Change management

Why won’t they do what I ask!

Or how engaging your team in workplace change can help your business thrive – and could save you time and money.

About our guest author

Clare Mullen of Positively Leading Change has 20+ years’ experience of planning and implementing change and managing stakeholder communications in Australia and the UK. She is passionate about motivating and engaging people in continuous business and organisational improvement.

Clare has a Master’s in marketing, is an accredited change management practitioner and is trained in project management and Gestalt psychotherapy.

If you work in any organisation, then you’ll be familiar with workplace change:

  • identifying and targeting new customers
  • rolling out new procedures
  • introducing new equipment
  • employing new people
  • … the list goes on!

But often implementing change at work feels hard! Change may not happen at all, or the changes work for a while, then everyone goes back to the old way of working. And the next time you suggest something new it’s met with groans (at best!).

And with the widely quoted statistic that 70% of workplace change projects fail you’d be forgiven for not wanting to try anything new. But that’s not an option for a thriving business!

I’m not pretending that all change is easy – some changes are definitely hard work – but many changes could be a bit easier with a bit of a plan. I’ve been lucky to be part of some really positive approaches to change – as well as some less positive.

There’s a couple of approaches I like to use to get a team on board with making changes.

1. First up – look for what’s working, not what’s broken

What are the strengths, successes and resources you have within your team that you can build on to reach your goals? This short video gives you a bit of an idea of how to move from seeing an organisation as a “problem to be fixed” to “possibilities waiting to happen”. Taking a positive approach – known as appreciative inquiry – can help build positive energy and momentum for improvement.

2. Then, use a simple framework to come up with a plan

ADKAR stands for Awareness, Knowledge, Desire, Ability, and Reinforcement.

There are lots of change management frameworks, but I like this one because it’s a deceptively simple framework that can apply to large and small changes – and it can be tailored to any sort of change project or setting.

I use it to think through the process that people go through when they’re involved in making any kind of change. An underlying principle is that organisations don’t change – people do. So you need to take into account how people change at an individual level.

Let’s look at an example

Say you’re introducing a new system in your business – moving from a paper form to an online system to book leave – or any similar type of process:

Awareness – you need to raise awareness of two things:

  1. Why you’re making the change
  2. What the change is and who needs to do what differently

In this case, you might point out that people are having to wait for several days to hear back about whether their leave has been approved. This makes it difficult for them to book travel and accommodation. You might also show people how many leave requests you’re getting that aren’t filled in correctly and how this impacts on your time, and the information that’s in the payroll system, which could impact on their pay.

Key is to think about who needs to be informed and who needs to be more involved – as part of the planning. In most cases, the more people you can involve the better. It may feel like it’s taking longer, but it will improve the chances of the changes being implemented more quickly.

Desire – remember “WIIFM” – what’s in it for me?

You need to think about what are some of the reasons people might love this change? And what are some of reasons they might not? This might be different for different people. For example, your book-keeper may have to change how they process leave payments – how problematic will that be for them? Your receptionist may love it because they’re no longer going to have file lots of paper forms.

If you have different people involved in the planning phase, you will be able to identify any problems before you get to rolling something out that won’t work for lots of people.

Knowledge – do people know what they need to do differently?

This tends to involve some kind of training. That could be classroom/online learning – or it could be on the job. The key point here is to think through how you will make sure that people know how to play their part in the change.

For example, training people on how to use the new form before it goes live – so they can ask all their questions in advance.

Ability – are people able to apply what they’ve learned about the change?

It could mean making sure that everyone has access to the new online system on their computers and mobile devices immediately after they’ve been training so they can start to use it right away. It also means allowing people to practise with the form and making sure that there are easy to understand “user guides” available, with lots of clear instructions. And perhaps designating someone in your team as the “go to” person, at least until people get used to the new approach.

Reinforcement – this means making sure that the new way of working becomes embedded in day to day operations

It could involve celebrating key project milestones in a fun way – such as making a big fuss the day the new form goes live. Or recognising staff who’ve used the new form without any errors in the next team meeting.

It’s also about making sure that the new way of working becomes easier than the old one – for example, no longer accepting leave requests on the old forms will force people to start to use the new approach.

A key thing here is accountability – what will happen to people if they don’t make the necessary changes? This can often involve some difficult conversations – which we know many people don’t like!

You can improve your chances of implementing relatively simple changes like these (how hard can it be to introduce a new leave form, right?) more smoothly, by spending a bit of time working through these steps above.

There are lots of free resources about ADKAR available from

Thanks for reading and If you’re tasked with leading change – and bringing others along with you – sign up for our newsletter specifically about change management. We share articles and updates on all aspects of change management – it’s aimed at people who lead change, including those who aren’t necessarily trained in change management!