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ABCs of Change Management: Introduction to implementing change successfully in organizations

July 2020

By Bill Kelsey

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, 'The only constant in life is change.' Change brought us into this world, and it is through change that we grow. If we did not change, we would die. When we entered this world as an infant, biological and chemical changes were thrust upon us without our knowledge or permission. We had no choice but to accept it if we were to grow to an adult. There are changes that we welcome and even embrace such as learning how to read, getting married, or having children. There are changes that we face that cause us fear and dread, such as changes to predictable and comfortable routines.

Change is a constant in history

Today we face more changes than our parents ever could have dreamed of facing. In 1969, three astronauts were launched from the safety and security of their earthly home to walk successfully on the moon's surface and return home as safely as they left. The computers that aided them and the mission control engineers were some of the most powerful of their time. 50 years later, changes in technology have made the cell phones we carry even more powerful than those computing monstrosities. Changes in transportation technology have enabled travel that a generation ago was unheard of.

Scarcely four or five months ago, we, as a society, never would have thought that the world as we knew it would be turned upside-down or inside-out by a microorganism called Coronavirus (COVID-19). Think about it. Before February, the term 'social distancing' did not have many connotations, except that is what we thought of if we did not want to sit next to someone at the family dinner. Now, 'social distancing' is normal behavior and using hand sanitizer has become commonplace. We may view if one does not wear a mask in public as 'odd'. These and the other changes that we have seen as a part of the spread of the virus are now part of the fabric of our everyday lives. We talk about returning to normalcy, but even 'normal' is changing.

Technology is changing the way we work

Our workplaces are constantly changing. The Industrial Revolution ushered in massive changes to how work was done, and goods manufactured. Gone were the artisans and craftspeople of the past, replaced with machines to do more work in a fraction of the time. Henry Ford introduced the assembly line and changed manufacturing again, almost on another revolutionary scale.

International competition is bringing to light the need for another 'industrial revolution'. Granted, technological changes have streamlined manufacturing where our ancestors never imagined, but to stay competitive in business, more changes will become necessary to ensure viability in the world economy.

Wrong change implementation causes adverse reactions

But change can be overwhelming. Change can be scary. When the change is not handled correctly, people react in several ways. First, people retreat to their comfort zones. People view drastic changes as crises, and as a result, they work and live in crisis mode. These people see everything through the lens of an emergency, and many act like Chicken Little, who kept exclaiming, 'The sky is falling! 'Others see a drastic change and adopt a 'fight or flight' mentality. Some people will retreat within themselves, while some may lash out and become aggressive toward others. Still, others may see change and work through the same stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Change is a growth opportunity

Change does not have to be overwhelming. Change does not have to be traumatic. It can enable and even empower. It can create victors rather than victims. Change agents and change champions embrace change, and even look for it, as they seek to improve their environment.

To embrace change, we must look at change differently. We need to view change as growth opportunities. We need to see change not as an obstacle, but as a vehicle. We should use change to be proactive in our environment rather than reactive. Change is an enabler to be better, to be greater, to improve constantly.

The six steps to implementing change successfully

How do we make change less traumatic and more enabling? How do we empower people to see change as a positive vehicle to be driven and controlled taking us to our destination rather than as a bulldozer running over us as a helpless victim who is controlled by the change?

Once we realize change is a process rather than an event, we view change differently. When we implement changes in our workplace, we can follow a process to make change. For this, I and others have created a process that follows six distinct, but interrelated steps: Alignment, Benefit, Communication, Development, Enable, Feedback. We have called these six steps 'The ABCs of Change Management'. These six steps are linked together like a chain. They are a process to be taken together rather than a checklist.

Each of these steps is necessary and must be completed to ensure the success of change. While they do overlap, they often work together and build on each other. Over the next few weeks , we will discuss each of the ABCs in detail and how these can apply in your environment.

About the author:

Bill Kelsey is an Advanced Practitioner with Performance Solutions by Milliken based in South Carolina. His seven years of consulting experience have been assisting various industrial clients around the United States attain excellence in safety and manufacturing. His areas of focus when working with clients are safety, change management, skills education, and 5S.

Bill is a Lean/Six Sigma Blackbelt and is a certified instructor in coaching and leadership. Additionally, Bill has over 25 years of experience in Safety, Plant Optimization, LEAN, Industrial Engineering, Human Resources, and Production Management in a manufacturing environment. His email is

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