JOnline: Change Management in Process Change 

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Change is said to be the only permanent situation in life but, surprisingly, it is one decision that management finds difficult to make and implement—and when a change is made, it is often one of the most resisted decisions by employees. However, change is inevitable; therefore, to be effective, management must anticipate and prepare for it.

Challenges of Change

Change is a departure from an existing process or way of doing something, to a new process or a different way of doing the same thing. A process change can be an amendment to existing processes, an introduction of a new process or both. For example, a manual system can be redefined or automated, or an automated system can be upgraded, complemented or replaced entirely with new packages. These changes are also known as business process reengineering (BPR).

Changes in any form are intended to better the organization over the short term and/or long term. However, no matter how marketable change ideas are, they can be frustrated purposefully or inadvertently if they are not well managed during all stages. Poor management often causes the huge investments in the change process and the high expectations that come with the ideas to turn to huge disappointments.

Some changes are introduced with fanfare, but not long after commencement of their implementation, they meet impediments that would have been avoidable or surmountable if they had been identified and managed promptly in the early stages. Instances abound where organizations’ accounts remain irreconcilable due to process automation, system upgrade or introduction of entirely new packages. There is no doubt that such a process change at the point of conception, evaluation and/or implementation requires a great deal of financial resources and management time and leads to high expectations. Therefore, any failure can be disastrous. To prevent such a failure, attention should be given to change management at all stages.

Change Management Defined

Change management can be defined as the process of planning, organizing, coordinating and controlling the compositions of the environment, internal and external, to ensure that the process changes are implemented according to approved plans and the overall objectives of introducing the changes are achieved with as little disruption as possible.

It may be impossible to effect change without any inconvenience to the existing processes and processors. In effect, change management is intended to prevent disruptions and any other deliberate or inadvertent acts that would frustrate the process change, and to resolve any disruptions and their causes promptly.

In a nutshell, change management helps ensure that predetermined objectives of introducing the process change are achieved, and it also helps prevent and resolve:

  • Conflicts
  • Service disruption
  • Culture clashes
  • Other problems associated with process change

Change management is not restricted to one level of management; instead, it cuts across the lower, middle and top levels of management, depending on the circumstances and the level of authority at each level.

Understanding the Process of Change

In describing the psychology of change, the publication Field Theory in Social Science1 identifies three stages of process change: unfreezing (overcoming inertia and dismantling the existing mindset), implementation (when the change occurs—typically a period of confusion) and refreezing (the new mindset is crystallizing and a comfort level is returning at previous levels).

Change must be realistic and attainable. The cooperation of all stakeholders is a matter of necessity. Instead of forcing a change, it is better to ensure that a reasonable number of stakeholders buy into the change and the process of effecting the change. Criticism should be encouraged from the proponents and opponents of the change and should be objectively analyzed.

Every change process should begin with asking at least four basic questions:

  1. What needs to be changed? Change should not be introduced into the system just for the sake of it. Changes can be induced from within the organization or outside of it. In either case, the question of what to change is critical. The question is best answered when the limitations of the present process are identified. The answer to this question should be able to address why the change is necessary.

  2. To what should it be changed? It is one thing to know that there is a need to effect changes in the present system, but another critical question is to what it should be changed. Change cannot be justified if the organization does not know of a better alternative to the current system/process. The proposed change must offer better benefits to the system than the current system does.

  3. How should this change happen? This question is as relevant as the first two questions. Some laudable process changes (that successfully answer the first two questions) end as disasters, and all the management time and investments are wasted because the question of how to make the change happen was not properly addressed. Whatever approach is adopted to effect the change must address the issue of how to ensure no or minimal disruption to the system and must effect the change at a minimal cost.

  4. How can the change be sustained? This question may be the most critical of the four. The question, if properly answered, justifies the wisdom behind the change. The three previous questions might be answered correctly, but if the question of how to sustain the change is not well addressed, all the efforts are merely a waste in the long run. This is the stage where many process changes face turbulent storms and, when they fail, it is said they were “not able to stand the test of time.”

Stages of Process Change

The three stages of effecting process change are preimplementation, implementation and postimplementation.

Pre-implementation Stage

This stage can be summarized into three parts:

  1. Conception of change idea—This stage is where the need for process change is realized. The need for change may be due to an inadequacy in the present system; the need to reduce cost; the desire to improve service delivery, succeed against competition or enhance technology (proactive change); or the need to comply with governmental or regulatory directives (reactive/compliance change).

  2. Evaluation of the idea—Alternatives are identified and evaluated against predetermined criteria in this phase. The alternatives’ benefits and costs (inadequacies) are identified. Except where it is a forced change, the proposed new process must offer higher net benefits than the existing process.

  3. Management's eventual approval to introduce the process change At each of the substages, especially the points at which the change idea was evaluated and approved, possible resistance by users and beneficiaries of the existing processes must be identified. The extent and forms of the resistance must be diagnosed.

At the preimplementation stage, three main options are available to manage envisaged resistance to proposed process change:

  1. Ignore the resistance and carry on with the process change program. The decision to ignore the resistance should be made only if the impacts of the resistance are insignificant and/or the cost of prevention or putting up with a counter-resistance effort is excessively high when compared with the benefits.

  2. End the resistance by preventing it. To be able to do this effectively, the extent and forms of the envisaged resistance to the change process must be ascertained with as much precision as possible prior to implementation. It is pertinent to note here that resistance would surface at the preimplementation stage, especially at the point of evaluating the change idea. Constructive resistance should be welcomed at all stages, especially prior to the process change’s final approval. This type of resistance enhances the change’s quality and acceptability when addressed to the satisfaction of all parties. It is assumed that all forms of resistance and criticisms at this stage are constructive, as every party to decision making seeks the best for the organization. This second option is viable only if the benefits of preventing the resistance are greater than the costs.

  3. Implement crisis management. This is a counter-resistance option, which means the resistance to process change cannot be prevented from happening, but the effects are so significant that they cannot be ignored. The counterresistance efforts are to eliminate the negative impacts of the resistance or reduce them to a level that is tolerable or insignificant. The resistance must be anticipated prior to the approval stage to enable the implementation of effective and efficient counter-resistance efforts.

Before the change process begins, management should anticipate possible resistance to the change programs, when and why the resistance would occur, the source, and impact of the resistance. This enables management to identify the avoidable and unavoidable resistance and the affordable and unaffordable resistance. Depending on the outcome of management's analysis, decisions as to whether the process change is a worthy course can be made.

It is important to remember that effective process change may be hindered by factors other than human resistance, especially at the point of implementation. For example, the proposed process might be incompatible with business and procedural realities. If for any reason management is made to accept and approve a process change and the new system or process is later found to be incompatible with realities, it would be disastrous for management to fold its hands and watch the situation helplessly. Management's adoption of a process change that is totally incompatible with the existing realities is a big blunder, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the decision. For effective change management, it is necessary to determine the extent of incompatibility with the reality and the extent to which the new system can be adopted to achieve the predetermined process change objectives in line with the overall organizational objectives. It is always advisable that change management experts who are independent of the organizations and the process change consultants be invited at the evaluation stage to assess, among other things, the suitability and compatibility of the proposed process.

Service disruption is another critical problem that requires change management in the event of process change. In service delivery, turnaround time is one of the important criteria of measuring service quality. Process change in a service industry could arise from the need to improve turnaround time and/or minimize delivery costs. The last thing management would want is service disruption in the system, especially where customers would be directly affected. Service disruption germinates poor service quality.

Can service disruption be avoided entirely in a process change? Yes, but in most cases it can only be minimized. For instance, it would be almost impossible to avoid service disruption, no matter how small, in a bank that is automating its entire processes. In this situation, change management becomes inevitable.

One change management option would be for staff members and customers who would be involved in the service delivery and/or who would suffer from the service disruption as a result of the process change to be carried along before the implementation stage. This would ensure their cooperation while also preventing or reducing possible resistance from the customers.

Another method to manage service disruption to customers during process change is to increase the number of service points during the transition. This would ensure that customers waiting for service are not delayed unnecessarily.

Implementation Stage

This is the stage at which the process change is implemented. It is unlikely that implementation of the decisions made at the preimplementation stage would be done without any problems. Proponents of change process, vendors and process change consultants may not be able to envisage all the likely problems that will be faced during the implementation stage or may, for whatever reason, not want to disclose them until management has committed to the exercise.

Many process change projects have been abandoned midimplementation after huge funds and management time have been committed. It is a pity that some of the organizations with this kind of regrettable experience have either not recovered fully from the wasted investment or have ceased to exist. For instance, efforts to automate the operations of various federal and state governments’ ministries and agencies in Nigeria are far from being realized in spite of the huge amounts of money and time that have been committed to these tasks over time. Many of the projects have been abandoned and there is hardly any government ministry in Nigeria that is fully automated. Another example is the national identity card program embarked upon by the Nigerian government more than two decades ago. The change was resisted but the government went ahead with it. However, from all indications the project has been abandoned and all economic, financial and other resources committed have been wasted.

The preimplementation stage is a foundation for the implementation stage. Faulty preimplementation programs often culminate in serious problems that truncate the process change at the implementation stage.

It is necessary for management to set up a standing committee to be proactive in identifying problems and resistance during the implementation and finding solutions immediately. When it cannot prevent problems and resistance, it should at least find effective solutions. The standing committee should be composed of all departments affected by the process change and should meet on a regular basis and when the need arises to discuss problems and solutions.

All stakeholders (internal and external) in the system should be carried along as the implementation progresses for better understanding and cooperation. They should be appreciated for their patience and understanding.

Postimplementation Stage

The postimplementation stage is basically concerned with ensuring that the process change achieves the predetermined objectives and that postimplementation stage problems are identified and sorted out quickly. One does not expect opposition to the process change to be as fierce in this stage as it might be at the preimplementation and implementation stages.

If problems do arise, it will most likely be due to:

  • Lack of or inadequate training to enable users of the new process to make maximum use of the new process—Most people are reluctant to learn new ways, especially where time and deep concentration are required. For instance, people who are familiar with a particular application are more likely to find reasons to condemn the new application.

    Management should ensure that all staff members affected by the process change undertake necessary training at all stages of the process change implementation. Staff and other stakeholders should also be given the feeling of importance (because they are) in the successful implementation of the process change.

  • Culture clash—In a situation where organizations that have been operating independently with distinct processes, vision, beliefs and other specific attributes fuse together as an entity under a common process, vision and belief, it is likely that culture clash will be experienced. This may last until the staff members are ready to leave their old ways of doing things and work under the new culture.

    Management should ensure that the culture differences are identified and streamlined as much as possible. Also, staff commitment to adopt the new process should be obtained.

To ensure successful change management, it is critical to have a disaster recovery and contingency plan at all stages of the process change, especially during the implementation and postimplementation stages. These plans help ensure that the organization can continue its operations with minimal or no disruptions should the change process implementation fail.

According to a change formula developed by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher, which is sometimes referred to as Gleicher’s Formula, the combination (product) of organizational dissatisfaction; vision for the future; and the possibility of immediate, tactical action must be stronger than the resistance within the organization for meaningful change to occur. Exactly how effective the formula is has yet to be determined. No organization has come out to declare the adoption of the formula and attribute the success of the process change to it (the formula). The ingredients of the model tried to address the past experience, future expectations and current actions against resistance but one thing is certain: there is no hard-and-fast rule to implementing change programs. As the changes differ, so do the methods and approaches, but a combination of determination, careful planning and commitment among all the stakeholders will always produce good results.


Change can be costly, financially and otherwise, but it can also be very rewarding if it is carefully thought out and implemented. Since a great deal of financial and human resources are required to effect some process changes, quality plans are required to ensure that the new process is implemented, clogs in the wheels are promptly identified and feasible solutions are derived. It is the responsibility of top management to ensure a successful process change.

To maximize success, management must be well equipped to manage the environment (employees, customers, suppliers, competitors and other stakeholders) affected directly or indirectly by the process change.


Beckhard, R.; Organization Development: Strategies and Models, Addison-Wesley, Massachusetts, USA, 1969


1 Lewin, K.; Field Theory in Social Science, Harper and Row, New York, USA, 1951

Ezekiel Oseni, CISA, ACA, ACIP, ACS
is head of the internal control and audit division at Bank of Industry, Lagos, Nigeria.

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