5 Misconceptions About Change Management

With the amount of transformation currently underway in the Government, it’s no big surprise that Change Management has been a popular topic of conversation. What has been interesting across the sum of these conversations is the wide range of definitions and perceptions about what Change Management is. Here are the 5 most common misconceptions that we are seeing regarding Change Management.

  1. Change Management = Communications: When talking about change management activities within a project, we often discuss which resources are being tasked with leading the CM activities in a transformation project. A common answer is “oh, we have a Comms person on our team already, so change management is taken care of.” It’s a start – constant and consistent communications are critical to any change initiative – but there is more to effectively managing change than communications. Just because you tell people about the change, that doesn’t mean they’re going to do it.
  2. Change Management = Project Management: There is a difference between these two streams of activity and areas of expertise, but it’s not always a distinction that is well understood. Project management is an area of practice that largely focuses on ensuring that the activities and milestones are undertaken in a way that allows a project to be completed on time and on budget. Change Management is more focused on the people side of change, working with all levels of staff to ensure that they are willing and able to make the change. You can hit all of your project milestones, but if the staff in your organization don’t change their actions, will the transformation really be sustained?
  3. Change Management = Checklist of Deliverables: This misconception is sometimes a subset to the previous, where “change management” is a line item in a project plan with a handful of associated deliverables, such as a communications plan and training plan. These deliverables are important to complete and should be used by the project team as a way to guide their actions and communicate plans with others in the organization… but there’s the rub. Far too often the creation of the deliverable is where the activity starts and ends, with good thinking and planning being little more than a tick on a checklist of deliverables. Implementing change successfully is about working closely with those who need to change – the deliverables are but some of the tools that enable this collaboration.
  4. “It’s an IT thing”: Change Management is best known by our clients in IT, while many clients in program areas or business lines often tell us that they don’t need change management because change management “is an IT thing”. The way we see it, change management is about working with the people in an organization to ensure that they not only know about a change initiative and its merits but it’s also about working closely with staff, managers and executives to ensure that everyone is willing and able to make the necessary changes in their skills, actions, behaviours and attitudes.
  5. It’s about the group, not individuals: In large and complex changes, the number of different teams and staff that need to be engaged can be overwhelming. An easy way to short cut some of that work is to aggregate your change management activities – dealing with targeting 3 branches is easier than targeting 1,500 individuals, right? While this can indeed find some efficiencies, it brings risks too. Teams are made of individuals, each with their own challenges and barriers about implementing the change. If these aren’t addressed at an individual level, there is greater risk to having the change successfully implemented. This is even more dangerous to the success of a project when it comes to resistance management – dissent and resistance can ruin a project if left unmanaged. So if you find yourself batching together your CM efforts, never forget that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

If this is what change management is not, then what is change management? Ironically, “all of the above” isn’t a bad place to start. It includes all of what is listed above, just not in isolation. Successfully managing change does indeed require communications and project management, and good documentation goes a long way. It does have a place in IT, but also plays a role in any project where people need to change. It is definitely about teams, but it is also about focusing on the individuals that make up the team.

In addition, though, there are more pieces that are true change management activities that need to be integrated into any change initiative:

  1. Change Characteristics – understanding the size, scope and complexity of the change in order to define concrete steps to mitigate any potential issues or risks
  2. Organizational Attributes – recognizing the organization’s past experiences, organizational tendencies and cultural influences related to change in order to define concrete steps to mitigate any potential issues or risks
  3. Transformation Team – defining the right individuals with the right competencies, and the right relationships to the project team and sponsors to drive the change management efforts in order to define concrete steps to mitigate any potential issues or risks
  4. Sponsorship Team – defining the right  individuals with the right competencies, and the right relationships within the organization to effectively sponsor the change in order to define concrete steps to mitigate any potential issues or risks
  5. Risk Assessment – defining the risk levels associated to the project in order to define concrete steps to mitigate any potential issues or risks
  6. Special Tactics – bringing all of the above together in an integrated and highly customized set of special tactics that ensure that people are willing and able to make the change

Change management is about managing the people side of change; not just to complete the project, but to ensure that the people in the organization are willing and able to make the change, and to ensure that the change sticks.


Kellen is a dynamic consultant, who excels at analysing how people, information and technology work together. As Director of Government Service Excellence, Kellen is focused on helping the Government of Canada solve the complex problems related to serving Canadians. This is done with a focus on effective and strategic use of the web, integrating with other channels such as telephone, in-person, social media and mobile platforms. His strength is bringing clarity to complex situations, and Kellen achieves this through his skills in facilitation, change management, process design and creative problem solving.


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