What is Change Management?

The Mount Rushmore of Change Management
(John Kotter, Daryl Conner, Linda Ackerman Anderson & Jeff Hiatt)


Though often attributed to Dean and Linda Anderson (because the definition appears in the forward to their book), the most authoritative definition of change management was crafted by Daryl Conner, the author of Managing at the Speed of Change.  Here it is:

Change management is a set of principles, techniques, and prescriptions applied to the human aspects of executing major change initiatives in organizational settings.

He then elaborated on the definition:
Its focus in not on "what" is driving change (technology, reorganization plans, mergers/acquisitions, globalization, etc.), but on "how" to orchestrate the human infrastructure that surrounds key projects to that people are better prepared to absorb the implications affecting them.

Tim Creasey from the Change Management Learning Center (developers of ADKAR) provides a short, sweet, and to the point definition: 

the process, tools and techniques to manage the people-side of change to achieve a required business outcome.



In 1982, Daryl Conner published his commitment curve in the Training & Development Journal, marking a switch in course of consultants and researchers away from resistance to change and toward commitment to change.

McKinsey consultant Julien Phillips first published a model with the change management label in 1983 in the journal Human Resource Management, though it took a decade for his change management peers to catch up with him.

Linda Ackerman Anderson, co-author of Beyond Change Management, described how in the late 1980s and early 1990s top leaders were growing dissatisfied with the failures of creating and implementing changes in a top-down fashion. Linda and Dean Anderson later branded the role of the change leader to take responsibility for the people side of the change. 

Marshak credits the big 6 accounting firms and management consulting firms with creating the change management industry when they branded their reengineering services groups as change management services in the late 1980s.

John Kotter's book, Leading Change, was a landmark in the field because it provided certainty ... the 8 steps:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Creating the guiding coalition
  3. Developing a vision and strategy
  4. Communicating the change vision
  5. Empowering employees for broad-based action
  6. Generating short-term wins
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture

In 2011, Kotter acknowledged the limitations of change management, in the context of the term change leadership:

Everybody talks about managing change and change management, because that’s what they do. If you look at all of the tools, they’re trying to push things along, but it’s trying to minimize disruptions, i.e., keep things under control. It’s trying to make sure change is done efficiently in the sense of you don’t go over budget—another control piece. It’s done with little change management groups inside corporations, sometimes external consultants that are good at that, training in change management. It’s done with task forces that are basically given the whole goal of push this thing along, but keep it under control. It’s done with various kinds of relationships that are given names like “executive sponsors,” where the executive sponsor watches over this thing to make sure that it proceeds in an orderly way.
The Consultant News published the first "State of the Change Management Industry" report in February of 1994.  Those of us in the Big 6 change practices were faxing it too each other because that was still the easiest, fastest way to get a document like this to your colleagues on different projects in different states.


Last, but certainly not least, Jeff Hiatt has created the recent standard in change management with his ADKAR process and his research at the Change Management Learning Center.

Hiatt also created the Association of Change Management Professionals.  ACMP is the field's first association.


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