Change Management: The Art of Positive Change

Change ManagementWhile change is a given for all modern organizations, it often fails due to its complexity and the resistance it faces (Dhiman & Marques, 2020).

A shift toward psychology-led change management approaches that consider positive change as a combination of science and art may be the solution (Woodman, 2014; Abudi, 2017).

In this article, we consider the nature of change and why positive change should be approached, at least in part, as an art.

We also explore the potential of positive psychology to answer many of the needs involved in creating readiness and momentum to support continuous change success.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Leadership Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or others adopt positive leadership practices and help organizations thrive.

Why Is Positive Change an Art?

Change can occur at a macro or micro level, impacting how the organization and its staff function and the risk it is willing to accept (Dhiman & Marques, 2020).

A significant change, or transformation, is recognized as a dramatic shift in an organization’s culture, how it does business, information technology, processes, and procedures, and it may offer a new vision of what’s possible (Abudi, 2017).

On the other hand, a small change may be as simple as fine-tuning a payment process or modifying a sales brochure (Abudi, 2017).

Why is change vital?

Without change, the organization will not achieve its strategy, it will fail to grow and prosper, and employees will not grow or develop professionally (Abudi, 2017).

However, chaotic change is associated with organizations that have no strategy or change for change’s sake. A change-savvy organization recognizes the need and common occurrence of change and is often led by employees to ensure the organization survives and evolves to meet the market’s needs (Abudi, 2017).

Positive change as an art

Perhaps surprisingly, most change initiatives fail, often due to resistance from within the organization (Dhiman & Marques, 2020).

In response, modern leadership supports positive change, helping employees welcome opportunities for themselves and their organization to develop and grow.

While science, theory, and research are undoubtedly vital, change “depends, to a very real extent, on the ability to appreciate and balance science and art in each of these domains” (Woodman, 2014, p. 463). Art in this sense refers to the practice of change management but also requires a richness based on imagination, insight, skill, leadership, and even courage.

Six keys to leading positive change - Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Check out Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s TEDx talk, “Six Keys to Leading Positive Change.”

10 Benefits of Positive Organizational Change Management

Positive change management has many benefits, including (Dhiman & Marques, 2020; Atkinson et al., 2015):

  1. Allowing organizations to stay ahead of their competitors by adapting to evolving markets and technological advances
  2. Supporting resilience to withstand unexpected challenges
  3. Encouraging employee buy-in, engagement, and morale
  4. Providing additional staff and leadership development opportunities
  5. Fostering a change-friendly culture
  6. Leading to efficiency improvements following reevaluation and development of processes
  7. Unifying teams as they work toward common goals
  8. Equipping organizations to identify and manage internal and external risks
  9. Empowering employees by providing opportunities for autonomy and ownership
  10. Ensuring the organization stays relevant and financially viable

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These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or others to adopt positive leadership practices to help individuals, teams and organizations to thrive.

5 Theories, Frameworks & Models

Before introducing several influential theories, frameworks, and models of change, it is helpful to identify six factors that combine to make up positive change (Dhiman & Marques, 2020):

  • Showing up – Trust that your presence is vital to successful change.
  • Speaking up – Speak out, ask questions, offer new perspectives, and shape the agenda.
  • Looking up – Maintain a higher vision, out of the weeds, while bringing value.
  • Teaming up – Work in partnership while going it alone.
  • Never giving up – Persistence is vital, yet so is flexibility.
  • Lifting others up – Share credit and celebrate success.

Prochaska stages of change

Next, we turn to Prochaska and DiClemente’s (1982) transtheoretical model of change to understand the stages an individual passes through during change (Dhiman & Marques, 2020; Prochaska & Velicer, 1997).

  1. Precontemplation
    Employees fail to recognize the need for change.

Leaders should raise the employees’ awareness of the issues and solutions while listening to their fears.

  1. Contemplation
    Employees are unaware that the problem’s solution may benefit them.

Leaders can share the positive impact on them and their organization.

  1. Preparation
    Employees are ready to begin planning for the change.

Leaders can support them in setting personal goals.

  1. Action
    Employees take the required actions.

Leaders can provide the support and resources required while appropriately restructuring the environment.

  1. Maintenance
    Employees maintain their new behavior and a positive outlook.

Leaders continue to provide resources, support, and autonomy.

The sixth stage is termination, which sometimes seems more of a destination than an end state (Prochaska & Velicer, 1997).

Kotter’s eight-step process

John Kotter’s eight-step process forms the basis of many successful changes and is briefly described below (Dhiman & Marques, 2020; Cadle et al., 2018).

Set the stage

  1. Create a sense of urgency.
  2. Form a powerful coalition by creating a guiding team.

Decide what to do

  1. Create a vision and a strategy for change.

Make it happen

  1. Communicate the vision, supporting buy-in and understanding.
  2. Remove obstacles and encourage further buy-in.
  3. Create short-term wins.
  4. Build on the change.

Make it stick

  1. Embed the changes in corporate culture or create a new culture.

Lewin’s change management model

Kurt Lewin (1947) proposed a three-step process for successfully implementing planned change that considers the softer, more behavioral aspects (Cadle et al., 2018).

  1. Unfreeze
    It involves preparing employees for the changes about to happen and helping staff understand why changes are essential.
  2. Transition
    This is where the change happens, typically involving times of uncertainty and confusion. The old ways are being replaced, yet the new approaches may lack clarity.
  3. Freeze
    As the new ways begin to solidify, a new balance is achieved, and comfort levels return to normal. Employees find a new place of stability, and the changes are accepted.

Some suggest that we should not encourage a complete freeze, as there are always further changes close by (Cadle et al., 2018).

ADKAR model

According to the ADKAR model, to ensure change success, we must address each of the following five knowledge-sharing goals (Prosci, n.d.; MindTools, n.d.):

  1. Awareness (of the need for change)
    Communicate the need for change to stakeholders.
  2. Desire (to participate in and support the change)
    Translate the awareness of change into a desire to be involved.
  3. Knowledge (of how to change)
    Recognize what the stakeholders need to do to make the change happen.
  4. Ability (to change)
    Skill the staff to make the project successful.
  5. Reinforcement (to sustain the change)
    Reinforce appropriate behaviors to ensure the project continues to be successful.

The SARAH Model

The SARAH model provides insight into the stages that people pass through, having learned that things are about to change (Cadle et al., 2018).

  • Shock
    Employees may not realize the need for change and have become used to existing working methods.
  • Anger
    They may become angry when they understand what the changes mean.
  • Rejection
    They may wish to reject the whole idea of change, preferring to be left alone.
  • Acceptance
    Even if they are not ready to embrace the changes ahead, they begin to accept them.
  • Hope
    They recognize the benefits and see hope ahead.

Prerequisites for an Effective Change Management Process

Change management processTo survive and flourish, organizations must adopt a culture of continuous change management where readiness involves the following prerequisites (Abudi, 2017; Englund & Bucero, 2019):

  • Leaders and employees must understand the critical need for change, have a clear change management definition, and recognize its potential benefits.
  • Leaders must be present, committed, and actively lead the change effort.
  • Open communication, where employees feel psychologically safe to speak up and ask questions, must be encouraged.
  • A clear, shared, and higher vision must align with the organization’s goals and values and be supported by an achievable change management plan.
  • A culture of partnership and teamwork is vital, rather than one of isolation and individuality.
  • Credit must be shared and successes celebrated to motivate initial and ongoing progress.
  • The organization should be culturally ready for change, flexible, and adaptable to new working methods.
  • Risks should be known and actively managed as part of change management strategies.
  • Training and development opportunities should be identified and planned to enhance appropriate skills.
  • All relevant stakeholders must be engaged to ensure broad-based support and buy-in.
Change your mindset, change the game - Dr. Alia Crum

Check out Alia Crum’s popular TEDx talk “Change Your Mindset” to understand how transforming how you see things can improve the likelihood of positive outcomes.

4 Scientifically Proven Tools for Positive Organizational Change

Positive organizational change drives transformation that is continuous but not chaotic (Abudi, 2017).

The following four scientifically proven tools can support that journey.

Appreciative inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is valuable for promoting change because it focuses on the positives and what is already working (Hammond, 2013).

Ask yourself:

What led me here?
What is the high point of the past?
What do I value?
What is changing?
What’s the best future I can imagine?
What will it take to get us there?

To learn more about appreciative inquiry, read our articles Appreciative Inquiry: Key Research and Fields of Application and How to Apply Appreciative Inquiry: A Visual Guide.

Playful inquiry - try this anywhere - Robyn Stratton-Berkessel

Watch Robyn Stratton-Berkessel’s TED talk “Playful Inquiry” to understand the impact of appreciative inquiry on relatedness and other emotions.

Positive deviance

Positive change can be driven by finding examples of positive behavior and already successful working approaches (Pascale et al., 2010).

The four D model supports positive organizational change (Pascale et al., 2010).

  • Step 1 – Define the problem and the necessary outcome.
  • Step 2 – Determine common practices.
  • Step 3 – Discover uncommon, successful behaviors.
  • Step 4 – Design an initiative using the learnings.

Our article Positive Deviance: 5 Examples of the Power of Nonconformity offers guidance and real-world examples.

Solution-focused approach

While the solution-focused approach is popular in therapy, it is also valuable for positive organizational change (Franklin, 2012).

The SIMPLE model involves focusing on appropriate elements of change (Franklin, 2012).

  • Solutions, not problems
  • In between, not individual
  • Make use of what’s there, not what isn’t
  • Possibilities from the past, present, and future
  • Language, simply said
  • Every case is different; beware of ill-fitting theory

Our two articles What Is Solution-Focused Therapy: 3 Essential Techniques and 7 Solution-Focused Therapy Techniques and Worksheets (+PDF) offer further guidance.

Assessing readiness for change

Individuals and organizations are not always ready for the challenges and changes they face (Miller & Rollnick, 2013).

We can assess that readiness by asking questions, such as (Rinne, 2021):

Where is change currently hitting the organization hardest?
Which departments or teams are more ready or more consistently able to cope with change?
What areas have excelled over the last six, 12, and 18 months? Why?
What sorts of changes are most challenging?

Our article How to Assess and Improve Readiness for Change offers additional tools and suggested approaches.

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4 Ways to Overcome Resistance to Change With Positive Psychology

Leaders must recognize and understand the reasons various stakeholders support or oppose change, where resistance typically consists of three crucial attitudinal aspects (Dhiman & Marques, 2020):

  • Affective – the way someone feels about the change
  • Cognitive – someone’s thoughts and feelings about the change
  • Behavioral – how someone intends to react in response to the change

Positive psychology has the potential to help by influencing all three, enabling us to “open up an array of new possibilities for meeting the challenges that lie ahead in our whitewater world of work” (Kellerman & Seligman, 2023, p. 48).

Developing a positive, growth mindset for change

Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset is vital to embracing change while supporting mental wellbeing (Dweck, 2017).

The power of believing that you can improve - Carol Dweck

Our article 18 Best Growth Mindset Activities, Worksheets, and Questions offers valuable tools and exercises to help people understand how to move into the growth zone.

Flow and intrinsic motivation at work

Engaged employees are vital to change success (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990).

By creating working environments that give them autonomy in how and when they work, accelerating their skills, ensuring they receive helpful feedback, and supporting high-quality relationships within the workplace, we support their intrinsic motivation and create opportunities for flow (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990; Ryan & Deci, 2018).

For a deeper dive into how to create engagement, read our article Flow at Work: How to Boost Engagement in the Workplace, and for intrinsically motivated staff, check out How to Increase Intrinsic Motivation (According to Science).

Building positive emotions

Positive emotions in the workplace broaden staff cognitive and social resources and increase creativity and a willingness to embrace new ideas (Seligman, 2011; Kellerman & Seligman, 2023).

For more information on creating positive feelings, such as joy, satisfaction, and hope at work, see our articles on Positive Psychology in the Workplace: 16 Practical Tips and the Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions.

Leveraging strengths

Identifying and using our strengths in our professional lives can profoundly impact our mental wellbeing and performance and create the right environment for successful change (Rath & Conchie, 2009; Niemiec & McGrath, 2019).

The two most popular methods of testing signature strengths include the VIA Character Strengths Survey and the CliftonStrengths Assessment.

To better understand how leveraging our strengths can support positive change, read our articles Understanding Leadership Strengths in the Workplace and 3 Most Accurate Character Strengths Assessments and Tests.

17 Exercises To Build Positive Leaders

Use these 17 Positive Leadership Exercises [PDF] to help others inspire, motivate, and guide employees in ways that enrich workplace performance and satisfaction.
Created by Experts. 100% Science-based. Resources

We have many resources available for individuals and their managers and coaches to support them through change.

Free resources include:

  • Job Crafting for Ikigai

To improve engagement and a sense of purpose aligned with our core values, use ikigai in the workplace.

  • Powerful Change Questions

Use these powerful questions to dare to dream and motivate yourself to change.

More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:

  • Self-contract
    Create a contract with yourself to increase your commitment to change:

    • Step one – Identify what you would like to commit to and do.
    • Step two – Write down your name, your goal, and when you aim to achieve it.
    • Step three – Sign the statement to formalize that commitment.
  • Implementation intentions
    People often fail to act on their good intentions, yet the following steps can help:

    • Step one – Identify and understand the nature of the intention.
    • Step two – Plan when and how to perform it.

Write down or say out loud a statement of how you will act toward a goal in the form of: “If X happens, then I will do Y.”

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop positive leadership skills, check out this collection of 17 validated positive leadership exercises. Use them to equip leaders with the skills needed to cultivate a culture of positivity and resilience.

A Take-Home Message

Positive organizational change management embodies and embraces psychology and science while recognizing the art involved in its delivery through bold, imaginative, innovative communication and transformational practices.

Theories and models can help balance the need for change with the risks involved, maintain employee and customer trust in the organization, and manage the rollout of and progress toward clearly defined goals.

For example, Prochaska and DiClemente’s (1982) change model helps us understand the stages staff pass through; Lewin’s model (1947) explores the behavioral aspects of transformation; and the SARAH model introduces the notion of passing from shock to optimism.

Positive psychology-led approaches can support the art of positive change, helping improve practices and communication and focusing on the future solution rather than ingraining past failures.

Change will impact you, whether you are an HR consultant, change manager, leader, or employee. Read through the theories, models, and strategies shared here to learn how to create mental and physical environments that foster positivity, hope, and optimism and provide a path toward successful, positive change outcomes.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Leadership Exercises for free.

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