Change Management and Your Workplace Transformation

An in-depth look at the integrated process of changing both physical space and human behavior in the creation of new work environments.

Image via Death to Stock.

Essential reading on the topic of change management can be found in one very accessible volume, thanks to the Harvard Business ReviewGary Miciunas, a principal who leads workplace innovation and change management services for NELSON, recently read the entire collection with one specific question in mind: How can we apply these management ideas about organizational change to workplace transformation? For our purposes here, workplace transformation is defined as the integrated process of changing both physical space and human behavior in the creation of new work environments.

In this article, you’ll find Miciunas’s synopsis of the ten principles put forth in the book, as well as how he believes you can apply each idea to your own workplace transformation.

  1. The Leadership Principle

Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail, John P. Kotter

Synopsis: Kotter[2] points out that success depends on eight stages in creating a new system:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Form a powerful guiding coalition
  3. Create a vision
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Empower others to act on the vision
  6. Plan for and create short-term wins
  7. Consolidate improvements and create short-term wins
  8. Institutionalize new approaches

Making “errors” by not accomplishing any or all of these eight stages is a failure of leadership, not management. As Kotter states, “Management’s mandate is to minimize risk and keep the current system operating. Change, by definition, requires creating a new system, which in turn always demands leadership.”

Application: Successful workplace transformation requires leaders to pay simultaneous attention to: 1) changing the current system, and 2) sustaining the new system as it evolves throughout all eight stages. The desired end-state does not simply arrive all at once. Easing this tension between the present and the future involves gradually putting in place new policies, practices, and people to create and sustain the new system. Strategy and execution must be iterative at each stage. Conventional linear thinking that says the implementation phase comes after the strategy phase delays timely action.

The desired end-state does not simply arrive all at once. Easing this tension between the present and the future involves gradually putting in place new policies, practices, and people to create and sustain the new system.

I have often observed this kind of thinking as typical of a linear “project management” approach to change management. Project management controls physical change. Change management affects behavioral change. Change management needs to run as a distinct process in parallel with project management, if not ahead of it. In this way, engagement and communications are tandem activities at every stage. Communications are not a downstream activity to sell people in a wholesale manner on adopting a preconceived solution. Getting people to trust and adopt proposed changes, in which they have had little to no involvement up to that point, will only cause a backlash and even greater resistance.

  1. The Persuasion Principle

Change Through Persuasion, David A. Garvin and Michael Roberto

Synopsis: According to Garvin and Roberto,[3] persuasion is the ultimate tool for leaders to create an environment receptive to change. They make the analogy that designing and running an effective persuasion campaign is like preparing the soil before planting the seeds of change. A persuasion campaign must create a new context for change by differentiating how a new direction is different this time around compared to past change efforts. As leaders seem to come and go without achieving lasting change, employees may be thinking, “Here we go again.”

Leadership skillful in the art of persuasion realize the need for a four-part communications strategy:

  1. Setting the stage for acceptance by presenting compelling reasons why change is necessary
  2. Framing the plan by allowing people to interpret new ideas and take action in furthering a plan
  3. Managing the mood by balancing taking action with being sensitive to people’s emotions
  4. Preventing people from backsliding into old ways by reinforcing and modeling desired behavior

Application: Such a persuasion campaign may also be useful in communicating why a new direction is necessary in transforming the workplace to support new ways of working. Communication is a two-way street that engages people in a change process. It is not enough to simply inform people about how planned physical changes will impact them. That’s the logical project management approach which assumes well intended improvements will make perfect sense to rational people who are ready, willing, and able to adopt them.

…persuasion is the ultimate tool for leaders to create an environment receptive to change.

When it comes to changing beliefs and attitudes underlying irrational human behavior, leaders must appeal to both logic and emotion, i.e., what people think and what they feel. Workplace transformation involves a deeper understanding of how a new work environment is designed to support the adoption of new work behaviors. This requires making a compelling case for change, allowing individuals to absorb the impact of change on them personally, appealing to their logic and emotion, and establishing protocols for new norms of behavior in the workplace.

  1. The Values Principle

Leading Change When Business is Good, Paul Hemp and Thomas A. Stewart

Synopsis: Hemp and Stewart[4] tell the story of how IBM engaged its employees in a process of recreating its corporate values, and then removing organizational barriers to innovation and revenue growth that hindered employees from being able to live these values every single day. This “Values-Based Management” approach provided hope and aspiration of success amid fast-changing challenges and opportunities in the external market during the early 2000s while the industry was reintegrating. It improved organizational performance in terms of speed, flexibility, and creativity in decision-making and working relationships – both internal and external. The process involved gathering and analyzing employees’ input on values, identifying obstacles, and launching change initiatives to remove them. Three resulting value statements were published on the company intranet in November 2003 and leadership responded with change initiatives affecting spending, compensation and pricing. Sam Palmisano, IBM CEO at the time, described the lively online “jam” sessions used to engage employees at all levels as “hot and contentious and messy” yet provided him with an “incredible mandate to drive even more change in the company”.

Application: This unorthodox, early example of “crowdsourcing” seems to both fit the four-part communications strategy of a persuasion campaign, and accomplish all of Kotter’s eight stages of leading change in creating a new system. In this case, a new system of values guided behavior and removed barriers. It also demonstrates the difference between engagement and communications. Engagement encourages two-way dialogue. Communications are often one-way messaging used to inform people of changes being implemented. Allowing engagement takes guts and trust on the part of leadership that the most appropriate outcomes will emerge from the process.

Today, clients’ expectations about managing the change process are increasing. This is evidenced by the range of professional services being requested for “workplace transformation” including a values-based, co-design process.  Such services include employee engagement, employee communications, participatory design methods, and brand expression. This level of service is being driven by hopes and intentions of creating the ultimate employee experience that will attract and retain a talented workforce. It requires openly gathering information and a willingness to act on it in ways that resonate with employees because they see their input reflected in solutions being generated.

  1. The Tempered Radicals Principle

Radical Change, the Quiet Way, Debra E. Meyerson

Synopsis: In contrast to organizational change that is driven by drastic action, Meyerson[5] celebrates change agents that she calls “tempered radicals” whose quiet style exemplifies evolutionary adaptation. They lead quietly, yet effectively in their own way. While these individuals are not the highly visible, top executive types, they are “masters at changing organizations at the grassroots level”. By using moderate tactics, they constructively challenge aspects of their organizational cultures in steady and effective ways. They balance their individual desire to undo the status quo with organizational expectations upon them to uphold it. They do this by starting conversations and nurturing interpersonal relationships that affect subtle changes in the course of everyday work situations.

Application: These “tempered radicals” make perfect allies for top management to tap and empower in building their “powerful guiding coalitions”. In working with clients, I’ve seen the effectiveness of this partnership at work when top managers enlist tempered radicals in the change process. Such individuals are usually not visible in reporting structures on published organization charts. Tempered radicals work in the “white space” between the boxes or silos of divisions and departments. They need not be found in “powerful” roles as designated directors or managers of anything. They have reputations as influencers and networkers who cross organizational boundaries. They are often drafted onto cross-functional teams. They can be very persuasive “below the radar,” especially in nudging curmudgeons and silencing naysayers. You want tempered radicals on your workplace transformation team. They make great “sounding boards” and insightful advisors concerning what’s really going on and being said deep in the organization, and how to allay fears and concerns people have about impending changes. And, they are most likely to be around to sustain changes later as changes leaders come and go.

  1. The Tipping Point Principle

Tipping Point Leadership, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Synopsis: Using the example of policing reforms in the NYPD during the 1990s, Kim and Mauborgne[6] present a four-part formula for success to overcome inertia and reach a tipping point in getting a complex organization to change. The tipping point is a “moment” when leverage shifts and everything seems to change very quickly at once, but only after the fundamental groundwork of counteracting forces has been carefully and deliberately laid in place. Parallel fronts of attack include cognitive, resource, motivational, and political hurdles. The cognitive hurdle is confronted by putting key people in situations in which they directly experience operational problems, not abstract reports. Data-driven analysis reallocates and concentrates existing resources where they are most needed. Placing the spotlight on key influencers motivates them to take action only in areas of responsibility for which they have control. Political barriers are removed by silencing internal opponents and isolating external ones. This four-pronged intervention breaks down the very same forces that maintain the status quo.

Application: Many leaders in corporate real estate and facilities management functions are still struggling to change the status quo practice of space allocation based on policies of entitlement. While easy to administer, dedicating resources in this manner is very inefficient in terms of actual utilization. At the same time, there is growing demand for devoting more shared space at a group level. Concentrating resources where they are needed requires a shift from one space type to another. It also requires sensitizing business managers to how often these assigned spaces are empty (typically more than fifty percent of the time). Sharing performance metrics among all managers is effective in motivating them to be more efficient and in identifying opportunities for sharing resources. The other finite resource that is highly valued by employees is their precious time. Flexible work arrangements that allow individuals choice of when, where and how to work on a daily basis may also alleviate demand for space. Integrating such flexible work arrangements with resource allocation policies may go a long way toward producing a tipping point of workplace transformation.

  1. The Survival Principle

A Survival Guide for Leaders, Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky

Synopsis: Heifetz and Linsky[7] discuss the risks of being a change agent leading people in a direction that makes them feel uncomfortable. The reaction by some people in the organization is to take out the messenger, rather than take up the message. Leaders need to be aware of these attacks at their position and not take them personally. They need to both manage the hostile environment surrounding them and manage themselves in difficult situations by being aware of their own vulnerabilities as a human being. The authors label this kind of “wrenching organizational transformation” as adaptive change compared to problems of a technical nature that can be fixed. Adaptive change requires people to solve problems themselves, rather than expect the change leader solve problems for them. In order to survive, leaders need to be present in the moment and above it, observing the dynamics of what’s happening. In other words, they need to be alive and stay alive, all the time knowing that the associated risks are worthwhile because of the rewards and joys of leadership in making a positive difference in the lives of others.

Leaders of workplace transformation need to carefully manage the politics of change. Many people will see change efforts as mostly taking something away from them, rather than acknowledging any positive gains.

Application: Leaders of workplace transformation need to carefully manage the politics of change. Many people will see change efforts as mostly taking something away from them, rather than acknowledging any positive gains. People may attempt to directly target change agents and personally undermine them behind the scenes. By distinguishing technical change and adaptive change, project managers and change agents are strategic allies in the process. Change agents who effectively engage employees in dialogue and bring that input to bear on technical solutions will be viewed as more than advocates of change. They will be viewed by employees as their advocates who openly address fears and concerns and ensure their input is considered in design solutions. Seeing their influence early in the process, employees may be more receptive to taking responsibility to adapt their behavior in new ways such as adopting activity-based work styles and sharing limited space.

  1. The Competing Commitments Principle

The Real Reason People Won’t ChangeRobert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

Synopsis: Kegan and Lahey[8] focus on the contradictory behavior of smart and talented individuals who are outwardly committed to change, yet inwardly protect themselves from taking action. These hidden conflicts are subconscious commitments to themselves at the core of their own self-identity, such as fear of success or failure, or loss of power and control. The authors point out that these “competing commitments” are not to be confused with resistance to change. Rather, they are “a kind of personal immunity to change”. Kegan and Lahey offer a process to help employees uncover their own immunity to change through a series of introspective questions. These questions require self-reflection about hidden goals that counteract stated commitments. By uncovering these deep-seated assumptions and long-held beliefs, managers assist employees in overcoming self-imposed limitations, as well as possibly helping themselves uncover their very own affecting interpersonal dynamics. This allows everyone involved to surface competing commitments and better understand what’s really going on and preventing change.

Workplace change agents need to consider the “perception is reality” phenomenon as employees are not always able to openly express what’s driving their behavior or resistance.

Application: Workplace change agents need to consider the “perception is reality” phenomenon as employees are not always able to openly express what’s driving their behavior or resistance. The social construction of reality is complex. While employees may show their support for change, beneath the surface they may harbor fears and concerns about what it means for them, usually in terms of a sense of loss. For example, people moving out of enclosed private offices dedicated to them may not openly express their concern about loss of status. They will mask such fears with reasons of confidential information and need for privacy. Individuals who are unfamiliar with managing flexible work and distributed workers may not openly express their fear of losing control. As advanced concepts such as activity-based work downplay space policies driven by hierarchy, status, entitlement, command and control, it does not remove the need for individuals’ to feel that their role and stature in the organization will still be important and recognized. Change leaders need to assure people that they will be recognized in a different manner more consistent with values of trust, empowerment and collaboration.

  1. The Balance Principle

Cracking the Code of Change, Michael Beer and Nitin Nohria

Synopsis: Beer and Nohria[9] present two basic theories of change strategy. Theory E is based on economic value, or the “hard” approach to change focused on maximizing shareholder value. Theory O is based on organizational capability, or the “soft” approach to change focused on transforming the corporate culture. One pragmatically builds market value and the other builds organizational capability.  The authors suggest that balancing the tensions and managing the contradictions between these two very different “hardware” and “software” archetypes are the best ways to achieve and sustain major change. Such a balancing act must be a combination of top-down and bottom-up efforts letting incentives “reinforce change, not drive it”.

Application: Theory E and Theory O are not mutually exclusive in transforming workplaces. For example, reducing occupancy costs (Theory E) while increasing flexible work policies (Theory O) are not at odds with each other; they are complementary strategies. Recent work with one client involved a major breakthrough in engagement and communications by shifting the emphasis beyond value to “shareholders” (Theory E) to value to “stakeholders” (Theory O), the latter including shareholders, employees, suppliers, and communities. This broader set of constituencies placed a more balanced emphasis on financial (Theory E) and non-financial (Theory O) factors in building the case for change.

  1. The Practicality Principle

The Hard Side of Change Management, Harold L. Sirkin, Perry Keenan, and Alan Jackson

Synopsis: Sirkin, Keenan, and Jackson[10] propose the “DICE” framework of calculating a score for four variables that determine the successful change:

  • Duration (time necessary)
  • Integrity (skills of the team),
  • Commitment (dedication to the program)
  • Effort (amount of additional work required)

Outcomes are influenced more directly by assessing time necessary, people required, and financial results to identify potential problems and make ongoing adjustments. These factors have three characteristics: ability to measure, ease of communicating their importance, and capability to quickly influence change. Applying this framework is used to predict outcomes of projects and programs, track their progress, and identify underlying causes and remove obstacles. The DICE framework provides everyone involved with a common language to have practical conversations about shaping initiatives at all levels of the organization.

Application: Increasingly, workplace transformation initiatives require the collaboration of cross-functional teams and talent from finance, human resources, information technology, real estate, and facilities management. More than ever, a common language such as DICE enables a team to speak plain English void of professional jargon. An even simpler framework for workplace change management is the journalistic question set of who, what, when, where, how, and why? Thinking through such fundamental questions about what is required to affect lasting changes brings aspirational vision down to reality. Grounding change in the context of existing workloads, limited resources, and real time constraints gives any initiative a practical path forward in manageable steps. This is very compatible with the Tipping Point principle of concentrating and shifting existing resources from one area to another, rather than assuming more are required.

  1. The Task Alignment Principle

Why Change Programs Don’t Produce Change, Michael Beer, Russell A. Eisenstat, and Bert Spector

Synopsis: Beer, Eisenstat and Spector[11] point out “the fallacy of programmatic change” – that companywide revitalization is driven centrally by senior leadership from the center outward or top down. Rather, they argue that change does not start at the top, it ends there. By creating a climate for change, the role of top management is to elicit renewal without imposing it, promoting “task alignment” at the periphery of the organization and steadily allowing it to move toward the corporate core. These decentralized efforts to apply ad hoc change efforts on concrete business problems, or the task itself, are the most effective way to transform the organization. This occurs through six managerial interventions:

  1. Mobilize commitment to change through joint diagnosis of business problems.
  2. Develop a shared vision of how to organize and manage for competitiveness.
  3. Foster consensus for the new vision, competence to enact it, and cohesion to move it along.
  4. Spread revitalization in all departments without pushing it from the top.
  5. Institutionalize revitalization through formal policies, systems, and structures.
  6. Monitor and adjust strategies in response to problems in the revitalization process.

In effect, implementing companywide systems and structures is done at the end, not the beginning of the change process, only after business units have experimented with innovative solutions to real problems.

Application: Workplace transformation need not require the centralized redesign of corporate real estate programs and policies before decentralized change can take hold in decentralized pilot projects.  Small groups who are innovators and early adopters, ready to move ahead of the rest of the organization, make perfect candidates for pilot projects at the periphery of the organization. If top management simply promotes such experimentation and allows the introduction of variance, then these small scale pilots applied to real aspects of the business make it evident that things are changing more visibly and more quickly. Centrally controlled, large scale initiatives imply that everything must change before anything can change. The task alignment principle reverses that thinking and is very consistent with Kotter’s idea of institutionalizing new approaches after compiling short-term wins.

  1. Bonus! The Dove-Tail Principle

Project management and change management must dove-tail in order for workplace transformation to achieve socio-technical change. Project management deals with technical change, i.e., improving physical settings and infrastructure in an architectural context. Change management deals with social change, i.e., allowing people to adapt their behavior for a new organizational context. Designing physical environments to support new ways of working must emphasize these two equally and simultaneously.

Project management and change management must dove-tail in order for workplace transformation to achieve socio-technical change.

Managing change and changing management must also be dove-tailed. Most change management programs emphasize overcoming “employee resistance.” While this is one important element of such programs, it does not shine the spot light on the critical role that senior management must play in leading change. A greater orientation toward “change leadership” is necessary. Early and clear evidence of change leadership is probably the single most important indicator of successful workplace transformation. If you want to manage change, begin by changing the way you manage!


Contact Gary Miciunas with your feedback on this article at


[2] Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Kotter, John P. in Harvard Business Review (March 1995) Reprint R0701J.

[3] Change Through Persuasion. Garvin, David A. and Roberto, Michael A. in Harvard Business Review (February 2005) Reprint R0502F.

[4] Leading Change When Business Is Good: An Interview with Samuel J. Palmisano. Hemp, P. and Stewart, Thomas A. in Harvard Business Review (December 2004) Reprint R0412C.

[5] Radical Change, the Quiet Way. Meyerson, Debra E. in Harvard Business Review (October 2001) Reprint 7923.

[6] Tipping Point Leadership. Kim, W. Chan and Mauborgne in Harvard Business Review (April 2003) Reprint R0304D.

[7] A Survival Guide for Leaders. Heifetz, Ronald A. and Linsky, Marty in Harvard Business Review (June 2002) Reprint R0206C.

[8] The Real Reason People Won’t Change. Kegan, Robert and Lahey, Lisa Laskow in Harvard Business Review (November 2001) Reprint R0110E.

[9] Cracking the Code of Change. Beer, Michael and Nohria, Nitin in Harvard Business Review (May 2000) Reprint R00301.

[10] The Hard Side of Change Management. Sirkin, Harold L., Keenan, Perry and Jackson, Alan in Harvard Business Review (October 2005) Reprint R0510G.

[11] Why Change Programs Don’t Produce Change. Beer, Michael, Eisenstat, Russell A. and Spector, Bert in Harvard Business Review (November 1990) Reprint 90601.



Written By
More from Gary Miciunas

Freedom and Choice in the New Workplace

Gary Miciunas explores the behavioral science that may help make more choice...
Read More

CoWhat? Workspace Design Models, Part 2

Here in Part 2, we identify three coworking design patterns that are...
Read More

Riding the Wave of the Contingent Workforce

How design and innovation are transforming work at the SAP Fieldglass HQ.
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *