Time for a Change

Basic tips for leading a successful change initiative

by Adrian Tan

Change is a constant, and having the ability to lead and manage change in an organization is increasingly acknowledged as an essential leadership ability. To be an effective change agent, you need to know one irrefutable truth: Change is necessary if organizations want to adapt to their business environment. This makes the role of the change agent extremely important.

Those of us who have been in roles that require us to deal with a lot of change-management issues will agree that change is an intricate task. It is a science—a series of steps that can be planned and documented. But it is also an art.

Just as there are documented change processes, the ability to follow through on these prescribed processes varies with every individual. It also depends on the context and the environment of application. Each change agent chooses his or her own techniques from a larger quiver of approaches and tools. How you lead change also depends on your experience and perceptions.

In my experience leading change, I have found the most basic ingredient for making change happen is knowledge: knowledge of yourself, the situation and the concerns of those affected by the change. It is extremely important to do your homework first and learn about all sides of the story.

During one of my encounters while coaching a client through a change-management project, I learned that jumping right into action proved to be counterproductive. It caused the change initiative to stall and created additional resistance to change, and considerable effort was required to remove it.

Keeping that in mind will help as you begin. And here are five more tips to help as your project moves ahead:

1. Get the direction right

It is important to ask yourself where your organization is now and what it wants to achieve via this change-management project. By identifying the gap between present and future, you set the direction of the change process.

2. Communicate

Always attempt to gain buy-in from all stakeholders by communicating the intentions of the change process. There are many ways of doing so, but the most effective way is to have face-to-face meetings or training sessions. That approach creates a healthy rapport between the change agent and the stakeholders.

3. Start small and empower

If the scope of change is enormous, dice it into manageable milestones. Achieve success with each milestone, and then move on to the next one. Remember that the sum of parts is larger than the whole, so be sure to empower the stakeholders to take ownership of the change to help it proliferate.

4. Stay focused, be consistent

Throughout the change process, focus on the desired deliverable and be consistent in communicating to all stakeholders. That way, you can avoid derailment and the buildup of misconceptions and mistrust.

5. Stay neutral

Do not take sides with stakeholders. One way to avoid that is to constantly put yourself in the position of a third party. But bear in mind that if things stagnate, something must be done. Someone needs to take a side and break the deadlock.

Leading and managing change is an intricate task, and even the most experienced change agent will run into obstacles. Using these basic tips will help you stay on course to leading a successful change initiative and making change happen.


  • Joseph O’Conner and John Seymour, Introducing NLP: Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People, Thorsons Publishers, 1993.

Adrian Tan is the founder and principal consultant of One.Strategist LLP. He earned a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering from the National University of Singapore. Tan is an ASQ senior member and an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt.

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