What Is Change Management? (Definition and 17 Principles)

Jennifer Herrity

Updated October 4, 2022

Published December 12, 2019

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

Change management is a collective term representing all principles related to preparing, supporting and helping employees, teams and organizations handle organizational change. Knowing some of the most important change management principles can help you manage various transitions efficiently regardless of your role within an organization's management structure. Learning the main principles in change management can be a useful leadership tool.

In this article, we discuss change management and provide a list of 17 principles in change management.

What is change management?

Change management represents the methods and ways in which an organization defines and implements various change processes, both internally and externally. This typically means that change management principles are relevant when preparing employees for various organizational changes, helping them make the transition, establishing the exact steps they need to follow to implement the change and monitoring the effects that a change produces. Given the typically complex nature of large-scale change and people's natural resistance to it, taking a structured approach when implementing changes is usually the most effective way.

Related: Change Management Methodology: 13 Methodologies To Manage Change

What are change management principles?

Change management principles are practices that business leaders implement to manage change within their organizations effectively. The changes can affect an organization's internal structure or relationship with external factors. Using principles to implement change management processes usually improves the chances of the respective changes being successful.

Related: Change Management Skills: Definition and Examples

17 change management principles

Consider this list of 17 of the most popular principles in change management:

1. Start at the top

Although organizations generally want to implement change at every level, successful change management initiatives usually start with upper-level employees. Seeing the CEO and top-level executives change their practices can inspire an organization-wide change. An organization's management team usually has to discuss the changes in advance and ensure they adhere to them before trying to impose them on employees.

Related: 12 Components of Effective Executive Leadership Teams

2. Involve all organizational layers

Besides upper management, the mid-level executives and frontline professionals are other crucial categories of employees that can help make a change initiative successful. It is important to discuss the change with them in the early stages and explain how the changes would affect their jobs. This is because their support greatly increases the chances of successful changes.

3. Address the human aspect of change systematically

Organizational change can affect professionals in many ways. Employees adapt to change by learning new skills, performing different tasks and accepting new conditions and procedures. Identifying and addressing personal concerns before implementing the change can help keep morale high.

Related: Why Is Change Important in an Organization? (And How To Encourage It)

4. Make a formal case for change

Individuals who have to implement change usually require answers regarding the necessity of the respective change. You can provide that by explaining why the company needs the change, showing that the organization can benefit from it in the future and describing all steps you and the employees may make to implement the change. You can customize this answer to fit various internal audiences.

5. Create ownership

Effective change usually requires people from within the organization to promote and implement it. You can create ownership of various changes by finding leaders who can accept the reasoning behind the change and are willing to lead its implementation. You can motivate them with various incentives, such as financial compensation.

6. Lead with the culture

Before implementing change, it's usually important to consider the existing company culture. This generally refers to how employees interact with each other, collaborate and behave while working for the organization. Addressing this can help you identify how you can change company culture to fit the changes you want to implement.

Related: What Is Company Culture? (With Examples)

7. Build a coalition

It's usually harder to lead change without convincing key employees to act as change leaders. Besides managers, other high-profile or veteran employees can act as influencers and inspire everyone else to adopt the changes. These people can address individual concerns and help spread the message regarding upcoming changes.

8. Give clear instructions

As a change leader, providing clear instruction regarding change implementation is helpful. It benefits employees to easily understand the reasoning behind them and what their role is. The organization's management can do this by having many smaller meetings with groups of employees and addressing all their questions and concerns.

Related: Guide to Change Leadership: Uses and Key Elements

9. Communicate transparently

When implementing wide-scale change, as a business leader, you typically show full transparency when communicating with internal stakeholders. Employees who feel that the management is disclosing all information regarding the change may be more motivated to implement it. Effective communication assures employees that there's nothing to hide.

10. Provide specific training

Besides communicating transparently, it's important to take the time to prepare staff for the upcoming changes properly. As a change manager, you can create and implement specific training programs to help everyone involved know how their roles would differ after adopting the change. Providing training also helps employees by allowing them to ask questions and address their concerns.

Related: 12 Training Roles for Developing Effective Training Programs

11. Ensure accountability

It's usually essential that those responsible for implementing the change are accountable for the methods they use for introducing and managing the change. Each of them can receive clear expectations and metrics to measure their performance. Creating ways to measure their success can also give them a chance to self-analyze and gain a sense of ownership regarding the changes.

12. Assess the change's progress

You can increase the chances of change success by tracking its progress. Using quantitative and qualitative data to assess implementation success can help you identify and resolve various issues early on before allowing them to affect the change process. Doing so can also help you identify common issues when implementing change, which may be useful in the future.

13. Use modern technology

Modern organizations can use technology to help improve the effectiveness of their communication. They can also use it to gather relevant data that helps them track all tasks related to the change, assess its overall progress and predict upcoming obstacles. Employees can also use modern communication techniques to address their questions and concerns.

Related: 37 Tech Terms Everyone Needs To Know

14. Account for secondary changes

A large-scale organizational change usually produces smaller, unplanned changes. When planning such a change, it's typically useful to try and predict such secondary events and assess their importance to the organization's success. Doing so can make the change more predictable and improve the chances of success.

Related: 11 Change Management Activities for Effective Workplace Change (With Examples)

15. Understand you can't avoid all unforeseen consequences

Regardless of how well you prepare for a change, it's important to realize that it's nearly impossible to address all potential issues that may occur as a result. Preparing for such unforeseen events can help you address them quickly and correctly before they become major issues. You can identify them early on by continually analyzing the change while implementing it.

16. Be specific in your approach

When communicating the intended change, it's usually important to be as specific as possible regarding exactly what would change, why, by how much and by when. Setting clear and specific goals can help everyone involved understand the objective. Providing specific guidance regarding what the company considers a successful change can help employees feel more confident in their work.

Related: Effective Goal Setting: 7-Step Process for Success

17. Address both the rational and emotional aspects

When enforcing change, besides explaining the logical rationale behind it to employees, it's usually also important to address it in a supportive and sympathetic manner. People generally respond favorably to communication that addresses their emotional concerns. Besides improving the chances of successfully implementing change, this can also help strengthen the bond between an organization's management and its employees.

Explore more articles