Where is the Human-Centricity in Change Management?

“Change management guide,” “change management process,” “change management principles,” “digital transformation,” “organizational change management training”: When I enter “change management” into my Google search bar, and I get pages and pages of comparable results.  

As I scroll to the last few entries on the first page, if the algorithm is smiling down on me, I’ll find an ad that mentions “humans at the center of change.” When I click deeper into various articles, it gets slightly better and I say “slightly” because the human aspect is mentioned, but often not until the very end. In this day of tech-centric language, it’s good to see humans there at all, but … shouldn’t the human element be at the top of the change management search results?  


Model Behavior 

Of course, there are articles and organizations that put an emphasis on the human aspect of change management, but not to the extent that one would expect or hope for. This lack of human-centricity in our editorial focus is in stark contrast to the heavy people-focus of common change management models like ADKAR Model or the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. What’s the root of this disconnect?  

And before you think I’m picking on Change Management, I’m not; I conducted searches for Learning & Development (L&D) with very similar results. How is it that disciplines created by, for and around people don’t lead with people?  


For the People 

I’m by no means a change management expert, but I have seen L&D programs fail because no one socialized the learners to the amount of change they would be asked to handle. Especially for smaller L&D initiatives, change management is often an afterthought. On the flip side, organization-wide L&D initiatives may over-emphasize the change management aspect with little to no focus on the actual training. And who is really losing out in all of this? Unfortunately, the learner. Organizations must find the sweet spot that puts the learner at the center in both situations. 


The Best of Both Worlds: Adoption and Engagement Continuum  

Over the years, I’ve developed an adoption and engagement continuum, which allows me to easily tie in training and change management aspects as needed, while positioning the learner at the very center. The continuum is a combination of concepts and frameworks. The key is that, before I jump into the different program phases, I take time to understand my learners by creating learner personas and/or an empathy map. This way, well before the learning is deployed, I have a concept of how to best engage my learners and encourage adoption. Here is a break-down of the continuum: 

  • Pique curiosity: 3 – 4 weeks before a new process or system is rolled out, I drop the first pieces of content in teaser videos, Intranet banner ads, and promos to pique curiosity. I leverage a marketing approach using vivid colors and crisp language. 
  • Experience it (show me): 1 – 2 weeks before a rollout, I share some high-level videos, eLearning modules, infographics or any other visual aids that show the learner some of the upcoming changes and underscore the benefits of said changes.  
  • Experience it (try it): If the rollout is only a couple of days away, it’s a great time to have learners experience some of the new functionalities or processes. Simulations and/or cohort-driven experiences can be extremely helpful here. I support these with job aids or Wiki pages. It’s crucial to show how new processes or a new system can make learners’ day-to-day easier.  
  • Embrace it: The rollout is here, and I want to ensure that learners have multiple resources they can easily access when they need them. I include infographics, interactive PDFs, tooltips (if the rollout is a new system), or a help desk line to ask any questions that aren’t covered in the FAQs. Continuing the messaging about the benefits of this rollout will encourage learners’ buy-in. 
  • Reinforce it: Once everything is up and running, it’s more important than ever to have additional resources available to learners. I like to share real-life case studies and examples about how the changes have positively affected everyone. And I don’t shy away from talking about areas of improvement and managing expectations about new resources that are on the horizon.

This continuum, for me, has proven to be successful in getting learners on board and making them feel like they’re a part of the change, not simply experiencing the change passively.  

More and more, I’ve seen improvements around how change is being treated as part of training initiatives and I’m hopeful that, over time, the two disciplines will grow together while becoming more human-centered.


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