)
  • Status reporting
  • Regular check points for conversations with individuals throughout the company (while this is part of your communication plan, given the type of project it is important to highlight how necessary this is to ensure that the project has a successful conclusion.)
  • Staged implementation/deployment plan (how will you move from 2 groups to 1.)

Remember that external partners will have strong relationships with the people in the company.  They will be sensitive to having to work with someone else who doesn’t know them or their company needs. Never forget this very important stakeholder group!

A few important things to remember

You are going to have to spend a significant amount of time up front in communicating this initiative and getting buy-in.  Don’t be impatient or underestimate the amount of time you need to spend.  Even if people are sold on the idea of merging the two groups, lack of communication and “checking in points” throughout the process may serve to turn some individuals who were excited about the future into individuals talking against the merger of the two groups because they feel too much is being done behind the scenes.

You may also find that when you were assigned this project, many of the executives believed you should just “slap the two groups together” and get it done.  A bit of education higher up the ranks about the best way to approach such a change initiative may be in order.  Your goal is to educate that taking the necessary time to explain what’s being done and why (benefits for the company and for clients and partners) will ensure the success of the initiative in the end.

Get the right individuals on the project team.  In particular, don’t shy away from individuals has are against the initiative but who could provide valuable assistance on the project.  This provides the opportunity for them to be intimately involved in the project, thereby becoming comfortable with the initiative.  Yes, they may need some extra oversight so they are not damaging to the team by being negative; however, it is important you have them on the team.

Your thoughts?  Have you been involved in major change initiatives?  How were they handled? What could have been done better?  Share your thoughts in the Comments field below.  Thanks!