Straight Talk on Empowering Change
by Stephanie Cirihal

What you mother never taught you about change in organizations.

If I have learned nothing else as a certified problem-solving Six Sigma Black Belt, I have learned how to empower others to accept change in their professional world (and hopefully their personal world as well.) The most important things I have learned about change have nothing to do with change models, but are based on a simple understanding of how people react to change. That understanding has led me to live by the "Three Truths of Change" that I would like to share with you here.

But first, the simple understanding of how people react to change. Simply put, very differently, depending on three factors:

  • How much the change will disrupt their expectations or perceptions;
  • How willing and capable they are to accepting the change, based on the above;
  • Their individual level of control in the situation.

Additionally, most people either have a positive or negative predisposition to change, which means that they experience vastly different emotional states while going through change (you did know change is a process, complete with different stages, right?)

Regardless of people's predisposition, or the above factors however, you can minimize the negative impact of change by increasing the individual control and level of involvement of those who will experience the change. That's where the "Three Truths of Change" come in handy. In no certain order, they are:

  • People do what they create - the best solutions and changes I have implemented have involved the process owners, or those who end up actually doing the work, FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. So much implementation energy can be spared by just identifying those who will be most affected by the change, and letting them help design it.

  • Some people will NEVER go along - this goes back to people's predisposition to change as well as their willingness to change. This creates a bell curve of change classifications, and up to 16% of people will hide underneath their desks and hope change will go away, no matter what you do. Your energy is better spent addressing the people who will accept change, with the right approach.

  • Killing the messenger kills change - I have seen countless leaders punish people for simply telling the truth, which insures that a change culture will never get off the ground. If you want to know how to effect a culture change, for instance, stop looking at how to change the culture and instead evaluate what the barriers are to changing the culture. You must ask for and be prepared to hear the truth.

Finally, the first step to effective change management is to identify your stakeholders. List them all - everyone who will be touched by your proposed change. This includes internal functions and external customers as well. Then determine where each group stands on your change. Who will benefit from the change? Who will not? Look at the benefits and losses for each stakeholder group. And then ask yourself some questions about managing your stakeholders:

  • How can you gain the support of unsupportive stakeholders?
  • How can you maintain the support of supportive stakeholders?
  • How can you use the support of supportive stakeholders to your benefit?

Doing the work up front to understand likely reactions and manage stakeholder expectations goes along way towards smooth sailing down the road when it really counts. Just think what your mother could have done if she had known that!

Stephanie Cirihal is a professional, solution-oriented coach who develops human solutions for organizations and the people in them. She offers a free e-zine and consultation on her website, located at

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Copyright 2002 by Stephanie Cirihal. All rights reserved.

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