How to Manage Change – 5 Proven Ways

Read our tips on how to manage change within your organization

It’s been said a million times – change is one of the few certainties in life. Whether we like it or not, change is something we have to deal with in every aspect of our lives. When it comes to ways of managing change in an organization, it can be easy to get a little (or a lot) lost.

We’ve done the research, and compiled information from lessons learned. Below are five steps to manage change in the workplace:

  • Learn how to deal with ambiguity
  • Understand your organizational structure
  • Know the desired results, and know your role
  • Have a plan
  • Communicate effectively

Learn how to deal with ambiguity

An unavoidable trait of change is ambiguity. To be able to effectively manage change, you have to first get comfortable with a certain level of uncertainty. At every management level, there is some degree of ambiguity. How you navigate and learn to deal with the unknown is often a significant factor for success.

First level managers usually only have visibility into a portion of the business. While the executive team likely has a comprehensive view of the organization, there are external unknowns – the economy, market trends, new competition. No matter your role in an organization, in order to manage change, first learn (or relearn) the important skill of how to move forward when you don’t have all the information.

Understand the organizational structure

Big changes typically come from the top. However, many times those further down the ladder don’t feel the same kind of confidence in change that executives or upper management do. Those in every level of the organization need to be aligned in order for success to happen. Know the answers to these questions to better understand your company’s structure:

  • What is the chain of command?
  • Does your company use a centralized or decentralized model when it comes to decision-making?
  • Who makes up the leadership team, and what are the key objectives for each member?


Work with the leaders of your organization to encourage their alignment on the change – 54 percent of executives don’t believe their company’s strategy will lead to success. If the C-suite isn’t confident in this change, that doubt will trickle down and create confusion, disorder and other distractions. Additionally, having clarity on the defined chain of command throughout the change process will define expectations and help dispel apprehension.

Know the desired results, and know your role

While you might not know all the details (hello, ambiguity) you do need to have an idea of the desired end result of the change you are managing. You also need to know your role in achieving that result. Start by:

  • Asking high level questions – about the project, about the organization, about how you can help
  • Revisiting information that’s already been shared with you, presentations, documentation, emails, meeting notes
  • Developing a picture of the final outcome


As you develop responsibilities for your role, learn the function of other roles within this new process. Each person has a job to do – understanding their duties will establish a structure of collaboration and accountability for everyone involved in making the change successful.

Have a plan

Whether you are leading a team through a leadership change, a merger, a change in process or technology – having a plan is key. But an effective plan for how to manage change isn’t one-size-fits-all. What works for one organization may not work for yours. Find a process that fits your company and the change you’re navigating.

The plan should include:

  • Objectives
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Calendars and timelines
  • Communication plans
  • Measurable milestones


Clearly articulate the areas of your organization that will be affected, achievable goals, where your company is now, where you want it to go and how you’re going to get there. Change is inevitable – businesses must be prepared to pivot when necessary, whether those changes are a result of external forces or internal adjustments. Having a plan for executing those changes and managing the result could be a difference between success and failure.


All relationships, both personal and professional, thrive with good communication. After communicating upcoming changes to your team members or other employees, understand that a period of adjustment will likely follow. Dealing with a major change can loosely follow the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – and not providing others the opportunity to deal with those emotions can negatively impact your efforts.

Be available for questions. People affected by change – on your team, or throughout the organization, likely want to know:

  • Reasons for the change
  • How it impacts them
  • What comes next


Also, while positivity can go a long way in terms of how people accept change, don’t spin a negative into a positive. Sugar coating the truth will come off as insincere and disingenuous. Or even worse, it will look like you have something to hide. At that point, any chance you had of steering the situation into calmer waters is unlikely to surface.

How to move forward

Having a plan for how to manage change can make or break your transition. Once you execute that plan and achieve the goals you set, the work isn’t done. Continuing to lead by example and providing opportunities for your employees to become more proficient and comfortable with the new system will foster success for your team.