From change management to leading change

From change management to leading change

People & Performance has worked with change management for over 15 years and in this guide we provide a review of what lies behind the concept and answer some of the most relevant questions about change management.

We are present at both Danish and international companies, training their leaders to manage change.

Read more about change management or jump directly to one of the sections below.

What is change management?

Change management is about the ability to lead a change process in a company or organisation. Successful change management requires that the manager has the right knowledge and skills to support the process.

Today, change is more of a condition than a project, for example when new systems are to be implemented. Companies need to be able to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Therefore, the ability to change quickly has also become more important for both managers and employees.

What is good change management?

While, in the past, change was typically about implementing new methods, systems and tools, today successful change management is also very much about what we call the “soft” elements. This often involves new ways of working, values or other areas where the change itself is seen as a learning process.

The role of the leader in change management

To lead change successfully, as a leader you need knowledge of facilitation as well as the ability to mobilise the people who will drive the change.

It requires a new understanding of the leadership role, where you as the leader are not the all-knowing superhero who “has it figured out” and must lead employees to a new state. Instead, you are also a human being who must manage and understand change in dialogue with employees. This requires both an open mind and concrete tools.

Change management is about getting employees on board

Management has become a highly complex field, and it can be difficult for both managers and employees to keep track. At the same time, change is happening more frequently and usually from something known to something unknown.

Organisational change and change management should go hand in hand. In organisations where employees feel that everything is changing, this can lead to a wide range of negative consequences, such as increased talent attrition, more stress-related sick leave and pronounced demotivation.

To avoid this and some of the other typical barriers to change, there is a need to create stability and anchor points to act as an anchor or respite during the change. In order for change participants to throw their full energy into the change, a secure core is needed, which employees and managers can be sure will not change.

At the same time, the increased complexity means that neither employees nor managers know the end goal. Therefore, it is important to activate employees and create ownership so that they are involved in initiating and creating the change.

Why is change management important?

Change cycles are shortened in many industries. This means that more changes are being introduced and that they are being introduced at shorter and shorter intervals. In addition, matrix organisation in most places increases complexity, and international competition increases the need for specialisation. In some organisations, the requirements become directly contradictory.

All these movements mean that change has become a new normal. Previously, few changes were happening at the same time. Today, there are many. The increase in speed, complexity and number of changes calls for good management. However, it also calls for learning, as it is no longer possible to fully plan and anticipate change.

That is why we talk about change learning rather than change management. Change learning places greater demands on the dialogue between employees and managers and focuses more on building new understandings rather than implementing new tools.

Doctrine of change

Change learning requires that the team puts something at stake and that both team and leader have the mandate and the opportunity to act. Change learning is particularly associated with change that involves innovation or significant changes to collaborative practices and business models. These changes are more a shared learning journey than a process of the leader leading the employees to a new place.

Your role as a manager therefore also changes from leading employees to a new place to being the one who enables employees to create the change. This does not always happen without resistance.


Change management in M&J Recycling

“We have gained a common language and fostered collaboration across the organisation”.
Ruth Lundorff, Head of HR in M&J Recycling..

Change Management is about Change Leadership

Many change approaches are based on the idea that resistance to change must be broken down or overcome in order to get people to change. But this is no longer possible.

The new conditions of change require a certain degree of freedom of action where the change is to take place – for example, between salespeople and customers. Therefore, change management is also about change leadership and mobilising people, not just change management. In this context, it is often a question of mobilising the employees who will drive the change, and here it is important to handle resistance to change appropriately and to distinguish between professional resistance and human resistance.

The typical scenario is that a top management has described a vision for major change. The intention of the vision is that it should itself mobilise employees to drive the change. The problem with this is that the organisation’s employees are usually driven by two specific factors:


    • Not to lose what I have
    • Meaning and relevance to me

Not to lose what I have

People are willing to go to far greater lengths to keep something they feel they have, rather than obtain something they might only be able to get. Therefore, threats to one’s livelihood, self-understanding, social attachment and identity contain great resilience. And therefore, anxiety is a natural companion in any process of change.

It must be clear to each employee what he or she may lose by not being an active part of a change process. While it is effective to create change by threatening that “if we don’t succeed with this change, we’ll have to close down and everyone will be out of a job”, we certainly don’t recommend it. The fear of change should always be addressed constructively.

In your change management, you should therefore also make clear to employees what opportunities they have to contribute to moving forward, in order to mobilise maximum change energy. If done right, you can also avoid that change participants use the energy of anxiety to share their concerns, so that productivity decreases, stress increases and momentum is lost.

Meaning and relevance to me

The burning platform is a classic concept in change management. However, the concept is no longer sufficient as it only works if linked to the possible contributions that employees can engage in. If they cannot contribute actively, then a burning platform has the opposite effect – lock-in.

The amount of information available today is overwhelming, and it has become an art for both professionally and academically trained staff to be able to sort through it. This development has contributed to a movement towards seeking what is relevant to us. And in most changes, there will be a big difference between what top management and frontline staff find relevant.

Change communication must therefore make it clear why the change is relevant to the company – and, if possible, to the individual employee. The change does not necessarily have to result in something good for each individual employee, but it must make sense to everyone why the change is happening.

Effective change communication is also moving towards a broader and deeper description of “why” and “how does this relate to our purpose and everything else we are doing?” Therefore, to create relevance for different managers and employees, you need to be able to answer “What good creates the change?”. You also need to be able to answer why the change is necessary for:


    • Society
    • Your customers or service users
    • Your company, shareholders, foundation or owners
    • Your team, specific employee groups or your culture
    • The individual employeee
    • Yourself

Professional resistance vs. human resistance

The professional resistance to change occurs when employees see that the change is moving in a non-value-added direction from a professional and business point of view. Here, as a manager, you must be able to use professional resistance constructively and mobilise employees to be active participants in change.

Human resistance occurs on a more psychological level. When we humans are asked to change, we typically start finding fault with the new, using excuses like being too busy or only doing what is barely necessary.

In both cases, the change participant experiences the current state of stress as the sum of all the influences that require energy from him or her at the moment. Therefore, there is rarely any resistance to the change, but rather an inability to cope with the sum of the stress – and a change will be a greater stress than continuing with ‘business as usual’, all other things being equal.

As a leader, you must therefore use the immediate resistance as a building block and actively work with them in the change. You also need to be able to distinguish between professional and human resistance. Professional resistance can be both real and relevant. Personal resistance is more about the natural reaction of the individual employee to the fact that going through a change can be both uncomfortable and difficult.

So always remember that resistance is energy. It does not have to be overcome and those who express concern (and therefore resistance) are often those who have the insight to make the change succeed. Therefore, when you are leading a change, it is far more valuable to make them co-responsible for the success of the change than to shut them down.

4 movements that will develop your organisation’s change capacity

The change is rooted in three key areas. Read more in the article below.

How do you create a culture of change?

If you want to create a culture that is ready for change, you need to practice changing. This is basically how you create culture, and it can be done, for example, by trying to find solutions to different challenges. In this way, you have to find changes and create them, and in this way you practice being change-ready.

You can also work on learning agility. Learning agility is about not accepting the status quo, and here all employees and managers have something to work on and develop within. This is also where leadership development is relevant.

The basic idea behind this approach is that you develop people to develop the business. The hope of the approach is that the whole organisation gets used to moving and learns that something better comes out of it.

There are a number of elements in the process of building a culture of change. The important thing is that all employees are constantly working on their own development of the competencies that are relevant to the company. This can be through job rotation, task sharing, project participation or other means. You may have a lot of small changes going on in your organisation, or you may be embarking on one major change. This calls for different development needs.

Either way, it is by practicing continuous learning that employees build change readiness.

Get started with change management

To get started with change management, there are two basic understandings you need to have in play:

Understand the scope and nature of the change

Assess readiness for change

The first part is about the scale of change. Here, you consider what the change means for those affected by it. For example, you can examine how much the change alters processes, technology, roles, responsibilities, culture and attitudes in your organisation.

Try to put yourself in the place of the change agents and make an assessment of how radical a change you are about to initiate. What energy does it require and what value does it bring? In this way, you can assess the scale, weight and impact of the change.

The second part is about change readiness among employees and what change reactions you can expect to encounter. There are six needs at stake here:


1. Understanding:

Do employees understand the change? Do they know why you need to change and why it needs to be now?


2. Motivation:

What is the motivation of each employee to engage in the change? Does it increase efficiency in his or her own work, or does it secure his or her job for the future? Or does the motivation lie with the company, which can save money as a business or have a flatter structure?


3. Accountability:

How can employees contribute to change now and in the long term? As a manager, you want to find actions that each employee can be responsible for. By contributing to the change, they are trading in a new understanding.


4. Skills:

Do employees have the necessary skills to participate in the change and can they see how to build skills to perform in the new reality (for example in project management, operating the new machine, working in SAP or similar)? Do they have the prerequisites to teach them? How do you build them up?


5. Communication:

Do employees get the information they need along the way? Do they have easy access to information, and do they know where to find more information if needed? It is a psychological need to feel adequately informed about what is going to happen when. This requires a communication plan of what needs to be communicated before, during and after the change.


6. Support:

What support is needed from individual staff and teams to understand, accept and talk about the change, to build capacity, to manage their time and so on? Do they need relief, ventilation, extra resources, new expertise or something else?

The six needs are about relationships, about getting people on board with change and about creating balance in a system that is now – because of change – out of balance. This is what is called Change Leadership.

It is you as the manager who must assess the nature of the change and the expected reactions of employees. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to help you. For example, the Change Readiness Assessment can help you to manage change well. Or tools to help you create a good communication plan.

In addition to the tools, expert advice is also available. We’re always happy to help with your next change, and we have 15 years of experience to draw on.

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