Change Management Lesson 2: Building Awareness of the Change to Come

Jan 14, 2020

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

By The Center for Government Innovation

Have you ever attended a training, found at least one new idea you wanted to try, then rediscovered the materials months later and realized that you have incorporated nothing from the training into your work routines? Or maybe you've seen co-workers casually toss their materials in the circular file on the way out the door and given up hope of engaging them about what to do with the new tools? Either way, the training's promise was dulled by the daily weight of office drudgery.

Contrast this with the enthusiasm and excitement we feel when purchasing the newest tech gadget — the thrill of a new car or a better TV. In our personal lives, we change all the time, and often relish it. What's the difference between how change feels at work and at home? In our personal lives, marketers understand what motivates us and spend their time trying to sell us those nice new products. At work … not so much.

Understanding the need for change

In our previous article, we introduced change management as a strategy to implement successful process improvement initiatives. In this installment, we will introduce the ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement) change management model. This is a five-stage approach to help organizations manage the people side of change. Today, we will focus on Awareness.

Clearly communicate the ‘Why'

Frustrated young girl shrugging shoulders

As discerning people, we must first understand the “why” behind a change before we can form an opinion for or against it. If we were simply told we must spend our money on a new TV without learning why it's better than the old one, who would jump to purchase it? Similarly, if we don't properly sell our process improvement initiative in the office, confused staff members will mumble disapproval and concern as we push it forward. Staff deserve to understand “why” the change is needed. And just because the “why” is evident to you doesn't make it so for anyone else.

Awareness and staff resistance

Unhappy staff members

Awareness is achieved when each employee can explain in their own words the nature of the change, why it is needed, and the risks of not changing. Note that awareness is not the same as agreeing with or knowing how to change. Those follow awareness — and properly raising this awareness can have profound implications for how you implement the rest of the ADKAR model.

In fact, the most common reason process improvement projects fail is staff resistance. Without proper awareness, staff might start asking many questions over and over again, lower their productivity, or create implementation roadblocks. According to Best Practices in Change Management (2016 Edition), these kinds of resistance stem primarily from a lack of awareness regarding the need for change.

Explain why change is needed

To avoid failure, you must start by making the case to your co-workers that change is necessary. Explain in clear, concise language why the change must happen now, and what will happen if it doesn't. Don't just speak about the business case — this might or might not motivate staff. They need to know what's in it for them. How is their work going to be easier, more fulfilling, or less frustrating? Individual buy-in is essential.

Tailor your message to the audiences

Two business people meeting one-on-one

Awareness-building is most effective when the message is tailored to each audience. You cannot effectively build awareness at an organizational, department or division level. Instead, you should look for opportunities to build awareness at an individual level. If you are thinking, “I will draft an all-staff email and explain why the change is needed” — think again. Agency emails and announcements at staff meetings might be effective for creating the appropriate awareness for the mass who will be affected only tangentially by the change, but that isn't where your problems are likely to come from. Be prepared to talk person-to-person with the key people who will be most affected by the change. Ask questions, and let them ask you questions. Personal relationships are key.

5 key factors that influence success

According to Jeffrey Hiatt, author of ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government, and our Community, five factors influence the success of an awareness campaign:

  1. A person's view of the current state
  2. How a person perceives problems
  3. The credibility of the person communicating the need for change
  4. Circulation of misinformation or rumors
  5. Contestability of the reasons for change


Ready to start? Here are some recommendations for creating awareness:

  • Communicate early and often. You want to get to the message out in your own terms to as many people and as quickly as possible to minimize rumors and misinformation. Ask leadership to communicate the business reasons for the change. Managers and supervisors should communicate departmentally about how it will personally affect each employee's work.
  • Always communicate verbally first and then allow for comments and questions. Emails, newsletters, etc., should come after.
  • Structure how to disseminate the information. Allow time to internalize information before progressing to the next level. Remember managers and other leaders are employees, too. They need time to understand and process before they can communicate to their staff.
  • Know your audience. Match the information's sender with the audience receiving it. Be as specific as possible. Include data, facts and relevant examples.
  • Rinse and repeat. Don't take for granted that staff understood and accepted what you said the first time. Make sure to include activities that create awareness early and throughout the project. Check to ensure employees understand the nature of the change and the reasons behind it.

If you want your office to be as excited to implement your process improvement as they are to purchase that awesome new piece of technology (or at least half as excited), then you need to start by creating awareness.

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