Change Management

This post was first published on the community pages of Fast Company.


Nobody likes change! Even I don’t like change. I consider myself comfortable exploring new things, new ideas and new ways to accomplish tasks. I adopt new technologies pretty early in their life-cycle. I left my home country for the adventure of life in the USA. I travel a lot and I constantly read about new ideas and concepts. But, in certain areas of my life I don’t like change. I don’t like to change my morning routine – I avoid breakfast meetings. I don’t want my workspace changed. And, I don’t like to update my work computer. Don’t disrupt my workflow! 

Since I realized I don’t like change either, I look at people resisting change in a different way. I credit Mari Peck for opening my eyes during one of her recent seminars. Here is the little exercise Mary had has done. It may help you,  a manager tasked with implementing change,  to understand the nature of change resistance:

Have the members of a group write their name on a piece of paper. Then have them switch hands and write their name underneath the first. Ask how people felt writing with the wrong hand in comparison with their usual. People will describe a variety of feelings — awkward, uncomfortable, stupid and so forth. Then ask them about the difference in time spent. You’ll get answers like, “Much longer” or “Three times longer.” When you ask about the quality of their second signature, expect comments like “Very bad,” “Abysmal,” or “Horrible.”

And, that’s why nobody likes change: It makes us uncomfortable. It’s awkward. The new way takes too long; in the beginning, the old way is much faster. The outcome is poor – certainly not the quality we are used to. These are the barriers to change! 
Now, as a “change manager” you have to overcome those barriers. Recognizing them is the first step. Your staff needs to hear from you that it’s ok that during the transitional phase the job takes longer to finish and that the outcome may not always be top notch. Then, you need to share the benefits you expect for them enduring this torture.

Here are the three things you must put on your list when implementing any change:

  1. Communicate ten times over
  2. Consider the WIIFM factor – What’s In It For Me?
  3. Never let yourself (or staff) lose sight of the big picture.



During implementation, everyone needs to hear repeatedly that it’s ok to feel stupid and awkward. Broadcast success when someone accomplishes a milestone, major or minor, on their quest to master new things. Regularly publish reports of progress. And, don’t shy away from sharing what didn’t work. You want everyone to learn from the mistakes. Separate the results of transition from the results of change. The difference can be difficult to communicate, but it builds trust in the process and in you, as a manager.
I could write more about training and testing, but that’s the easy part for you to figure out. 
The theory is it takes 21 days to change an exercise routine. A swimmer or golf pro changing a stroke needs to practice it a thousand times before regaining their previous level of proficiency. How long will it take to change a daily work place routine or something even bigger?


Of course, employees need to know how they benefit from the change. And, what’s in it for them may not be the same thing that’s in it for you. For example, doing work faster is not necessarily a goal they’d share. Sometimes, completing a task faster, gets translated into: When I accomplish my work faster, I’ll end up with more work on my plate and I am already overworked. 
More work is not what most employees want. Increased productivity is a benefit for the company—a big picture item. You need to find a better WIIFM answer—maybe the quality will improve or the work will be less tedious. Work enrichment can be an attractive benefit for some employees. Be aware, though, that there are as many different motivations to change as there are employees and stakeholders. A good change manager will provide many variations of the answer to WIIFM.


Don’t let yourself be dragged down by minutia and resistance. Implementing change gives you a great opportunity to reconnect with your people, but on a totally different level. In this process, the staff most outspoken against change is your greatest gift. Focus on them; address their issues. Once you convert them, they will become the loudest cheerleaders for change. Don’t forget the big picture, though. Keep your eye on where you and your crew are headed.
Change is hard work and should not be underestimated. The technology is easy to teach. But, it’s how you manage the change that ensures a successful outcome.

Posted by Birgit Pauli-Haack

Since 1998 Birgit Pauli-Haack has worked with nonprofits as a web developer, a technology strategist, a trainer and community organizer. She founded Pauli Systems, LC in 2002, now a team of six. It is a 100% distributed company. Since 2010, her team has used WordPress to build new nonprofit sites and applications. In her spare time, Birgit serves as a deputy with the WordPress Global Community team, as a WordPress Meetup organizer and a Tech4Good organizer.