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Change management training: 6 things you need to know

With change management training, learning and development leaders can help their talent avoid the common pitfalls that stall transformation. 
Change Management Training
Credit: Elena Poritskaya; sveta / Adobe Stock; Mockup Graphics / Unsplash

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said the only constant in life is change. With rapidly emerging new technologies, the rise of remote work, and supply chain disruptions impacting businesses worldwide, his words have never felt more relevant.

Even still, people are often resistant to change – roughly 75% of corporate transformation efforts either fail or are abandoned. But change management training can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful transformation initiative. When people are truly invested in a change, it’s 30% more likely to stick. 

6 factors to consider for change management training 

SHRM describes change management as: “the systematic approach and application of knowledge, tools and resources to deal with change.” It can include both internal processes such as training, communication, and standard operating procedures, as well as external processes like marketing campaigns and sales strategies. 

The overall objective of change management training is to reduce the potential for negative outcomes as a result of evolution within an organization. By building a comprehensive training program, learning and development leaders can help their talent avoid the common pitfalls that stall transformation. Here are six things to consider before planning a program.  

The importance of leaders

Change management training can be a vital tool for getting employees on board with new developments in an organization, but it must start with team leads. It’s a harsh reality that 33% of management behavior does not support change. 

This can be dangerous for organizations, as managers make up the cornerstone of many business transitions. They’re typically responsible for allocating resources, overseeing those who are executing the change, and directing change processes. Ultimately, their buy-in is essential for the entire team to succeed. 

Both managers and higher-level leadership should be offered change management training to learn how to lead through change. Change management is a skill that can be strengthened, so it’s important that these key employees are also given a chance to put what they’ve learned into practice before major change begins.

Top soft skills for change management training programs

There are several soft skills that can be developed to support an organization through change. Some of the most crucial change management skills include resilience, agility, communication, active listening, strategic thinking, and analysis.

Former Navy SEAL and business consultant Brent Gleeson often highlights the importance of communication during change: “The purpose behind why we’re going through this transformation…has to be clearly articulated, clearly defined. There has to be purposeful storytelling happening throughout the entire process, both through formal channels and informal channels.”

Gleeson’s notion that support for change requires an authentic, emotional connection with the entire team is a lesson that any organization undergoing transformation can benefit from. Leaders at every level can learn how to establish connections like this in change management courses, like the ones offered at Big Think+

Different types of change

In an article for Chief Learning Officer, Mark Marone writes: ​​“Once upon a time, ‘change’ was something temporary in the workplace. Organizations toughened themselves to get through it and get back to normal. That time has passed. Today, change is the regular work.” 

Although change is constant, there are several different types of change. Each of these changes results in some level of initial discomfort for employees, and they require different types of training. 

  • Developmental change refers to adjustments that are made to business procedures, such as how employees request time off. 
  • Transitional change happens when an organization changes the way it operates, such as adopting a new software that employees will have to learn how to use. 
  • Transformational changes are major shifts in business strategies. Think: Netflix transitioning from a DVD-by-mail to streaming service.

Common models for change management

When building a change management training program, it’s important for L&D to be aware of the different change management models that leaders might adopt. The most commonly used models include:

  • Kotter’s Change Management Model. Kotter’s model has eight stages: create a sense of urgency, build a guiding coalition, form a strategic vision and initiatives, enlist a volunteer army, enable action by removing barriers, generate short-term wins, sustain acceleration, and finally – institute change.
  • McKinsey’s 7-S Change Management Model. The McKinsey model highlights seven categories that organizations should be aware of when going through change – things like their strategy, structure, and systems. Part of what makes this model a success is that it draws attention to multiple parts of a business that a change might impact.
  • ADKAR Change Management Model. This model proposes that individuals have to change in order for an organization to change. The ADKAR acronym stands for: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. Each word represents something a learner must achieve for change to stick. 
  • Kübler-Ross Five Stage Change Management Model. This model is 100% employee-oriented. It outlines the stages individuals go through during a major change, including shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For leaders, understanding these stages can help them better communicate with their teams and eliminate the barriers that stifle change.
  • Lewin’s Change Management Model. Lewin’s model is one of the simplest, only including three stages that occur before, during, and after transitions: unfreeze, change, and refreeze. It involves breaking down the existing way things are done, embracing the change, and then “refreezing” into a new way of operating.

Key factors for successful change

The Boston Consulting Group studied hundreds of companies dealing with change and their research revealed several consistent predictors of the success or failure of a transformation. Below are the four variables that they propose can predict change outcomes.

  • Duration. Many companies assume that the longer a change program goes on, the less likely it is to succeed. But BCG found that longer projects are just as likely to succeed if they’re reviewed frequently – at least bimonthly – by senior leaders.
  • Integrity. Successful change depends on leaders who are equipped to lead through change, and employees who are willing to go above and beyond to make the change a success.
  • Commitment. Gaining buy-in from boots-on-the-ground employees is key. Senior leaders and managers can create a top-down communication plan that starts early in the process and explains the purpose behind the change.
  • Effort. Big changes require a lot of extra work on top of daily responsibilities. Management can account for this either with a reduced workload for change project leads, or by bringing in extra hands to help.

An understanding of these change management best practices can help learning leaders target the right people, at the right time, with the right training.

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What organizations get wrong 

As discussed earlier, organizational changes fail all too often. Being aware of the reasons this happens can help guide change management training. A Harvard Business Review article points out three things organizations get wrong about change:

  1. They hide failures. While most leaders want to focus on the wins, this act of humility has proven to build closer team bonds and generate more creativity.
  1. They only fix what’s broken. Resistance to change is very prevalent. However, getting into the routine of proactively fixing what’s not broken allows an organization to prepare for the next great change and engender employee buy-in earlier in the process.
  1. They hoard resources. If organizations are open to sharing assets and collaborating with other organizations in their industry, they can save overhead and potentially come up with better solutions than they would have independently. 

Final note

Change requires constant reinforcement, hands-on leadership, and the courageous mindset that even if plans don’t go as intended, the team will get back up and try again, having learned from their mistakes. Change management training can help your people build these vital skills. 

Learning leaders who equip their talent to better navigate new normals will find that change – which once seemed daunting – gets easier every time.

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