Managing Organizational Change: Change Management Models

The hardest part of any change is always the people. Computers don’t care if they’re running the new software. Apps don’t mind new code. Assembly lines have no sentimental longings when they’ve switched around and reconfigured. Understanding various change management models can provide professionals the opportunity to assist their organizations with change management.

For business leaders implementing effective change management, the people are also usually the biggest challenge. Although we’re fond of novelty, we humans aren’t big fans of fundamental shifts in our everyday lives. Our routines give us comfort, confidence, and consistency, and significant changes threaten those things.

That’s why change management is much more about the people than the changing technology or processes. Without laying the groundwork and preparing the organization for these shifts, it won’t matter how much more efficient or transformative things could be because change doesn’t work without buy-in.

Different Change Management Models

Change management” is a pretty broad term applied to all sorts of things. But they tend to fall into a few categories.

Crisis-driven change

Subsequently, the driver for change isn’t always intentional. Sometimes external factors make that decision for you. Our planet is still reeling from a monumental, unplanned shift in the wake of COVID-19, and there is no shortage of upheavals thanks to natural disasters, political turmoil, and economic tumult.

And while the impetus for these changes might be unwelcome, the outcomes often have some upsides. But accepting these changes and adapting on the fly challenges even the most flexible organizations.

Corrective change

Accidents happen, mistakes get made, and the best-laid plans don’t always pan out. However, when things break, a significant change may be the only remedy.

This type of change comes on the heels of failure, disappointment, or frustration, whether a botched product release, revenue drop or an unpleasant scandal. Moreover, the shortcomings and flaws are laid bare, and now it’s time to regroup. No one wanted this change, but it’s now apparent and urgent.

Transformational change

To achieve its goals, sometimes businesses need to reshuffle the deck and implement new organizational structures. Therefore, these are the extensive reorganizations that align teams based on business functions or verticals or geography in the name of efficiency and superior performance.

These changes are often accompanied by a personnel change as well. Be it a restructuring accompanied by layoffs or a hiring spree thanks to rapid growth. Consequently, the organizational chart looks a lot different when the dust settles. Familiar faces may now reside in new departments or gone altogether while new colleagues appear.

Organization-wide change

Organization-wide change is the Big Kahuna of change management. Fundamental, seismic shifts that shake the foundations and unsettle the ground workers thought were immovable.

Furthermore, these changes impact every employee, sparked by a significant overhaul of leadership, introducing disruptive new technologies, adhering to new policies or regulations, or experiencing mergers and acquisitions.

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Change Management Strategies

There are lots of takes on change management strategies and the implementation of change management models, each with its adherents and critics. But what’s most important is realizing you need a plan and plotting one out. Significant changes are rarely smooth, but some intentionality and planning can go a long way to minimizing the turmoil.

Regardless of the exact path chosen, change management strategies should always include these basics.

A vision

Employees and external stakeholders must know the overall end goal. That vision should articulate what the new status quo would mean for the business and how it impacts customers and colleagues daily. The below questions typically get asked:

  • What’s better, faster, or cheaper?
  • If we implement the changes, will it improve things?
  • How will the new landscape look?

A well-articulated picture of the end state can alleviate the anxiety and uncertainty that accompanies any significant change. If individuals are excited about the vision, their resistance to the change diminishes.


Defining success and how to track it goes hand-in-hand with the vision. It’s unfair to give folks marching orders when they don’t know how long they’ll be marching or when they’ll know it’s time to stop.

The organization needs visibility into how things are progressing and the key milestones signifying progress and achievement. Broadcasting the current status and accomplishments to date keeps folks informed and motivated. Objectives should be as concrete and specific as possible.

Ownership and accountability

Change management and ambiguity aren’t compatible for such high-profile undertakings. Who’s on the hook for what must be established early on and communicated widely.

This clarity minimizes confusion regarding who should do what while also spelling out the chain of command on key decisions. With these clear expectations for follow-through, reporting, and responsibility, there’s less chance of finger-pointing and false assumptions that someone else was taking care of critical items.

Ongoing communication

Significant changes take time, and organizations can’t go quiet at any phase of the process. From kick-off to a conclusion, everyone impacted by the change or contributing to its execution must remain in the loop regarding progress, status, and any issues or delays that arise.

Not only does it helps ensure that the project doesn’t lose momentum or stall, but it also keeps it top of mind for coworkers who are immersed in the change process daily. Ongoing, regular updates make everyone feel informed and included, as this change will eventually impact them all.

A roadmap

Timelines, deliverables, dependencies, milestones, and parallel track are elements of a good change management plan and excellent ingredients for a roadmap capturing and tracking it all.

While product roadmaps are ideally based on themes and leave out much of the implementation specifics, a change management roadmap captures as many details as possible to ensure no task goes undone. It encompasses the entirety of the to-do list and spells out the order of operations and handoffs to keep on schedule and maintain momentum.

Change management roadmaps also cover the “softer” side of the change, including consensus-building, education, and communication plans. It’s not just about getting everything done on time but also keeping all parties informed and engaged throughout the entire timeline.

Change Management Models

Organizations commencing a significant change management initiative don’t need to start from scratch when designing their playbook and plans. Over the years, numerous models have emerged, built on the successes (and failures) of change management experiences in different industries.

These models include best practices, processes, and checklists to guide organizations through these transitions, offering a starting point covering the basics and common pitfalls businesses face. Some noteworthy change management models include:

Lewin’s change management model

Since the 1950s, this model divvies up change management into three steps:

  • Unfreeze: Preparation for and socialization of the upcoming change.
  • Change: The actual implementation of the change.
  • Refreeze: Ensuring that the change sticks for good.

Kübler-Ross change curve

Using the “stages of grief” for inspiration, this model focuses on the social-emotional components of change management:

  • Denial: Everyone’s default opening position.
  • Anger: Unhappiness with change forced upon you.
  • Bargaining: Resistant colleagues try to negotiate a compromise.
  • Depression: Unhappiness leads to depression when they can’t stop the momentum.
  • Acceptance: When they realize there’s no other option.

McKinsey’s 7-S model

The OG consultants use some alliteration to lay out their plan for managing change:

  • Strategy
  • Structure
  • Systems
  • Shared Values
  • Style
  • Staff
  • Skills

Satir change model

Another model focused on feelings to help prepare for change:

  • Late status quo
  • Resistance
  • Chaos
  • Integration
  • New status quo

Kotter’s Theory

Harvard Business School professor John P. Kotter’s eight-step program is a top-down approach:

  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Build the change team
  • Form a strategic vision
  • Communicate the vision
  • Remove barriers to change
  • Focus on short-term wins
  • Maintain momentum
  • Institute change

The Four Principles of Change Management

As you can see, there’s no single “right way” to manage change, but there are plenty of things to worry about. When it’s all boiled down, what remains true is that all successful changes have four core elements:

  • Understand change
  • Plan change
  • Implement change
  • Communicate change

None of these things are optional, although organizations often skip understanding—and sometimes even product planning—because they’re in a hurry to finish. While this may yield some initial success, those shortcuts will inevitably haunt the organization in the future.

Staff must be prepared for the change and comprehend the rationale and context for implementing it for them to support it. Finally, creating a plan that bakes these steps in and mandates frequent, open communication throughout the process is the best way to make that happen.

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