technicolour Basketball cartoon

“…I wanted them to understand what it felt like to be in trenches, and if they don’t understand then they’re not going to respond when the war starts!”

Michael Jordan

This quote is from a box set series I watched called The Last Dance based on one of my sporting hero’s Michael Jordan and his time at the Chicago Bulls. It takes a closer look at him as a person and how he led the Chicago Bulls from a mediocre team to winning 6 championships. Jordan was an inspirational leader of his time in his sport. He is a highly competitive person which translated to his leadership methods and that got my attention.

What does all this have to do with change management I hear you ask … ? Well for change to happen and have a long-lasting effect you need an effective leader or sponsor. Most projects fail due to weak user adoption so why is change management often an afterthought and not an integral part of every project lifecycle? In my experience, a lot of the time there is not enough emphasis is given outside of the project – to actual delivery in the business?

Data shows where there is little or poor change management in place 85% of CRM projects “fail” to meet objectives and are behind schedule. Additionally, approximately 50% go over budget. Part of the answer is lack of top-down leadership and this is the primary contributor for CRM Project failures. In this article we will look to help leaders manage change better.

This blog extends upon one written by my colleague – Change Management in CRM Projects: The Other Side of the Coin – definitely worth a read! The blog states that change management and project management go hand in hand for successful delivery. Technical delivery does not equal project success. I am an accredited change management practitioner and project manager and have been applying the key principles for as long as I can remember. In my experience managing the change has always been more demanding than the project. Bringing the stakeholders on the change journey from project inception to implementation and beyond is where the benefits realisation happens.

In this blog I will focus on some key tools and methodologies for application by change leaders, be it project sponsor, change manager or others.


Change Management in a nutshell?

People do not embrace change, there is often some resistance to it. Change management looks at the human side of a change and is often underestimated. It is planning for the people element of the journey before, during and after project delivery. It is clear, we must understand their before and after perspective and plug their knowledge gaps along the change journey so that they are equipped to deal with any disruption. The quicker this is achieved the better it is for the change to be successful. We use change management tools and methodologies to help plug the gaps.

The Theory: 5 Leadership Tools

1. Kurt Lewin’s 3-stage Model:

Lewin, a social psychologist described the simple process for individual and group change by stating that mindsets have to be broken down, changed and re-set using the following model:

  1. “Unfreezing” existing mindsets and habits by breaking them down. Leaders must define the current situation and create a vision of the desired end state, the better the picture created the better the understanding and contribution. Collaboration in defining these “states” will increase commitment and help identification of forces that will enable and resist change
  2. “Change” is a confusing period as the old ways are challenged without a clearly defined future. Leaders should move according to a defined plan, amending as needed.
  3. “Refreezing” starts to happen once the change has become established. The forming of new practices become habits and mindsets. Change starts to become the norm. Leaders can assist by reinforcing this stage with messages and praise.

2. The Change Curve

This well-known model illustrates the emotions that individuals experience during any type of change. There are 7 stages of emotions and an individual will move along the curve over time at their own pace. A change leader should recognise this at all stages of the project lifecycle and manage their stakeholders through the change.

The change Curve

3. Diffusion of Innovation (Everett Rogers, 1962):

For me this model sits alongside the Change Curve. It is a normally distributed curve for large population samples. It shows people’s behaviour toward change and their reaction to it, falling within 5 categories segmented under the curve. Studies have shown the proportions of people under each segment (as illustrated – Figure 2) should a change occur.

Innovation Model

Clearly Innovators and Early Adopters are risk takers who have a desire to try new things, be the first to have done it. These are typically the people who queue up outside Apple stores to buy the latest phones. Early Adopters are slightly more selective and would choose to do more research before making a decision for themselves. As a leader implementing change you would want to engage these groups early on to trailblaze the way for others. “People follow people” after all.
The Early and Late majority clearly make up the greatest percentage of people. The Early Majority like to understand more about what is changing so will need a little support from the leader. The Late Majority move with the wave of change they see as long as most of the uncertainty is resolved. It is these 2 segments that the change leader needs to focus on influencing.
The Laggards use past experience (if there is any) to make decisions and may not be willing to take risks due to associated risks.

Alongside these models, leaders can support peoples transition through change by understanding the following:

4. Bridges’ Stages of Transition:

  1. The first phase is an “ending” to the old, closing the door and letting go. Leaders help people deal with their losses by being clear and specific on what’s changing, what is not changing and identifying why we need to move from the current situation.
  2. The “neutral zone” is where individuals come to terms with the journey to come – having let go of the old, the new is somewhat unknown. In this disruptive “in-between” period individuals start to crystallise their thinking into what the change means for them. Leaders can help provide guidance, feedback and arrange team events as support mechanisms.
  3. Finally, “new beginnings” starts the individual committing to the new future. A risky time, discovering a new sense of purpose with an appreciation of what’s to come and making the change begin to work. Leaders need to support consistent messaging, provide visibility of early successes and celebrate this milestone!

All phases have to be completed for effective transition to be achieved. Each of the phases need attention at the right time.

5. Change Levers & Strategies

Leverage or levers that encourage people to adopt change fall into 3 broad categories:

  • Emotional levers exert an internal pressure to change such as guilt, pride or peer pressure.
  • Procedural levers are those required by a process to be followed e.g. completing an expense invoice by a set date.
  • Structural levers are implicit in the way the organisation is controlled and structured.

Levers translate into specific change management strategies. Motivation to change what we do and how we do it varies dependant on the individual and circumstances.
Incentive theory is one of the simplest to apply and uses “towards” and “away” motivation – the carrot, stick and burning bridges approaches. This means a reward for doing the right thing, a penalty for demonstrating the wrong behaviour adverse to change success and finally, making it impossible to revert back to old ways of doing things.
Leaders should note that reward is not just financial, recognition often plays a bigger part in employee engagement. Leaders must also remember people will not deliberately do the wrong thing, so penalties must start with a supportive approach to enable the individual to adopt the right way of working. Burning bridges works well e.g. a system change has a handover period following which the old system can be disabled so that users cannot revert back.


An excellent change example on a macro level has been the government’s handling of Coronavirus. In the path of this unexpected pandemic governments, communities and people have had to react to the massive resulting changes in very short timeframes. We can relate Lewin’s 3-stage model when thinking about introducing and exiting lockdown measures. Everyone has been (and still are) somewhere on the change curve and we can also see who is adopting the change faster than others with the easing of lockdown measures.
As we transition through the stages of pandemic we can see that the government messages are crafted to move us through Bridges’ Stages of Transition. The lockdown rules enforced and guidance have been prime examples of change levers and strategies in action. The public has exerted pressure on each other to do the right thing (and quite rightly) – we are all very aware of adhering to social distances from others. There are procedural rules we are forced to follow such as self-isolating and not seeking medical attention immediately. Incentives and penalties in this scenario are clear with outcomes far too severe if not adhered. The potentially disastrous outcome has helped the changes happen quickly on a large scale – we had a burning platform to move off. This meant that everybody had to move in the same direction, understand what needed to be done and get on with it.

What can we learn?

The tools are a helpful start for leaders. Understanding their application and when to use them will assist in managing change better.

blue paper boat in front of red paper boats signifying leadership
Coming back to Michael Jordan’s quote, he is describing that he had to paint the picture for his team – honestly, clearly and with trust so that they were not shocked when the time came for action. He used all of the tools described above knowingly or not. These tools in this article will apply to and assist with any change project.
A leader must adapt to the situation, be flexible as one size certainly does not fit all. This will go a long way to winning the hearts and minds of those affected by change. We will look at engaging stakeholders in Part II of this article.

At Rocket CRM our goal is to deliver a positive experience in the delivery of CRM projects. We provide our expertise and will promote the importance of having effective change management in place throughout the course of the project and beyond. We share our collective experience and offer advice so that the benefits are realised through ROI in user engagement and adoption. That’s why we have longstanding relationships with our clients built on trust.

Tell us about your CRM change needs

References: Change Management, APMG Int., Data: Prosci, Gartner.

About Sandip Purewal

Sandip specialises in providing simple CRM solutions for small to medium sized businesses. He has a wealth of consultancy experience working in the Financial Services (Insurance) industry. As a Business Transformation and Change Management specialist he has a background in helping small brokers achieve their goals, process improvement and project delivery.