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Department of Premier and Cabinet

What is Change

Below is information and some resources to help you understand — change.

Definition: change

Change is an action or project that affects the way work is performed. Change in an organisation, simply put, is when something starts or something stops; when something that used to happen one way starts to happen another way.

"Moving from what we know, here and now, to a new and unknown situation in the future."

"Constant change brings up the need for leadership" - J Adair

Types of change

This Change Toolkit supports all change projects - from very small through to very large projects. Only you can judge which category your project falls into as the definition differs across organisations. 

  • Small - improving and refining methods, policies and procedures; the future state is not very different to the current ways of working. You may decide to do a small plan.
  • Medium - distinct modifications to strategies, structures and management processes
  • Large - substantial realignment, a merger of agencies or moving to a new facility with changed work processes; restructuring and transformation of all or part of the organisation. You may require a dedicated team. 

As change leader, it is important to recognize both the size and type of change that you are leading. Different types of change need different leadership approaches. Renewal and reform typically involves changes to processes, technology, roles and organisational culture and structures. In some circumstances, change may be incremental. In others, it may involve a much more radical transformation. Change can be emergent, in that it unfolds in a spontaneous way, or it can be planned - in that it is a product of conscious reasoning and deliberate action. This highlights an important aspect of managing change, namely understanding that organisational change is a process that can be facilitated by planning and implementation phases. However, it is vital to acknowledge that change can never be fully isolated from the effects of the external context, uncertainty and chance.

All three types are present in organisations simultaneously.

Different types of change need different leadership approaches
Three Types of Change Description
Incremental or developmental change

Individual parts of an organisation deal incrementally and separately with one problem or goal at a time. This type of change can be planned or emerge naturally and tends to be incremental. It enhances or corrects existing aspects of an organisation, often focusing on the improvement of a skill or process.

Transitional, rapid and fundamental change
Organisations evolve through relatively long periods of stability, but are punctuated by periods of rapid or fundamental change. This type of change achieves a desired state that is different from the existing state. It is episodic, planned and often radical. Much of the literature about organisational change focuses on this type of change.
Transformative or continuous change
Never reach a stable equilibrium, always adapting, responding, transforming the way they do business. This type of change is sustainable and requires a shift in assumptions. It can result in a significantly different organisation in terms of structure, processes, culture and strategies.

There are three key elements to change

The Project - where success is a solution designed, developed and utilized effectively - "Technical side"

The Change - where success is a solution that is embraced, adopted and utilized effectively - "Organizational side"

The People (employees) - where the solution values, engages and supports employees to transition to a new future - "Human side"

Diagram showing the three main elements of change - project - change - people
 Figure: Multiple Dimensions - Department of Health and Human Services, Tasmania

Reference: Department of Health and Human Services, 2013, Project Change Synthesis Approach, Leadership and Management Development Unit presentation, ‘Managing Change in a Downsizing Environment’, 2013. 

Project Management, Change Management and People Management processes

Project Management (Technical)

Change Management (Organisation)      

People (Employee) Management (Humans)
1. Initiation
  • Business case is accepted
  • Resources allocated
  • Set up governance structures

2. Planning

  • Develop Project Plan
  • Clear outcomes/outputs
  • Consider Who, What, When, Why, budget

3. Executing

  • Get on with the Plan
  • Actions undertaken

4. Monitoring

  • Involves reporting, adjusting schedules 

5. Closing

  • Project on time, within budget, to the right quality.
1. Prepare for Change
  • What is the size and scale of the change (minor, incremental, transformative).
  • What is our readiness for change?
  • What is level of sponsorship, leadership?
  • What resources are required? 
2. Managing Change
  • Establish sponsorship model 
  • Develop overall plan 
  • Develop Communication Strategy 
  • Resistance Management Strategy 
  • Transition and training plans 
3. Reinforce Change
  • Put in place systems for collecting data / information, feedback (formal and informal) 
  • Analyze change effectiveness, identify causes 
  • Develop corrective action plan, review

Whether it is a process, system, job role or organizational structure change (or all of the above), a project is only successful if individual employees change their daily behaviours and workflows!

The most commonly cited reason for project failure is neglect of the human dimensions of change! 

Project Management and Change Management

There are significant intersections between change management and project management. In theory, the two sets of activities almost entirely overlap when the change is being undertaken as a single project. However, there are differences in the two disciplines which become more pronounced as change efforts increase in size.

The people - employee side of change often gets forgotten in projects, but they go together. How much effort you put into the people - employee side will depend on the type, scale, nature of the change.

It is important that you align both sets of activities. Change management is really about effective leadership.

Research by the Project Management Institute identified the following key differences and similarities between the two disciplines.   

Diagram showing the different between Project Management and Change Management
Figure: Project and change management - Government of South Australia, Change@SouthAustralia toolkit.
Reference: Office for the Public Sector, Government of South Australia, 2015, Change Toolkit 

Change Management and Change Leadership

The terms 'change management' and 'change leadership' are often used interchangeably. Change management is a structured process and has tools that support employees to better identify, assess, plan, implement and evaluate change. It is focused on employees and what they need throughout the change process, and ensures that employees are appropriately supported through the organisational change.  Change leadership author and professor Dr John Kotter (2011) makes a very clear distinction between change management and change leadership. He says:

'Change leadership is much more associated with putting an engine on the whole change process. It's more about urgency. It's more about masses of people who want to make something happen. It's more about big visions. It's more about empowering lots and lots of people".  (Kotter, 2011)

Change leaders can be found at all levels of an organisation.  

Comparisons between change management and change leadership processes
Change management Change leadership
Uses tools and structures Is about the driving forces, visions and processes
Keeps control Can get a little out of control
Pushes the process Is like an engine - it drives the process
Is constrained by budget and time frames Empowers people - employees
Tries to minimise the distraction of the change Tries to make the process go faster, be smarter and run more efficiently D

Change management principles

  • Change is considered and planned, based on consultation with relevant employees and completed as soon as reasonably possible.
  • Communication is essential, be conscious of senders message and receivers interpretation.
  • Change is continuously communicated to the relevant people/employees in an appropriate and timely manner, explaining the outcomes and reasons for those decisions.
  • Visible and active sponsorship is key - brings authority and legitimacy to the process.
  • Change happens on an individual and deeply personal level. Resistance is the norm, not the exception.
  • Size of the change determines how much and what kind of change management is needed.
  • Change is a process, individuals go through it in stages and along a curve from denial to acceptance.

Greatest contributors to change success 

  • active and visible executive sponsorship 
  • structured change management approach 
  • frequent and open communication around the need for change 
  • dedicated resources for change management 
  • employee involvement, engagement and participation 


Please use the menu below to find out more about managing change.