All Articles Leadership Management 6 key drivers of effective change management

6 key drivers of effective change management

Trust, training and clear communication are just three of six steps leaders need to take to create effective change management.

7 min read


change management

olaser/Getty Images

Madison Lundquist

Workplaces have undergone unprecedented rates of change in recent years, driving organizations to look at the most effective ways to manage change. At its core, change management is proactively managing change and minimizing resistance through structured processes and approaches to help transition employees, teams or an entire organization to a desired future state. APQC finds that six key drivers can successfully impact change: leadership, structure and resources, communications, rewards and recognition, engagement and training. 

Lynda Braksiek

The role of leadership is critical in change

The role of leadership in change management involves active and visible sponsorship while guiding employees through the transition. Change initiatives often spark resistance and various emotions, so successful change is more likely when managers can empathize with the employee, mentor and coach them. 

Four key elements leaders should consider when managing change are:

  1. Communicate. When leaders communicate strategic and targeted-level communications, they ensure the message aligns with specific audiences. 
  2. Lead by example. When the leaders participate and model the change, organizations realize more buy-in from staff and more deeply embedded behaviors. 
  3. Coach and mentor. Middle managers’ coaching and mentoring help embed new practices and allow their employees to thoroughly learn why and how to change.
  4. Monitor for sustained change. When managers check to ensure desired behaviors are sticking, it helps drive greater adoption even among resistant employees.

Structure of change management models plays a small role in success 

Structure and resources refer to budget, staff, methodologies and assessment approaches supporting change management. These are the tangible assets and technical details that organizations rely on to produce and assess change.

Organizational structures to support change management capabilities fall into either a centralized (38%), decentralized (25%) or federated (22%) model. While the type of structure doesn’t affect the overall effectiveness of change, research did show that organizations with a federated model have the least resistance to change.

Communications are not one-size-fits-all 

Change communications encompass the approaches and tools to build change awareness, collect and incorporate employee feedback, set expectations and cultivate buy-in. Standard tools include email, town halls, forums, videos and social media. Best practice organizations include: 

  1. A phased communicated plan.
  2. Transparency in communication about the change.
  3. An array of communication methods.

APQC found that organizations saw higher change management effectiveness when they tailored messages and communication methods to different audiences depending on their needs; however, the most critical thing to consider when communicating change is selecting a meaningful sender. The person sharing the change has a significant impact. Most individuals want to hear from their direct manager. So, how do organizations set the managers up to communicate the change successfully and effectively? Don’t forget about the middle managers. Next time you find yourself leading a change, remember to provide talking points to the middle managers!

Rewards and recognition can be formal and informal 

Rewards and recognition include formal and informal incentives encouraging specific behaviors or performance. These can consist of formal bonuses, incentives, nonmonetary recognition and expressions of thanks.

Rewarding individuals for their efforts in change adoptions significantly impacts the outcome. Research found that tying leadership compensation to change success positively impacts the effectiveness of change efforts, including reduced resistance and an enhanced embedding of new behaviors. Monetary rewards have the most significant impact on change effectiveness. 

(Infographic from APQC)

How to engage employees the right way 

Engagement is an essential piece of any change initiative. It refers to the emotional connection an employee feels toward their organization and the organization’s tactics and approaches to cultivate and assess this connection. One of the most critical strategies for designing effective engagement methods is to take the time to learn what motivates — and does not motivate — employees. Spending the time to understand employee preferences will help leaders and change management teams when designing incentives.

According to APQC’s research, the following engagement tactics are most effective at driving change:

  1. Targeted communications. Reflecting on the communications section, remember the meaningful sender concept and the notion that one size fits all does NOT apply to communications. 
  2. Involving employees early in change. This helps to sharpen change initiatives to reflect employee needs and pain points more accurately.
  3. Formal incentives. This has a high impact on success, yet only 20% of organizations use formal incentives. 

Organizations that involve employees in the change process early ensure employees’ voices are heard, and they see the importance of their role in the change. This ultimately reduces resistance and increases buy-in.

(Infographic from APQC)

Training on change, how to change are equally important 

The training component of change includes the organization’s organized activities to impart information, change behaviors, improve performance and help employees attain knowledge or skills. Organizations often train employees on the change but can also include empowering employees to drive change by providing standardized change management planning. 

The change manager can educate the team on the plan when starting a training initiative. Start with a Change Management 101 conversation that guides the roles of the change team, the methods used for the change, and the activities involved, like communication, training and engagement tactics. 

APQC’s research found that 52% of organizations use peer-led and on-the-job training, with one-on-one coaching becoming increasingly popular. The types of training most frequently offered include:

  1. Technical skills
  2. New processes
  3. New behaviors
  4. Change management principles
  5. Emotional intelligence 

Key takeaways

Managing change effectively has become a focal issue as the workforce faces an ever-increasing rate of change and corresponding change fatigue. Our research shows certain leading practices help to drive new behaviors and support employees through change.

  • Building trust is an essential strategy in driving engagement. Upper and middle managers should seek opportunities for interactive, two-way information exchanges rather than solely pushing information out to employees. 
  • The two critical areas senior leaders and managers can focus on to support change are role modeling and coaching the desired behaviors.
  • Training plays a vital role in improving the likelihood that changes will stick. There has been a shift from formal classroom-based training to on-the-job training, as well as distance learning, rich media tools such as video, and contextual help that imparts information when needed.
  • Different people and circumstances require different rewards. It is crucial to diversify the types of rewards and recognition offered.
  • Monitoring and incorporating desired behaviors into performance reviews are vital to motivating employees to adopt new skills and activities and ensuring the changes stick.


Madison Lundquist is a principal research lead for APQC, developing and executing APQC’s research agenda for process and performance management and serves as a subject matter expert. She interviews leading organizations on their practices, identifies key findings from the research projects and shares the approaches and best practices organizations use to manage processes, improve organizational agility and continuously improve.

Lynda Braksiek is a principal research lead at APQC, developing and executing APQC’s agenda for knowledge management research. As a past APQC member for 20 years, Braksiek understands the daily challenges and needs of members and organizations and provides insights based on APQC research, information, data and expertise. 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


Take advantage of SmartBrief’s FREE email newsletters on leadership and business transformation, among the company’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.