Managing People through Change

To remain competitive, and to remain attractive as employers, organizations need to adapt and change constantly in accordance with the changing needs of their stakeholders.  Understanding change, therefore, and knowing how to manage it, is a crucial part of the knowledge and skills of people managers in a successful organization. 

Role of training in enabling organizational change

Organizations which leap into radical change without investing adequately in preparing or training their staff usually run into problems.  They find that the subsequent investment in corrective action and conflict resolution is enormous and costly in terms of finance, time and resources.

The key benefit of training people to manage change is that it:

  • ensures a more organized and strategic approach to the implementation of change
  • can reduce the incidence of people and performance problems subsequent to implementation.

Harold Leavitt (1965) identified four possible areas in which change can and will happen as an organization grows and develops:

Initiative Relevance to career development
Structure  Changes in formal guidelines, policies and procedures such as the organization chart, budgeting methods, rules and regulations.
Technology Rearrangements in work flow, i.e., new physical layouts, work methods, systems and work standards.
Task Changes in the job performed by the individual, i.e., job descriptions, job design, flexibility, new skills and responsibilities, etc.
People Modification of attitudes, motivation and behaviours, achieved through new training programmes, selection procedures, communications strategies and the design of new performance management and rewards systems.

Introducing change in any one of these four areas has an impact on the other three.  For example, if a large organization is broken into smaller, self-managing business units (change which focuses on structure) then this will have an impact on:

  • technology - the way in which work is organized and passed between the separate units
  • task - job design changes for the individuals working within each business unit
  • people - how they feel about the change, its impact on them and the need to learn new skills and behaviours in order to deal effectively with the change.

This last area of impact is where training professionals within an organization need to be most active as change agents.  The role of training in helping an organization to manage its way through change focuses on the organization's people, and follows three stages:

Stage 1:  win commitment to and gain acceptance of the required change
Stage 2:  equip individuals with the new skills and knowledge required to implement the change
Stage 3:  provide coaching and support to groups or individuals as required, to help them cope with the change.

Implications of change for people management

The range of emotions which people may go through when faced with organizational change is very similar to those associated with grief or personal loss.  The Kubler-Ross model below illustrates the changes in attitude which people may go through as they learn to deal with a particular change:

Each stage is characterised by certain types of behaviour (see below).  The challenge for managers is to:

  • identify, through an individual’s demonstrated behaviours, the effect which the change is having on them personally
  • work with the individual to rationalise and understand the reasons for their reaction to the change
  • provide appropriate support, coaching and development to accelerate the individual towards acceptance of the change and learning to work with it. 

Ability to meet these managerial demands may require training.  The role of training in this context is to:

  • raise managers’ awareness and understanding of different reactions to change
  • increase managers’ skill in providing the counselling, coaching and support needed by their staff
  • be available as a resource to managers, to provide continuing, ongoing support as required.

Behaviours of each stage


  • verbal statements of denial and disbelief
  • 'rubbishing’ the change, looking for someone to blame


  • closed door huddles with ‘fellow conspirators’ against the change
  • forming of cliques, i.e. groups ‘for’ or ‘against’ the change
  • defensive behaviours, i.e. a very strong resistance to any evidence in support of change 
  • negative reporting, i.e., seeking out faults with the change and the people who support it. 


  • petulance, sullenness, frayed tempers
  • a lot of reactive energy spent in ‘lashing out’
  • snide remarks and destructive ‘felling’ statements aimed at the change and the people who support it
  • generally uncooperative behaviour


  • general pessimism, disaster predictions
  • apathy, clock watching and absenteeism
  • drop in quality and quantity of output
  • avoidance of others


  • willingness to listen
  • cooperative behaviour
  • desire to please
  • admittance of/apology for past behaviour
  • strong need for reassurance


  • positive attitude and outlook
  • eagerness for new ideas and approaches
  • problem solving rather than problem seeking
  • confidence
  • more self-managing, less dependent on others
  • high energy levels
  • renewed enjoyment of work
  • renewed pride in performance.

For more information …

DBA has many years' experience of assisting organizations and their managers in implementing change, and training to meet the demands of change. We have worked successfully with organizations to build and present cases for change in a way which will best win the support and commitment of their people. If this is an area of concern for your organization, please get in touch with us to find out how we can help.

© DBA 1999