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Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools, and Techniques of Organizational Change


Change management and organizational change are a big topic area. However, for the most part it’s been a territory without a map. Few books have focused on cataloging the organizational change space and instead seek to promote their own perspective about what’s the most important. Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools, and Techniques of Organizational Change is a good map of the space without the overt bias towards one approach over another. It’s by far the most comprehensive catalog of concepts related to change management and organizational change that I’ve seen assembled. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it means that the coverage depth is very shallow for any given topic. The authors, Esther Cameron and Mike Green, have opted to send you to the original authors and research rather than attempting to convey such a vast collection of knowledge.

Change Management Body of Knowledge

The Change Management Institute (CMI) published a Change Management Body of Knowledge. There was only one edition before they started referring folks to Making Sense of Change Management instead. That’s a powerful statement about the comprehensive nature of the work and the perception that it’s the authoritative place to get an overview of the industry.

It should be noted that CMI isn’t the final authority on change management. There’s also The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) that is moving forward the profession. Their approach to change management, standards, and publications is different. ACMP publishes The Standard for Change Management©, which is a collection of processes and artifacts that they believe lead to good change management.

Like any process, it is better when executed in conjunction with skills. Making Sense of Change Management offers awareness of many skills that are helpful in the successful implementation of a change where The Standard provides no guidance.

However, the situation is reversed when it comes to the way the organizations approach training. ACMP certifies Qualified Education Providers (QEPs) to teach change management materials that lead to the Certified Change Management Professional (CCMP). The CMI has a sole contract with one company to deliver their change management training. I don’t like sole contracts, because they don’t invite innovation and improvement of the materials. However, this situation illustrates how both organizations are closed in some respects (ACMP on The Standard, CMI on training delivery) and open on others (ACMP on training delivery, and CMI on the skills necessary to be successful).

Scoping Change

Because the book is intended as an overview, there were very few topics with substantial detail. However, there were various clues as to frameworks to view change in. The organization of the chapters builds up from individual change through team change and ultimately to organizational change before describing how to lead change from a position of authority – and a position without authority. This aligns with the awareness that all changes that are accomplished in organizations comes through teams, and all team change comes from individual change.

Sometimes, when we take a leadership, planning view of change, we forget that all change is individual change. The organization can’t change without the actions of individual people that themselves are changing. Remembering that change comes from individuals is important, because the place that change falls apart most frequently is in motivating the individual behaviors of individuals.

Transactional or Transformational

Think about the successful leaders that you’ve known. Think about the great presidents who have stood out across time, the great civic leaders, the great CEOs. They’ve got one thing in common that’s not easy to see from their accomplishments. They all got something done but did different things in different ways. What we recognize as good leaders, however, isn’t their ability to execute transactions or to squeeze the extra penny out of the process.

What we recognize most about great leaders is their ability to transform the way that we think about something from one way to another. Steve Jobs made us think that you could be creative and use a computer. Abraham Lincoln had us thinking about the United States and slavery in a very different way. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us about his dream, and in doing so, he changed what civil rights meant. It wasn’t about equality. It was about friendship, comradery, and community.

Great changes are forged from the same stuff. Great changes are not incremental changes that shave a few percentage points off the cost or incrementally increase revenue. Those change are, no doubt, needed. However, the great changes, the memorable changes, transform the way the organization sees itself and how it interacts with the world.

Any Route to Mindfulness

Sometimes people look to a technique, because they believe it will give them the reward they want. Mindfulness is one such technique that has been idealized for its ability to improve leadership. While some denounce the commercialization of such a personal and spiritual practice, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains, it doesn’t matter the intention if they are truly reaching mindfulness.

When incorrect intentions collide with practices, sometimes it’s the intentions that shift. Techniques like mindfulness expand the capacity of the mind – and no matter why or how people came to this technique, they’ll find themselves positively transformed if they’re willing to be true to the practice.


It’s not a single task or technique but rather a habit or demeanor that is the most powerful thing that influences change. The thing that influences change the most is something that Rosabeth Moss Kanter explained in The Change Masters. It’s persistence. There are several analogies and stories that can be used, like the consideration that the Grand Canyon was dug slowly by the Colorado River. We tend to want to do change when it’s easy – but it’s rarely (if ever) easy.

We all want to think about change as easier than it is. We want it to not take as much energy. Like good leadership, our ability to accomplish change is only truly seen when the going gets tough and we’ve got to persevere through the hard times.

The Pain of Staying the Same and the Pain of Change

Having worked with addicts whose lives is falling apart, I’ve learned a simple truth about change – all change. That is the pain of changing must be less than (or appear less than) the pain of staying the same. It’s not possible to get someone to change who doesn’t see some pain in their current situation. (If you want to learn more about my journey with helping addicts, you’ll find more hints in Chasing the Scream and Dreamland.) The good news is that for everyone the pain they’re currently experiencing can be the fear of future negative consequences. Robert Sapolsky in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers explains how we’ve subsumed the stress response and can use it to drive future fear into the present.

One of the most challenging things about change is helping everyone in the organization understand how their current state is more painful than the change that you’re asking them to embark on. Sometimes that’s done by understating the effort of the change – consciously or unconsciously. A better approach is to help everyone understand the pain of the way they’re doing things now.

This isn’t always as easy as it seems. 70 years ago, there was no such thing as a microwave. When the Radarange microwave was released, people couldn’t imagine why you would want it. Why would you sacrifice taste and tenderness to be able to cook things without a stove? Today, no kitchen is complete without one. To achieve the change, it’s necessary to help people see the benefits of a solution that they don’t fully understand.

Change Emerging from Conditions

As broad a set of change management practices and perspectives as Making Sense of Change Management offers, there is no hidden secret. There’s no magic incantation that will result in a successful change in every condition. Instead, there’s the wisdom of David Bohm that things emerge. (See On Dialogue.) We can’t cause change to be successful. What we can do is create the conditions that favor success.

While it’s convenient and comforting to think in terms of direct cause and effect, this obscures the truth that there is rarely a single condition that leads to a result. Instead, we find ourselves looking at several factors that all lined up to create the success or failure. To simplify a change to a single technique or person that created the success or failure is an oversimplification that doesn’t help us be successful more frequently.

Change is Learning

All change is learning. It’s learning a new way of doing things. It’s a new set of behaviors, and those new behaviors are encouraged by knowing why a different approach might be better. Everett Rogers observed in The Diffusion of Innovations that it was the most cosmopolitan of farmers who first realized the value of a new technique and were therefore the most likely to adopt it.

Ed Schein believes that the critical task is to help people through the learning process. That is, we need to make the learning process easier, so that they can make the transition easier. This is at the heart of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users that I wrote back in 2008. I wrote it to make it easier to learn Microsoft SharePoint – at a time when it was very difficult to find any training for end users. By making the process easier for end users to learn, I made it easier for organizations to transition to SharePoint.

I should insert an asterisk here and say that Schein is only mostly right. It’s not that you must help people through the learning process, it’s that you must help them be able to more easily perform the desired behavior. In other words, learning isn’t the end goal, it’s simply a means to an end. The other approach is to provide someone with a performance aid so that they don’t have to remember. (See Job Aids and Performance Support for more.) The truth is that The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide sat in the middle. We didn’t care if you learned SharePoint – we wanted you to be able to do things with SharePoint.


Change brings anxiety. Most people don’t understand what anxiety is. It’s simply fear without a specific target. If you know what you’re afraid of, you have fear. If you’re not sure what you’re afraid of exactly, you have anxiety. The difference is in your belief that you can anticipate the kinds of problems that you’ll encounter. If you feel as if you’re able to predict the threats that will be a problem for you, then you’ll have fear of them.

The challenge with anxiety is that you can’t fix anxiety. There’s no specific thing to go address, mitigate, examine, or work on. You just have a sense that your world can be turned upside down at any moment. This is what most people feel like in corporate or organizational change. They didn’t know it was coming, they didn’t have any input in the process, and they don’t know where it’s heading.

There are two ways to combat the natural anxiety that comes with change. The first is to continue to develop and reinforce everyone’s sense of personal agency, their ability to get things done, and to cope with changes. The second way is to continue to communicate completely and effectively. The more people realize that you’re telling them the whole truth, as you understand it, the more they begin to trust that they’ll know about a problem before it’s too late and there will be others who will be there to help them. The net effect is less anxiety – and therefore less resistance to the change.


If there’s one place to end a book that is a survey of the kinds of skills that change managers and change agents need, it’s clarity. While the book itself lacks some clarity on the exact tools and skills that you should use to implement change in your organization, it is clear that the clarity that you can create about your change in the organization is a powerful lever that can be used to move the change forward.

Clarity seems like it’s an easy thing, but time and time again, we realize that getting to clarity isn’t quick. However, once you’ve reached clarity, it makes the communication and engagement process easy. Einstein is reported to have said that if he had an hour to work on a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes understanding the problem and 5 minutes trying to solve it.

Create clarity about what you need to do by reading Making Sense of Change Management – so that you can understand clearly the change that you want to create.