Shifting Change: Insider Tips from Project Leaders

by , , , , , , , , , ,
Today's world is influenced by change. Project managers and their organizations need to embrace and sometimes drive changes to keep up with the pace in highly competitive environments. In this blog, experienced professionals share their experiences, tips and tools to manage and exploit changes and take advantage of them. The blog is complimentary to the webinar series of the Change Management Community Team and is managed by the same individuals.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Luisa Cristini
Nic Jain
Ruth Pearce
Abílio Neto
Vitaly Geyman
Walter Vandervelde
Steve Salisbury
John ORourke
Ronald Sharpe
Angela Montgomery
Wendy Heckelman

Recent Posts

Secrets of a Change Resistor

The Five Criteria of a Good Idea

How transformational leadership and organizational change management work together to drive phenomenal results

Building A Culture of Appreciation - Part 1

Lessons in Sponsoring Change

Secrets of a Change Resistor

The Announcement

How many times have you seen this type of email blast from senior management and said…”Not again”?

"…it is an undertaking which will enhance core values by transforming the organization and disrupting the industry. Initially, teams will be created and will be tasked with leveraging the organization’s core competency, determining the best ways to empower our employees while focusing on the customer experience…”

Now, you have two choices. You can be a pawn in another senior management change initiative or become a change resistor.

Why Resist?

Resisting is fun…

As we learned in Change Management 101, in order to have a successful change initiative, there are numerous goals we strive to attain. Here are a few of these key objectives:

  • Minimize the impact on productivity
  • Avoid unnecessary turnover or loss of valued employees
  • Eliminate any negative impact on customers
  • Progress from the current state to future state as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to the organization

While these are noble ideals, they all require one thing: a change to the status quo. When you think about it, is there really anything wrong with the current way we do things? Just because associate satisfaction is low or profitability is decreasing or the competition is poaching our customers, is that really a reason to bring change to the organization?

Human Behavior and Change

There are certain patterns which occur in human behavior during organizational change. These are naturally occurring and, in general, reduce the probability of an initiative actually succeeding.

  1. Change is hard. Most people gravitate to the path of least resistance by maintaining the status quo. If the change manager fails to develop a comprehensive change plan dealing with all phases of the initiative, it could easily fail at any point in the process.
  2. Lack of engagement by the project sponsor. This is what we call the “Shiny Object Syndrome”. The project sponsor has competing priorities and becomes disengaged with the initiative once the initial excitement of the project wears off. This lack of leadership engagement creates a gap in the decision-making or approval process, slowing down project execution.
  3. Scope creep. Another gem in the resistance tool bag. If the change manager fails to thoroughly document the requirements and implement a change control process, my work here is done. There is a good chance an engagement will fail due to stakeholders expanding the project’s scope.
  4. Missing key stakeholders. If the change manager requests assistance in the identification of additional stakeholders, this is a perfect time to add FOMOs (fear of missing outers) to the project team. FOMOs are self-important people who want to be included in every key initiative although they may not be directly impacted by it.  FOMOs can usually be counted on to delay a project’s schedule or add new requirements to its scope.

Change Teams Can Cause Resistance

Interestingly enough, there are certain actions that the change team takes which can cause employees to start resisting the change. In the resistance business, this is what we call “A Gift”. The change team:

  • Attacks the resistor(s) aggressively and without tact.
  • Does not use sponsors effectively.
  • Allows the sponsors to be non-committal about the change.
  • Uses threats and aggressive language.
  • Avoids talking and listening to key stakeholders.
  • Does not engage the various teams impacted.
  • Ignores those who resist.
  • Communicates the plan and then ignores the plan.
  • Is vague about what the change will accomplish.

Resistance to Change - Employees

Sometimes, employees rise up and resist the change. This is called “Storming the Castle”. For this to be effective, the opposition must come from a relatively large and diverse group of employees. If it does not, then the change team could crush the rebellion by identifying each resistor and proactively addressing individual concerns. Here are some reasons employees resist change:

  1. Belief that the change is unnecessary
  2. Surprise and fear of the unknown
  3. No input into the decision
  4. Not confident that the change will succeed
  5. Loss of status and/or job security
  6. Peer pressure
  7. Lack of resources to implement the change
  8. Cannot see the benefits

Types of Resistance

If all of the above mentioned actions fail to derail the initiative and the change effort is still viable, a comprehensive resistance plan will need to be developed. Be creative in developing a strategy. Do not limit yourself to one type of resistance. Be creative and execute a multi-faceted approach. Finally, it is important to understand that each type of resistance can be foiled by a competent change team if they follow the recommended course of action.

  1. Gossip - Gossip normally occurs in an uncertain environment and is driven by misinformation and inadequate communications from senior leaders. It is usually not personal in nature but can be damaging to the effort if not addressed promptly. Change Team: Address rumors by listening to the issues and focusing on the concerns. This is accomplished by reviewing the communication plan, identifying gaps, and making the necessary adjustments.
  2. Pushing the Boundaries - Instigators want to see what the change team’s response is when the effort is resisted. Examples may include missing meetings, being unresponsive to email requests for information, or openly challenging a decision. Change Team: How early resistors are dealt with will have a significant impact on the success of a change effort. The best response to this type of resistance is to question an employee’s motives.
  3. Individual Resistance - This resistance is generally limited to the extent of an individual’s personal power within the organization. Those individuals with more power can aggressively challenge and critique the change initiative. Change Team: Handle each individual action carefully but start at the top. A separate meeting may be necessary so the resistor can express his or her concerns, and the change team can offer a more structured response. The way this resistor is managed will send a strong signal to other potential resistors.
  4. Collective Resistance - Organized resistance is usually a sign that the change effort has deep dissension. Employees will not go through the process of organizing unless they have serious issues with the change. Change Team: One of the more successful ways of managing this conflict is to negotiate with the resistor’s leadership team. Allow the leaders to express their concerns and modify the change initiative to reflect any concessions that were made to resolve the issue.
  5. Covert Resistance - This is a deliberate act of resistance to change. It is conducted in a manner that allows the person responsible for it to appear as if they are not resisting. Change Team: Handle this type of resistance by being proactive in the identification of the individuals responsible.
  6. Passive Resistance - This occurs through apathy or a lack of action towards the change effort by the employees. They appear to support the change effort, but they do not participate in any of the change deliverables. Change Team: One of the better ways to handle the apathetic employee is to get commitment to a deliverable in a public forum, usually at a weekly status meeting. At subsequent meetings, confirm that the deliverable is progressing until the task is complete.

Final Word

Do not despair if you are unsuccessful in your efforts to derail an initiative. You will get another chance. There is always another corporate change initiative ready to be launched.

Posted by John ORourke on: August 18, 2019 11:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Five Criteria of a Good Idea

Bam! There he is again. The fourth time already in three weeks time, because that’s exactly how long John works in your team. You started calling him ‘Jolly John’, but only in your head of course. You can hardly blame him for a lack of commitment. And always with the same enthusiasm, the same childish and disarming smile on his face he walks into your office, “Boss, I’ve been thinking a while and suddenly I had this brilliant idea”… Not again, you think. But you keep quiet.

Defer your judgment, listen and ask questions, lift on the idea. That’s the right way to give it a fair chance to grow. Sure, it is the first and perhaps most important basic skill of creative thinking. No more “yes but”, we now go for ‘yes and’! That’s what you’ve learned. And that’s how it should be.​

But then again, not all ideas are gems. At least not right away, we should indeed cherish them a little, or ‘greenhouse’ as it is called. When you pour ideas into a creative process, you can afford the luxury to defer your judgment to the selection phase. Good for Jolly John, because that way his ideas will have a much better chance to evolve. Unfortunately, that’s not a daily reality in most organizations. But how can you, as a superior, manage to evaluate ideas on the spot? What criteria are you going to maintain in order to make a correct judgment?

Those criteria are often specific to the problem. Discovering the accurate ‘why’ question is an essential part of the creative process. Should we then assume that the quality of ideas are relative, merely depending on the criteria of the problem? Yes and no. Because there are some basic conditions that every good idea must meet.



At least a good idea must bring a certain change. Change that, at the same time, contains a certain level of improvement. The idea itself should not necessarily be completely new and unique. In most cases, it even comes to small alterations, tiny improvements to a product, a service, a structure, a process. And that’s OK. Big disruptive ideas don’t pop up every day.



The improvement mentioned above should also deliver value. Someone — or a certain target group — should benefit from it and also allow and accept the improvement that goes with the idea. The latter might sound a little strange, but accepting the change and improvement is crucial in the success or breakdown of an idea. Many commercial launches of innovative products or services have therefore failed.



Permanently ridding the world of war and starvation, building a teleportation machine or developing a pill that makes us immortal … Brilliant ideas where smart people somewhere on this globe are certainly working on right now. But do they fit within your structure, your context and your possibilities? Not a big chance. And therefore, such ideas — at least for you — are of little value, so we can hardly classify them as good ideas. Dreams are made to cherish, but good ideas are made to implement. Dreams are made to cherish, but good ideas are made to implement.



When an idea takes more time, energy and money to develop it than the benefit or profit it will ever generate, we should better get rid of it. Unless it is just an experiment, or an indispensable part of a bigger concept. Cost and benefit should always be in balance. And also on the market side, no sensible consumer is willing to pay a ridiculous amount of money, not even for a world-shaking innovation. It sounds logic, but again this is one of the reasons of many product failures.



In today’s world, we are bombarded with stimuli. Our attention span is getting shorter and shorter every day. Intuitively, we therefore look for simplicity. A good idea is uncomplicated, straightforward and comprehensible. At least that’s how the user should experience it. Words like usability and design thinking have become quite popular with the development of each new product or service. Simplicity will always win over complexity.


These five basic criteria will offer you the right handles in the appraisal of ideas. Obviously, every challenge has its own unique aspects and requirements. It is convenient to determine these requirements in advance with your team. That way you will avoid huge disappointments afterwards and it will help you to coach your own Jolly John in coming up with good and valuable ideas.

Posted by Walter Vandervelde on: August 12, 2019 06:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

How transformational leadership and organizational change management work together to drive phenomenal results

Working for years with senior executives driving transformational change, I’ve observed that sometimes leaders jump directly from strategy to execution without doing necessary preparation to activate and accelerate implementation within their organization. This preparation requires transformational leadership skills to transition from strategy to execution. I have also observed that organizational change management (OCM) cannot take the place of or make up for a lack of transformational leadership.

Leaders use OCM to provide a structured approach to leading the organization through a transformation or a large-scale change. There are, however, several prerequisites necessary for OCM to be successful. These are elements of transformational leadership.

  1. There must be a clear and compelling purpose to the transformation.
  2. Outcomes must be specific, attainable and measurable.
  3. The leadership team must be aligned on these two points above.
  4. The leadership team is willing and able to put aside their own functional needs to consider what is best for the whole organization during the transformation (to eliminate cross-functional dysfunction).
  5. Organizational risks, including cultural risks, must be identified with an adaptation plan in place.
  6. The right governance structure is in place to provide day-to-day leadership for the transformation.
  7. The leader agrees to play a role in strategic communications.
  8. The leadership team agrees to engage with front-line employees and middle managers to enroll them in the change.

With these elements in place, a strong OCM plan can be established and executed. OCM leverages these elements by providing and executing:

  1. A strong communication plan that emphasizes purpose and outcomes and includes the leaders’ active participation.
  2. An education program that describes how the environment will be different after the transformation, including defining individual role changes.
  3. Organizational planning that revamps leadership and managerial roles and structure.
  4. Enrollment plans that determine how front-line employees and middle managers will be involved in the implementation.
  5. Skill training required for all impacted parties to learn how to operate in the new environment.
  6. Long term entrenchment plans to embed the transformation for the long-term.

All of this combines to create a winning formula to drive phenomenal success, often exceeding targets.

Call to action: As you consider your next transformation, think about these points. Have you done the work necessary to prepare your organization – starting with your leadership team – to drive success? Have you activated the team and set the stage to accelerate the work?



Posted by Steve Salisbury on: August 05, 2019 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Building A Culture of Appreciation - Part 1

Research shows that appreciation – as measured by the VIA character strength[1] of appreciation of beauty and excellence – is not used a great deal at work.[2] It is often associated with appreciating nature, art, or skillful performances. And it is that last definition that is useful in teams in the workplace.

Subtly different than gratitude[3] which is about being thankful, appreciation is the strength that allows us to see and name the skills, values, and contributions of people around us. It is a strength that makes calling out the contribution of a colleague more comfortable. And yet we don’t use it much at work.

The strange thing is that it is not an uncommon top strength – some research suggests that 4 out of 10 of us rank it as a top strength! Maybe we just don’t think to use it in the workplace. The same is often true of love – but that is another story!

Checking in on your sense of appreciation

When was the last time you took a stakeholder aside and thanked them for their contribution? Maybe you are good at thanking people – after all research shows that Gratitude is a top strength for about 25% of us[4].

When was the last time you told them why you are thanking them? Explaining what it is specifically that they bring to the table? Telling them in enough detail that they can repeat the behavior in the future and make it a permanent fixture in their project contributions. If it was recent that is great. But all too often, we go through the day on autopilot, taking in stride the contribution from colleagues. We are all too quick to notice when someone is not giving us what we want or need on a project, but when people do what we think they are supposed to, we tend to take it for granted. We may give a quick “thanks” to someone who has delivered on something

It starts with you

We do the same thing with ourselves. I often speak with groups and train people about character strengths. They are one of the triumvirate of strengths that when working well together put us in what Dr Neal Mayerson of the VIA Institute on Character calls, “the Power Zone”[5]. The other two prongs are Talents and Skills. When we take our talents, build them with training and practice into skills and then add in our character strengths – those internal motivators that give us a sense of connection to what we are doing.  This triangle of personal attributes – not unlike the talent triangle of leadership, strategic and technical skills in project management – creates our own capacity to excel.


The other topic we explore I talk about is strengths- blindness. Research shows that 66% of us are strengths blind we don’t actually know what we bring to the table[6]. Often, the attributes that others find most remarkable – and most beneficial – about us we don’t even recognize as special, unusual or note-worthy. One of my coaching clients described her strengths of self-regulation (unusual as a high strength), prudence – the planning strength – and teamwork as boring! And yet her team described her as present, even- tempered and easy to work with. Are they talking about the same strengths? Yes, they are!


Two steps to full appreciation:

Step 1 is to appreciate the contribution YOU make. You can take the free VIA strengths assessment here:

Or you can take a look at the strengths sheetbelow and just circle the top 5 that strike a chord with you.

Now watch out for them each day. For example, my top strengths are Appreciation, Bravery, Curiosity, Fairness & Gratitude.
In a typical day, they show up like this:

Appreciation – I take a walk in the morning and take in the nature around me and appreciate the silliness of my dog. I look out for people going the extra mile and express my appreciation whenever I can (I also express my dismay when people don’t seem be doing what they are meant to be doing!)

Bravery – I try to push myself to do something outside my comfort zone on a regular basis. I write a post about a new topic or make a call to a new person.

Curiosity – I allow myself to read about new topics, explore new ideas, and get perspective from new people. I also have to manage my curiosity so that I don’t go down rabbit holes!

What are your top strengths?

Make a note for the next 7 days of how each of your strengths show up now that you know about them.

Which ones are a surprise?
Which ones do you sometimes overdo?

Which ones take a back seat at work? Where do they show up strong and present?

Next time in Building a Culture of Appreciation, we will explore expressing appreciation of others!

Strengths list with descriptions – reproduced with kind permission:


[1] Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 537-551

[2] Money, K., Hillenbrand, C., & Camara, N. D. (2008). Putting positive psychology to work in rganizations. Journal of General Management, 34 (2), 21-26.

[3] Character Strengths & Virtues 553-568

[4] TECHNICAL REPORT The VIA Assessment Suite for Adults ... (n.d.). Retrieved from VIA Assessment Suite Technical Report.pdf


[6] Linley, A. (2008), Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press

Posted by Ruth Pearce on: July 21, 2019 11:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Lessons in Sponsoring Change

Categories: Sponsorship

A few years ago, I decided to hire a general contractor to build a house for me. The contractor, Ron, told me that the typical house takes 160 days to complete - from groundbreaking to occupancy.  He then warned me that because the house was 700 feet off the main road in a heavily wooded area, construction would take longer. Just how much longer, he would not commit.

I determined to reduce construction time. My plan was to stay engaged with the Ron and treat the subcontractors like royalty. During construction, I went out to the house nearly every day. Often it was after work to evaluate progress and report findings to Ron. Normally the reports were positive. Occasionally there were small issues for him to address. One time there were electrical outlets in the wrong place; he fixed it. Once I found a wall six feet from where it was planned. Ron made it right and thanked me for identifying the issue so quickly.

At times, I would go to the site early in the morning before work, or during my lunch break. During these times, I took coffee, water, donuts, cookies or pizza for the subcontractors. Later, I learned that these gestures created a sense of purpose and appreciation among the subcontractors. They wanted to help people build their dreams. They wanted to do good work and they wanted to feel like they were a part of something bigger than eight hours of labor a day. I also discovered later that this worked to my advantage as many extras were added - at no cost.

There are two major lessons here. First, the sponsor of a project must be actively engaged in monitoring and guiding progress. Can you imagine the costs and delays if I hadn't found the misplaced wall as early as I did?  The second lesson is to engage and inspire your employees during change. I used donuts and coffee to share my passion for building the house in the woods, and in turn, the subcontractors felt like they were part of something bigger.

You might say, "Well, Steve, this is a nice story, but so what? You expended a lot of time and energy to supervise the construction, a job you delegated to the general contractor, Ron. But what were the real benefits?" We moved into the house in 140 days, the house met specifications, and the project came in under budget. How many of your projects achieve these kinds of results?

Call to Action: When you consider your next change initiative, as a sponsor, plan time in your calendar to stay engaged with the project. Think about more than just attending the regular status meetings to stay informed. Instead, make a difference. Talk to the employees doing the work. Ask the project manager informally about progress. Schedule lunches or other events during the project and not just to celebrate the end of the project.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



Posted by Steve Salisbury on: July 09, 2019 02:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

"If a man does only what is required of him, he is a slave. If a man does more than is required of him, he is a free man."

- Chinese Proverb