9 Change Management Principles in Action: Insight from the Front Lines

November 15, 2017 Marcus Varner

Implementing change of any kind can be hard, even within the most agile organizations.

When it comes to implementing new processes or software, the learning curve can make it extremely difficult to get employees on board. Humans are mostly creatures of habit, after all, so anything that forces us out of our comfort zone tends to meet with resistance.

While there are plenty of resources available (guides, ebooks, etc.) sometimes what we really need are real-world examples—tips and strategies from those who have been successful, both as practical advice and for encouragement.


See "The 8 Dos and Don'ts of Change Management" for more tips on helping your team successfully take on changes.


Because, let’s face it, if you’ve been through a tough change implementation, it’s easy to question whether it’s even possible. But, with “here’s how we did it” stories from our peers, suddenly change doesn’t only seem possible—it becomes attainable.

We were recently introduced to a great resource called 9 Change Management Principles from Research, an ebook by change management consultant Daniel Lock that highlights some of the best strategies for success based on a wide range of sources in business, psychology, and more.

Lock offers some great insight, but again—relevant, real-world examples are so powerful.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of Lock’s advice, alongside how one of our customers, international advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB), put these concepts to work in their Workfront implementation for an extremely successful outcome.

1. Create a Crisis

Lock suggests that it takes “an interruption”—an urgent case for change—in order to motivate people to want to change. The notion that there HAS to be a better way creates an environment ripe for change, otherwise the status quo persists.

In many organizations, you’re likely considering a Workfront implementation because a crisis condition already exists.

Maybe your work is perpetually behind schedule, projects are falling through the cracks, or employees waste too much time in emails and meetings. You might be missing major deadlines, making mistakes on a critical customer deliverable, or perhaps even losing key employees or experiencing high turnover from the chaos and stress.

At FCB, the crisis was inefficiency. Multiple teams were using multiple, disparate tools creating silos of work and information that slowed productivity. Teams were often caught off guard with projects, scrambling for resources because they had no idea who was doing what.

Their attempt at tracking had begun consuming around 20 hours per week—time that was unbillable to clients. Anthony Imgrund, project manager, knew that it was time for a change.

2. Get Specific

Achieving a big transformation or implementation is tough. With so many moving parts—from IT to end-users, to purchasing and training—some software implementation projects can become vague in their scope, with no defined endpoint.

When projects drag on, employees lose sight of the end goal, and their interest and motivation wane.

Lock suggests setting specific and incremental goals. Don’t just say you want to improve efficiency or reduce wasted time. Create a benchmark for what that looks like, measure progress, compare it against the goal, and then adjust processes as necessary.

At FCB, Imgrund and his team found it was better to start small, with implementation in one area, or to solve one specific problem, like creating a standardized project request template or streamlining the proofing process. He said:

“We have found that we can get greater user adoption and overall excitement for the tool if it can deliver a solution that helps alleviate a problem they have been having for some time and make their lives just a little bit easier."

Once teams see that immediate “win,” they’ll be eager to implement change in other areas.

3. Collaborate for Change: People Don’t Resist What They Create

Employee buy-in on any change implementation is absolutely critical. Simply put, most people don’t like change crammed down their throats, especially when that change decision has been made without their input. Does it even make sense in their context?

Lock cites a  2010 survey by McKinsey  that found change project success grew to over 75% when workers directly affected felt they were an integral part of the process.

It’s critical to create the right conditions for collaboration and involve people in discovering and implementing solutions so that they feel invested in and responsible for success.

Imgrund and his team at FCB addressed this issue by involving front-line workers to understand the realities of the current processes and whether current solutions were working. When they decided to move forward with Workfront, they involved the end-user team from the very beginning. He explained:

“A technology solution only works if you’ve first taken the time to figure out how it fits in your overall process. We talk to people ‘on the ground.’ These subject matter experts help us know the reality of the processes embedded in the culture.”

4. Focus on Change Readiness

Employee resistance can stymie any new implementation or change. Ideally, you’ve already been working on creating a culture of change-readiness before a formal change program is implemented.

But, regardless of your culture, there will still most definitely be a few hurdles, and Lock says it’s important to acknowledge resistance and negative thinkers to ward off naivety and unrealistic expectations.

Their fears, questions, and skepticism can actually help to balance blind enthusiasm and help you refine what success looks like.

FCB recognized that there could be a fear among its creative workforce that implementing a work automation tool like Workfront could potentially reduce or eliminate the brainstorming, interaction, and collaboration that creative teams need.

“We overcome that by making sure everyone understands that the tool isn’t there to eliminate those interactions and meetings—it’s there to focus and streamline those interactions,” Imgrund said.

By using Workfront to handle the busywork that kept team members from their real work, they could actually spend MORE time interacting to devise creative strategies and solutions.

5. Rigorous Planning Averts Resistance

In Lock’s analysis, he concluded:

“If there’s one single root cause that prevents user adoption and usage, it’s uncertainty caused by a project and how it is managed.”

This “ambiguity aversion” causes people to resist any activity in which the probability of outcomes are unknown. In change management, this “ambiguous zone” between the current state and the future state can cause malaise in the absence of clarity. 

To overcome this, Lock suggests that instead of just telling people to deal with change, organizations should outline milestones to demarcate progress so that team members feel like they are clearly moving forward.

To overcome this ambiguity at FCB, Imgrund and his team created a measurable plan with incremental milestones along the way, while clearly communicating the end goal.

“While there will always be some resistance to change, we have found that if we really focus on the immediate need, but also keep that ideal place where we want to land in mind, we can have a very successful implementation of the tool, and users will adopt it,” he said.

6. Align Leadership and Involve Every Layer

If you’ve ever been through an organizational change, you know that it takes investment and alignment across all levels. While you certainly want full participation on the ground, leadership participation is also vital.

But, sometimes these leaders aren’t necessarily in the C-suite; sometimes they emerge in middle management or as some other key influencer—someone the rest of the team looks up to and trusts, even if his or her title doesn’t necessarily bestow a leadership role.

Lock recommends identifying those influencers at all levels, soliciting their input, and helping them to understand why their buy-in is important. Set these influencers up as coaches in helping to get the rest of their team change-ready and onboard.

Those “on the ground” team members FCB consulted in determining readiness turned out to be their most powerful advocates for Workfront. Those subject matter experts “usually end up being our superusers and advocates for the tool,” Imgrund said, creating ambassadors among the ranks.

7. Use “To Go” Thinking and Focus on What You Will Do

We all know that feedback loops are important in any change endeavor. The ability to take a pulse on progress and make adjustments is critical to seeing the change take shape. Lock suggests focusing on the overall objective, rather than specific tasks.

Is our goal to increase productivity? Or arbitrarily limit the number of meetings allowed per week? Create a plan with goals that make sense and keep members apprised as to how far you have left “to go” to keep motivation high.

FCB found that this sometimes means learning to adjust and temper their expectations. “A little tip we have learned: whatever you have set up for a launch is going to change once it has deployed,” Imgrund says. Expect the unexpected and don’t hold to hard and fast rules.

“As people start using the tool, they will start to realize the other amazing functionality and hopefully start maturing both in the tool but also as an agency,” Imgrund added.

8. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate, But Not Too Much

It’s been well established that excessive email, meetings, and interruptions waste a tremendous amount of time. While communication in a change endeavor is important, don’t communicate just for the sake of communicating.

Lock suggests adopting a communication strategy that:

  1. incorporates the business rationale behind the change,
  2. answers the question “what’s in it for me?” for employees,
  3. is a two-way street, and
  4. takes employee questions and feedback into account.

FCB already knew that they could be dealing with a fear that workflow automation with Workfront could eliminate human interaction, and their aim was to combat this by showing that it would actually give them MORE time for collaboration.

To do so, they completely shifted their check-in status meetings to concentrate on projects that were “in the red” due to being behind schedule, running into a problem, or facing another hang up, instead of those that were “in the green” and moving smoothly.

This saved time and allowed the humans to apply their skills and creativity to solve challenges with projects that were struggling, where it’s needed most.

9. Get Some Grit

Remember when we said change wasn’t easy? It takes perseverance, determination, and a growth-oriented mindset. Sometimes you just have to square your shoulders and take the challenge head-on.

In some organizations, those challenges might come in the form of individuals with a fixed mindset—it takes a lot to convince them that any change is a good thing and they’ll push back at every turn.

Lock recommends organizations identify those with a fixed mindset and challenge their assumptions. Provide evidence of benefits realized and celebrate small successes along the way to show the path forward.

It helps to review case studies of successful implementations, find similarities between your organization and those that have been successful, and base your own model off of that experience to provide encouragement.

By showing skeptics that there is a way forward, Imgrund found that the “initial chaos of figuring it out will eventually subside and [users] will start to broaden their focus.”

Ready to Win at Your Own Change?

Implementing a new software solution is essentially an exercise in change management, and fortunately, there are ample resources available to help guide your organization to a successful adoption.

Of course, choosing the right solution is the first step. At FCB, and many other agile and progressive organizations, Workfront has proven to deliver results when it comes to improving efficiency, reducing chaos, and helping organizations to run smoother and with better focus.

With the right solution, implementing with Lock’s principles in mind can give your organization a much better chance of success.


See "Why Change Initiatives in the Workplace Fail" to learn how you can avoid common pitfalls as you navigate change.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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