Issues with change management.

The Change Management Dilemma

The change management dilemma is a cumulation of issues surrounding the nature of behavioral change within an organization. There is a wide variety of dilemmas to be found in change, however, today I want to focus specifically on sponsorship and management.

Are you trying to implement change? How can balance the formality behind executive leadership with the comfort and familiarity of direct management within your employees? Losing sight of this balance could cause you to create issues around change where there need not be.

The dilemma itself states this: How do you manage the balance between the familiarity of immediate managers to promote a change and the seriousness of executive sponsors?

Consider this from the operational perspective, in the eyes of the employees, their managers are familiar to them. Employees know by experience how their managers act and react and they know how to adjust accordingly. It is possible that the level of informality among employees and managers is high.

Now consider executive sponsors. Executives are the formal, serious, and focused voices of an organization. Employees who do not work directly with executives will inherently feel a level of tension tied to any project or change that is sponsored by somebody so well up in the organizational hierarchy.

The dilemma here is in building willingness and reinforcement for change.

An employee is less likely to consider change as a serious shift in culture and company vision when it is communicated by their direct (and familiar) supervisor or manager. Similarly, employees may feel intimidated taking the risks necessary to change when they are under the impression that an executive is overseeing everything that they are doing.

Here is the dilemma. How can you, as the sponsor for change, create an environment in which the importance of change and the vision for the future is properly communicated, yet build a safe environment for employees to take risks without the fear of serious consequences.

The answer is proper delegation. Changing behavioral patterns or systems within an organization can be characterized by a few steps. The order in which you apply these steps, and delegate them to various levels of organizational leadership, is critical to gathering awareness and willingness to change.

Organizational Change Behavior Patterns.

Ultimately, in the ADKAR model of change management, Jeff Hiatt mentions the stages of individual behavioral change.

The stages are:

Each of these stages is vital and cannot be had without the others. They are like building blocks upon organizational change. Awareness is required before desire. Desire is required before knowledge, and so on.

The goal of awareness is to shed light on the need for change, and why not changing will be costly to the organization.

The goal of Desire is to motivate and inspire the key players to make the effort to change by appealing to them personally.

The goal of knowledge is to supply the proper resources to your employees to ensure that they know the ins and outs behind the new functionality of the organization.

The goal of ability is to determine whether they can perform those changes well, and to diagnose issues when they can not.

The goal of reinforcement is to solidify and stabilize the new change into the culture of the organization and reward employees for a job well-done.

These stages are necessary to understanding the heart of this dilemma. Some stages contain characteristics that are necessary for supervisors or managers to accomplish with their teams. And other stages may be better done with the help of the executive sponsor or both of them.

ADKAR: Awareness

We are going to tackle this questions on a step-by-step basis.

Ultimately, considering the goal of the awareness stage of change management is to shed light on the need for change, and why not changing will be costly to the organization, you can argue that executive leaders and managers/supervisors will be needed to drive the message home.

In fact, there are often messages that only managers and supervisors should give considering the scale of the organization. Executive leaders shouldn’t have to lead awareness efforts by posting every flyer on the wall of employee locations!

Similarly, managers and supervisors can’t effectively communicate vision alone because employees view executives as the visionary leaders. Managers and supervisors will need support from the executive leader in communicating the importance of change to their teams.

ADKAR: Desire

Building desire is all about speaking to individual preferences and motivations. It can be a difficult thing to do over a broad scale, considering the diversity and spread over employees, teams, or the organization as a whole.

Building desire can be one of the organizations greatest allies during change. Desire often breeds commitment, and with that commitment comes the willingness to learn new things, take risks, and do what is necessary to change.

Because desire is as important as awareness is, and because it occasionally requires the resources and vision to enforce, desire requires, again, both executive sponsors and managers/supervisors.

Executive sponsors have the resources and vision to build desire in terms of the cost of staying the same, and managers/supervisors have the ability to enforce those desires by offering more interpersonal rewards and motivations such as praise, getaways, tickets to events, etc.

ADKAR: Knowledge

Providing the right resources to implement knowledge is vital for sustaining change quickly.
Providing the right resources to implement knowledge is vital for sustaining change quickly.

Knowledge boils down to whether or not the employees know how to change, more specifically, what needs to be done on a day-by-day basis to put the change in effect.

Knowledge is very much about how to do the job (as opposed to actually doing it in stage 4: ability). Ultimately, providing knowledge is on a case-by-case basis. That is to say, different teams in different parts of the organization will require different knowledge to perform well.

In this case, managers and supervisors should enforce knowledge. Executive sponsors should not. This is only because the value that is presented to employees by having executive sponsors present is outweighed by the fear of taking risks.

A large portion of knowledge is in proper training/coaching. Depending on the size of the organization, these things require such attention to detail and individual attention that it is entirely inefficient to have executive sponsors involved.

Ultimately, aside from the inefficiency of implementing executive leadership in operational tasks, employees want to feel comfortable performing the job, which leads us into stage 4: Ability.

ADKAR: Ability

Stage 4: Ability is about putting the awareness, desire, and knowledge into action to create change. In this stage, employees are utilizing their training and coaching to perform duties that are fueled by inspiration and guided by awareness.

The ability stage is likely the longest and most arduous point in the change process. This is because the stakes are high, the change is being implemented with risk of resistance, and employees are being pushed into a state of productive disequilibrium.

In the ability stage, it is crucial to communicate to employees that there are no consequences for attempting change and taking risks. These risks must be viewed as an unavoidable and natural part of the change process, and any negative consequences must be met with understanding and learning as opposed to discipline.

Employees that feel secure in taking risks are likely to perform well and more autonomously than those who don’t. Therefore, in order to enforce a feeling of security and measure an organization’s ability to change, only managers and supervisors should be involved.

Employees often feel more comfortable with a naturally supportive and familiar manager on their side to gauge their ability as opposed to an executive. Therefore, executives should not be involved in judging and assessing individual performance metrics as opposed to full-scale organizational performance.

ADKAR: Reinforcement

The goal of reinforcement is to solidify and stabilize the new change into the culture of the organization and reward employees for a job well-done. Ultimately, this can be done in a variety of ways including offering rewards, celebrations, or retreats.

In the last two stages, executive sponsors took a break due to the individual nature of change and risk. But now, executive sponsors should arrive in full to reinforce the change and ensure that behaviors become part of the organizational culture.

This is because reinforcement is effective at all levels of an organization. Executive sponsors may be able to reinforce change with resources that managers and supervisors do not have. And vice versa.

Ultimately, if the overarching vision is achieved, and goal metrics are met, all management should reinforce the change to make it stick. Poor reinforcement is similar to leaving the nature of change open to interpretation, it fails to solidify the specific practices that provide the best results.


The ADKAR template for change is a great way to organize and explain the nature of diagnostic change in an organization.
The ADKAR template for change is a great way to organize and explain the nature of diagnostic change in an organization.

Using the ADKAR method, we can begin to prepare and diagnose issues within the organization such as the dilemma presented in this post. The important thing to remember is that, for change to occur willingly, there must be psychological safety among employees.

Psychological safety is merely the assurance that taking risks and changing in accordance with the vision of executives and managers will not result in negative consequences. That would be similar to asking somebody to do something, then disciplining them for doing it.

To breed commitment in employees, ensure that they understand the nature behind the change. A popular book that explains the importance behind vision is Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Ultimately, explaining WHY the nature of the organization is unsustainable in its current state, and how to get to a better future, will provide beneficial results in building awareness and commitment.

Motivation acts differently for every person, be careful not to provide inequitable rewards among the employees, as doing so could cause resistance within the minds of the individuals due to unfair treatment.

Hopefully, I was able to address a common issue in organizational change regarding management levels. These levels are only differentiated by the scope of their vision, and the familiarity with employees. Learning how to delegate certain tasks based on the strengths and weaknesses of these management levels will help you to effect change more efficiently!

Thank you for reading! Here is a link to more on the ADKAR model of change management.

-Austin Denison


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