Change management refers to the many approaches used to prepare and support a business in making organizational change. Unfortunately, it’s usually associated with convincing people to shift from where they are to somewhere they don’t necessarily want to be. The entire concept is predicated on the idea that people will be resistant to change. But we’ve found people are far less resistant when they’re included in the change process.

Listen First

We begin every change management initiative by interviewing people up and down the organization — from technicians in the field to finance and IT specialists to senior management. In these conversations, employees talk about their day-to-day processes and work environments.

We ask them to describe both what is working well and where they’re having difficulty. It is important to understand, acknowledge and integrate efforts that are building success as well as identify where there is a need for new processes or tools. It’s also important to determine why specific approaches have endured, what factors are driving the need for change and where the company is headed.

Every organization has its own personality and needs. To be successful, any new processes and tools introduced must be tailored to these unique characteristics.

Design a Solution

Once the interview phase is complete, it’s time to design and develop appropriate solutions. Depending on the problem, the solution might include any combination of new software, processes and work environments. The key is to directly address the needs of the organization in a way that reflects employee input.

Early in the design process, we explain how the proposed solution addresses the problems identified in the interviews. Later, employees have the opportunity to view demos, test beta versions and provide feedback on developing the solution. If people understand the “why” behind the change, they’re more receptive to new methods. So, we strive to communicate our reasoning throughout the design and implementation process.

Employee interviews also inform how we deliver training programs on new solutions. One organization might need large, in-person training sessions, while another might benefit more from a series of short how-to videos or easily understandable one-page guides.

Focus on the Future

Change management isn’t about improving one process. It’s about continually moving the organization toward more effective prioritization, processes and resource allocation.

To achieve continuous improvement, organizations need to review their processes regularly. However, many organizations aren’t in the habit, and therefore don’t have the capacity, to evaluate their operations from beginning to end.

Setting up a project management office (PMO) can help support this effort. It’s also a good idea to get emerging leaders involved in these efforts, because they’re the ones who will be carrying out the vision in the future.

Complex organizational challenges can’t be resolved simply by flipping a switch on new software, but they can be overcome through deliberate, inclusive and sustained change management. Though some employees may have reservations early on, involving a wide cross section of the organization in the process generates enthusiasm and long-term success.


A PMO can increase alignment of projects with strategic initiatives and provide actionable intel for continuous improvements. Learn the four pillars of a successful PMO.

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Danny Rotert is a senior strategic consultant at Burns & McDonnell. He specializes in planning, process innovation and creative community dialogues. Danny has led research projects for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and has traveled across the country to conduct planning activities that look differently at the decades ahead.