October 19, 2023

A Sad Story About Change Management on Organizational Level

It was another valuable article on change management. In an hour, Corwin had planned a meeting with the director of the department and other superiors. He feels excited. He wants to share his ideas on how to improve the project management approach.

From time to time, Corwin dreamed that his views would get on the organizational level. They will become a golden standard.

He didn’t even realize that his plan was doomed to failure.

A calendar reminder fires up. Five minutes till the meeting! Corwin reviews his notes and replays the speech he prepared in his head.

The meeting room is next to his office. So he comes before the others and starts to wait.

Seven minutes passed. They are getting late.

A few minutes later, people start to come up. Two senior project managers, John and CTO joined up.

“So, what’s on your mind, Corwin?” John, the director of the department, asked without looking up from his laptop.

Corwin clears his throat. “I have reviewed my last two projects. Also, I discussed our work with other PMs. And I think I have some valuable suggestions on how to improve our processes.”

Corwin knows well enough that you need to prepare the audience. Getting straight to the matter usually encounter too much resistance. You need to build logical arguments and proofs. Only then you can come up with a solution that will address all of that.

He gets a short nod from CTO. It means we are listening but cut to the chase.

Already it feels like no one is ready to discuss any serious issues.

Nevertheless, Corwin starts to describe the difficulties his team encountered during the latest project. He made the case that other projects have the same issues. He goes through a quick root-cause analysis to explain what needs improvement.

Now it is time to move to the goal of this meeting.

“So, I think our project management approach is not agile enough.” In an instant, he physically feels the spike of tension. Both senior managers shift in their chairs like just waking up expecting a development. John’s eyebrows raise though his eyes are still on display.

This change in the mood causes Corwin to pause for a second. But before he could carry on, the CTO takes the initiative with unexpected sarcastic notes in her voice.

“OK, look. I see where it is going. Now you will tell us we need to adopt Agile, go for Scrum or Kanban.”

Corwin knows well that no one does such drastic changes at once. He wanted to suggest to adopt only a few practices that could improve the project work.

“Well, no, I was not planning to suggest that, I understand it is a dramatic change for us…”

“Let me finish.” CTO interrupts him. Corwin is all ears. He glances at his two senior colleagues. Now they look down in some kind of embarrassment. ”We have this kind of conversation here every now and then. But I have been watching your work for quite long already. I can say for sure you and your team do not follow prescribed policies and procedures. Now you tell that the approach doesn’t work. But it works for everyone else. And it has worked for many years already. We polished it in many projects. We were able to deliver world-class projects with it. And no one complained about it but you.”

Today, Corwin would never continue a discussion that went so astray. Back then, he felt obliged to justify his point of view.

“That is not entirely true because…” And the meeting lasted for another hour of a heated exchange of blames and unheard arguments.

For Corwin, it felt that his words got to the ears of the CTO through a Chinese translator. It was not like professionals would ever talk.

At that moment, he was shocked by the unexpected escalation and unfriendly outbursts. Moreover, they had little relation to the agenda of the meeting.

John was silent all the time.

It did not end with just the meeting.

For the next few months, Corwin was under constant pressure. All improvements and processes on his project were attacked. All his decisions were under question, like he was a junior PM who has just screwed things up.

Years passed before Corwin ever tried to bring up his change management efforts to the leadership. However, he learned his lessons. He discovered a lot about change management since then.

Here are the fundamental principles that he would suggest to follow.

1. Define a Goal That Helps Your Organization

No changes should be done for the sake of change. Don’t try to improve PM methodology or tools just because there is a popular novelty.

You should align your change management initiative with something that a company values.

For example, the adoption of a methodology will make the company more competitive on the market. Or it will decrease the costs of a project, improve quality, or make customers happier.

However, keep in mind you need to prove all the claims you make upfront.

That is crucial.

Without having a clear “what is it in for the company or leadership”, don’t even start a change.

2. Win Support From Leadership

Just because you can prove your claim of benefits doesn’t mean your boss wants it.

There can be many reasons.

She might not want to get into conflict with other managers or executives. Or she may already have too much on her plate. Moreover, it might be something that she doesn’t find valuable at this moment.

Also, there is a catch.

If one of your superiors supports a proposed change doesn’t mean that the others do too. Moreover, it doesn’t say that your boss has enough authority to push it through the others.

So, when I say to win the support of leadership, I mean the majority of stakeholders. It is not just your direct manager or executive.

3. Identify Resistance, Fears, and Pain Points

Like in Corwin’s story, top management had lots of pain points and fears. In any organization, you will find at least some people who will resist your initiative for a change.

If you want to succeed, you need to address and overcome resistance.

You need to understand that it is an emotional aspect of change rather than a logical one. You cannot prove your point with arguments, facts, and numbers.

How do you discover fears and pain points?

You can use the same stakeholders management techniques you use on any other project. One useful addition is to learn about the history of relationships between stakeholders.

It gives crucial insights on smoothed conflicts that may reappear, alliances formed during previous organizational changes, and much more.

4. Address All Layers of Hierarchy

Let’s assume that you magically won support from all superiors. They gave you the green light. Does it end here?

No, it just the beginning.

Now you need to introduce your ideas to the rest of the company. Even if top management is willing to implement something useful and valuable, you will encounter resistance and fear in subordinates.

It is just the same story but on a larger scale.

But you cannot enforce the change just because you have a task from your boss. Such an approach is doomed to failure.

That is why you need a plan.

5. Prepare a Measurable Plan

Your CEO can have a vision. You, as a project manager who will implement it, need to have a plan.

With that said, don’t underestimate the value of your own vision for the change. Your plan should be consistent with it. You will need supporters. They don’t follow the plans. They follow leaders and visions.

5.1. Create a Communications Plan That Sends the Message

Change management fully relies on communications. Given all that we discussed above, your plan should include a message that:

  1. Describes the benefits of a change for a company.
  2. Speaks about relevant benefits for all layers of the organization.
  3. Addresses specific fears on the different layers.
  4. Outlines the action plan for the nearest future.
  5. Communicates expectations from the employees.
  6. PRO Tip: Integrate “What is it in for me (an employee)” in every aspect of your communication.

But understand this correctly.

It is not one speech or presentation that you show every now and then. It is a strategic plan that applies relevant communication means, techniques, and media.

You will have to make presentations, speak to the groups of people, conduct one-on-one meetings. The goal is to have a consistent message that is easy to spread and believe in.

5.2. Define a Strategy to Overcome Resistance

It is a part of stakeholders management. You need to identify people and groups that have enough authority and influence to impede your change management plan.

An important side note.

When we talk about “resistance” here, I still talk about your colleagues, people valuable for your company, the most precious asset of any organization. If they don’t support your efforts doesn’t mean they become an enemy.

You have to conduct ethically and professionally. The best strategy is to find a mutually beneficial outcome. You can win their disposition by:

  1. Overcoming fears and insecurities.
  2. Making promises.
  3. Explaining their role in change management.
  4. Showing their place after the change.
  5. Providing them ownership of the outcome.

In many cases, it is one-on-one work with formal and informal leaders. Winning their support will reduce your efforts.

5.3. Create Metrics that Can Show Your Success

Sooner or later, your endeavor will get into a messy middle. Initial enthusiasm will dissolve, but hard work will remain. Stakeholders will question the efficiency and return on investment.

So, from day one, you need to have metrics that will show your progress in implementing the change. Also, you need a measure of the gained benefits, satisfaction, or outputs.

The same goes for the metrics that can measure the overall success of the project.

6. Find Raving Supporters All the Time

Once you get into the implementation phase finding and winning new supporters should be a continuous activity.

When you get initial results, it will be easier to influence people with a natural attitude to change.

But keep in mind your success criteria. If they include people engagement or satisfaction, it won’t happen overnight once you finish the project. So, think proactively.

7. Measure the Progress and Adapt

In the process, you will collect metrics and feedback. Don’t assume that you initially came up with the perfect plan or idea. You need to be self-aware of the tunnel vision and personal inflexibility.

At some point, you may find that you need to adapt to new aspects of the organizational environment. You need to be ready to revise your plan and goals. Sometimes, you will need to cancel the project.

Pushing too hard has its own costs and consequences. They should not outperform the benefits of change.


Unfortunately, this article was just one piece of a complex project stakeholder management framework: Many other processes happen before and after this one.

If one part doesn’t work, the whole system breaks.

My Stakeholder Management Plan Template connects all processes and tools into one cohesive system. It also provides access to other articles and videos on stakeholder management. 

Don’t put your projects and reputation at risk. Ensure you know how stakeholder management works in the real world.

All successful project managers know it’s better to learn from someone else’s experience (aka lessons learned). Tap into my 12 years of practical IT experience and get the Stakeholder Management Plan Template.