11 Ways to Painlessly Change Your Organization

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” ― Heraclitus

From time to time, each of us wants – or is asked to – make changes in our personal or professional lives. Many of us struggle to leave behind the familiar and move into the unknown. When we initiate change in the workplace, usually it’s because we want to achieve something concrete – we reorganize, install new software systems, and develop quality-improvement projects, for example.

Yet research by McKinsey & Company, confirmed by other researchers, indicates 70% of all such efforts to implement change will fail. If we initiate change to get better results, why don’t these initiatives work? Too often, the human side of business is left out of the equation. The people in our workplaces will determine whether the desired change is successful and achieves the intended results.

All of us want to be heard, feel a sense of belonging, and recognize that we are valued. When we are left out of sharing our thoughts, perspectives, and ideas on issues that affect us and the organization, we don’t feel we are valued, that our opinion matters, or that we belong. If employees are to be committed to a change, it’s important they be included in the process. This does not mean they make the decision; it means their opinion matters and their input is sought. People will feel good when management asks their opinion, but another benefit of seeking broad input is that the team sponsoring a change gains knowledge that can and should inform their plan.

Key Factors to Consider:

Factor in the Heart

Change involves loss. Recognize when you ask people to change, you are asking them to give up something. People may recognize the change will benefit the organization long-term, but may still be reluctant to deal with the impact on them personally. Acknowledge the reluctance and allow employees to give voice to a feeling of loss.

An employee may be the designer of a program that is being replaced. While they understand the need for the change – and may even agree with the recommended change – they may still feel disappointed that a program they worked hard to create is being replaced. Acknowledgment is key.

When employees are let go or leave, not only does it have an impact on those who leave, but also on those who stay. There’s a loss of relationship to varying degrees. A change in employee status often creates concern about how the remaining employees might be impacted by the work load, their status or their permanence. Listening is important; so is transparency.

Validate Feelings

Assess the emotional impact. Factor in time to allow employees to process the change. Celebrate the past and acknowledge accomplishments.

Recognize Flight/Fight Response to Change

Some will be upset, even angry with the idea of change; others will withdraw. Deliberately seek out those you think might be resistant. Make sure you understand and appreciate the reactions. Recognize that today is known; tomorrow is not.

Accept That Everyone Reacts Differently to Change

Some of us fear change; others are energized and welcome the challenge and growth opportunities. Some resist change because they feel more secure with their existing habits and routine. For some, change brings up insecurities about the future of their job and the impact on their family or career path.

Remind Employees Why Change Is Necessary

Help them see the change is in their best interest. Explore the notion that everything is a system and when one part is not working efficiently or effectively, it impacts all other parts. We often talk about how change can seem risky, but in fact maintaining the status quo is often the riskiest course a company can take.

Create Clearly Executable Plans

Work through the details. Include employees in the planning. They each have unique perspectives. Reassure employees and encourage them to be open to learning. Create and communicate clear plans for moving forward. Stay ahead of the action and anticipate needs.

Communicate and Listen

Step up the level and depth of communication during times of change. It’s important to be transparent so employees understand what’s behind the change and the context that led to it. Keep employees informed and reassured. Build trust within the organization by following through on commitments you make, giving updates, and listening. Inspire your employees and clients by explaining the process and helping them to visualize the end result.

Offer reminders of why this change is being pursued as the best course of action.

Get people at all levels involved. Make sure there’s a means for employees to express their thoughts and feel heard. Keep them in the loop, listen to their ideas, and encourage ownership and involvement as change is implemented.

Plan for and Anticipate Obstacles, Setbacks and Resistance

Be ready to make adjustments. Patience is key. Recognize that others don’t necessarily move as fast as you might like.

Realign Resources

Planning all aspects of the change is key to its success. If employees need to be given time to work on implementing this change, make sure the load of their regular assignments is reduced accordingly. Budgets should be adjusted prior to implementation to help ensure the cost of the project will be budget-neutral.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Recognize that when change efforts fail, cynicism prevails. Prevent cynicism with open communication.


Change works when leadership is 100% on board.

What has been your experience with change? What improvements could be made to a process that presented problems? What contributed to an organizational change that worked successfully?


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Margy Bresslour is the Founder of Moving Messages, a company dedicated to encouraging the expression of appreciation. Moving Messages works with organizations to create a positive and productive culture where employees feel valued and are fully engaged, and where customers and clients love doing business. Margy offers consultation, coaching, and mentoring that develop individuals who thrive, cohesive teams that enjoy working together, and organizations that get rave reviews and improved outcomes.

  • Bryn

    Love this, Margy. I once endured a change process that didn’t have the clearly executable plans you mentioned. Parts of it made sense but other parts didn’t because, as you mentioned, no one in executive leadership asked staff to be involved. The biggest obstacle then was unclear lines of communication and authority. In the new org structure, who got to make what decisions when a project involved several departments? It was unnecessarily messy, and it took longer to move forward because a decision would be made, then overturned by someone else. I hear they got there in the end, but I didn’t stick around to find out.

    • Margy

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear that you experienced a process
      that didn’t go well. Change initiatives that don’t involve gathering input or
      thinking about the impact on others can result in chaos and cynicism and can even
      lead to employees leaving the organization. As you experienced, clarity
      is key. Engaging others in the process makes a huge difference to the
      success of new projects. Thanks again for reading and taking the time to

  • John Bennett

    Great list of ideas to adapt to your particular situation. BUT in your title: “11 Ways to Painlessly Change Your Organization”, do we truly expect any change to be completely ‘PAINLESS’???

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