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The wolf in sheeps clothing: the ‘soft’ side of change is really the ‘hard’ side 0

Posted on 23, November 2013

in Category coaching, leadership

While it is sometimes called the “soft” side of change, managing the people side of a change is often the most challenging and critical component of an organizational transformation.  But, it is getting people on board and participating in the change that will make the difference. Individuals will have to do their jobs differently, and it is the degree to which they change their behaviours and work processes that will make or break the merger or acquisition. The “soft” side of change is many times actually the “harder” side of change. Change management is taking care of the people side of change. It does little good to create a new organization, design new work processes or implement new technologies if you leave the people behind. Financial success of these changes will be more dependent on how individuals in the organization embrace the change than how well you draw organization charts or process diagrams.

Change management is the process, tools and techniques to manage the people-side of change to achieve the required business outcomes It is the systematic management of employee engagement and adoption when the organization changes how work will be done. Ultimately, change management focuses on how to help employees embrace, adopt and utilize a change in their day-to-day work.

Change management is both a process and a competency.

·         From a process perspective, it is the set of steps followed by a team member on a particular project or initiative. For the given transformational effort, it is the strategy and set of plans focused on moving people through the change. Preparing for change (where readiness assessments help guide the formulation of a strategy), Managing change (where five change management plans are created and integrated into the project plan) and Reinforcing change (where compliance is audited and mechanisms are deployed to cement the change).

·         From a competency perspective, it is a leader or manager’s ability to “effectively lead my people through change.” The notion of a leadership competency is universal, but what that competency entails depends on a person’s relationship to change. While the competency varies based on one’s relationship to change, organizations are more effective and successful when they build change management competencies throughout their ranks.

Change management is not just communication or training. It is not just managing hardware or software versions (although it has been used in this context). It is not just managing resistance. Effective change management follows a structured process and uses a holistic set of tools to drive successful individual and organizational change.


There are numerous reasons to employ effective change management on both large and small scale efforts. Here, three main cases for change management are made.

1.     Organizational change happens one person at a time

2.     Poorly managing change has costs

3.     Effective change management increases the likelihood of success

1. Organizational change happens one person at a time: It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking about change exclusively from an organizational perspective. However, organizational change of any kind actually occurs one person at a time. Success of an organization effort only occurs when each individual does their jobs differently. Organizations don’t change – people within organizations change. It is the cumulative impact of successful individual change that results in an organizational change being successful.

2. Poorly managing change has costs: There are countless consequences of ignoring the people side of a change. Productivity declines become much larger and longer in duration than they could have been. Managers are unwilling to devote the time or resources needed to support the change.. In some cases, the project itself is completely abandoned after large investments of capital and time. All of these consequences have tangible and real financial impact on the health of the organization and the project.

3. Effective change management increases the likelihood of success: There is a growing body of data that shows the impact that effective change management has on the probability that a project meets its objectives. Research shows that projects with excellent change management were six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management. A 2002 McKinsey Quarterly article by LaClair and Rao found that projects with excellent change management delivered 143% of the expected Return on Investment, while those with poor change management delivered only 35% of expected ROI. Regardless of the change at hand – focusing on the people side of change increases the likelihood of being successful. 

Effectively managing change requires two perspectives: an individual perspective and an organizational perspective.

The individual perspective is an understanding of how people experience change. Change is successful, when an individual has:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge on how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviours
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change.

If an individual is missing any of the five building blocks, then the change will not be successful. The goal, then, in leading the people side of change is ensuring that individuals have Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement

While the change management resource on a project can work to develop the strategy and plans, much of the work of change management is done by senior leaders, managers and supervisors throughout the organization. Benchmarking data shows that in times of change, employees have two preferred senders of change messages: someone at the top of their organization and the person they report to. Change management practitioners are enablers of these employee-facing roles. And, in times of change, it is the effectiveness of senior leaders as sponsors of change, and of managers and supervisors as coaches of change that will determine if a project succeeds or fails.


So what can you do to become a more effective change leader? The bottom line is this: begin applying change management on your projects and begin building change management competencies in your organization. These are the first steps to ensuring projects deliver their intended results by taking care of the people side of change.

The people side of change is not the “soft” side of change; in reality it is the “harder” side of change. Investing the time and energy to manage the people side of your organizational efforts pays off in the end – in terms of success of the effort and avoidance of the numerous costs that plague poorly managed change.