People are hardwired to be cautious of change. However, in today’s rapidly-evolving business climate, organizations must find ways to support employees through inevitable changes. From operational restructuring to software implementations and everything in between, the field (and process) of change management is complex. 

With the numerous methods, techniques, and approaches to change management how does an organization identify and pinpoint the best path forward? 

It will help to briefly travel back in time to understand the roots of the formalized practices that flourish today and break down three foundational pillars of change management that organizations can utilize today.  

The Migration From Psychology To Business

Change management has roots in the study of human behavior. The intellectual beginnings trace to the early 1900’s, into the work of the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep. When looking at rites of passage in different cultures, Gennep began to notice common behaviors. 

Even though he was looking at a variety of different cultures, he noticed that there were three overall states that ran common in the experience of social change. The first state was a “pre-liminal” stage, where the coming change was acknowledged and prepared for by the community. 

The middle state was the “liminal” stage, which he defined as a threshold of ambiguity and disorientation. Change managers everywhere will chuckle at the accuracy of adjectives like “ambiguity” and “disorientation” when describing the liminality of change. 

The final state in a rite of passage was “post-liminal,” where the transition in status was recognized and normalized in the community. Across cultures and belief systems, Gennep was able to identify these common movements in the human experience of change. 

By the mid-20th century, when psychology began to blossom into a robust and complex discipline of study, Gennep’s three states gained popularity. In the 1940’s, Kurt Lewin became a pioneer in social and organizational psychology by turning his attention to understanding change.  Lewin borrowed from Gennep’s structure and described a three step process for change: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.

There was some academic buzz from several sources in the years following Lewin’s work, but no substantial leap from psychology to business had yet been made. This changed in 1982, when a consultant at McKinsey named Julien Phillips published an article in the journal Human Resource Management

In his article, Phillips introduced a model for organizational change management specifically designed with businesses in mind. His model defines four steps that were intended to build momentum for change within an organization: creating a sense of concern, developing a specific commitment to change, pushing for major change, and reinforcing the new course of action. 

In the years following, change management took off. Books were published; articles became more frequent; new models were advanced. Businesses were in need of assistance with change, and consultants pursued thought leadership that would help address this need and grow their business. Peters, Waterman, Kotter, and dozens more developed robust philosophies and methods for change, and organizations bought in and helped the field to grow.

Today, there are as many models for change management as there are consulting organizations. Looking for a 4 step process? Try PDCA. Interested in 5 steps? Try ADKAR. How about a 6 step approach? Try Pulse. Need more? Try Kotter’s 8 Steps, or Prosci’s 9 Steps. There are symposiums and communities of practice such as Prosci and ACMP; and naturally a veritable cornucopia of certifications abound. Change management is so saturated with models and approaches that some even try to push “beyond change management.” 

100 Frameworks, 1 Idea

The Gunter Group does not subscribe to any one framework. Our clients are too unique for a single set of steps to be the answer. We proudly proclaim ourselves to be “methodologically agnostic,” much more interested in understanding the organization than blindly peddling a process that fails to fit the people it is meant to help. 

That is not to say that we don’t know the methods. Our consultants have expertise in Prosci and ADKAR; and we have a number of tangentially relevant certifications (Six Sigma, SAFe, PMP, and HCD to name a few); we attend local ACMP events. We do not, however, learn a method to become disciples. Rather, we expose ourselves to frameworks and study methodological vocabulary to leverage those aspects of the frameworks that might be helpful for our work. Our clients appreciate a tailored approach that is grounded in the best practices of 100 frameworks.

This approach to consulting reveals something obvious: all change management methods are basically the same. Decades of scholarship and praxis have not changed the core phases of change, and wisdom that dates back a century still lies at the heart of responsible change. There are 3 basic phases in change (before, during, and after), and every change management framework simply iterates on the approach taken within those three phases.

So what runs common throughout all change management? What activities should you keep in mind as you tailor the process to your specific organization? We’ll run through the basics below.

Step 1: Pre-Change

Change is coming. Perhaps it is a changing regulation, a new technology, an upcoming merger, or a poor quarterly report; whatever the reason, you see change on the horizon and understand that you will need to prepare for it. Though the various frameworks approach preparing for change differently, three key activities take place during pre-change: analysis, planning, and influencing.

Analysis comes first. Before you can plan for change, you have to understand the people and processes that will be impacted. Who will be your champions, sponsors, and resistors? Helpful tools for this phase include stakeholder matrices, current state and future state process maps, and change impact assessments. The change manager must also understand the change itself. Without a powerful grasp on the “why” that is driving the change, planning and execution will fall short. 

Planning comes next. Change management occurs somewhere between the intersection of strategy, people, and execution, and planning is the bridge that brings these three elements into alignment. This includes planning for the change itself, communication that will accompany the change, and the training that will make the change possible. 

Influencing should follow. ADKAR describes this as fostering awareness and desire. Prosci speaks of sponsors and champions. Other schools of thought suggest using concepts like vision or need. We have found that a cocktail of all these approaches is usually the best way forward.

Step 2: Change

You’ve spent time interviewing stakeholders, mapping processes, and planning training sessions; now it’s time to introduce the change. This is messy, confusing, and difficult for the people impacted so change managers often rely most heavily on a methodology in this phase. However, mid-change is where a generalist approach could be most advantageous, adapting to the ongoing needs of the situation. There are four activities that always occur in any well-managed change approach: communication, training, changing, and reinforcement.

The most important activity surrounding change is communication. This is where you lean heavily on the results of your analyses. You know who needs communication, what they need to hear, and how it will affect their work flow. Armed with this information, you can plan accordingly, communicating the upcoming movements to the right people, early and often.

Another essential activity is training. This often goes hand-in-hand with communication, and is best when designed from the viewpoint of those impacted. Recent developments of tools such as Human Centered Design help maximize the value of training.

At a certain point, the change will happen. Kotter recommends an approach of small-slicing the change to create short term wins, but often the change manager is not the one driving the project timeline. When it comes to go-lives, change managers serve a thousand roles. They become SME’s for elements of the change impact; they attempt to remove obstacles from stakeholders; they act as cheerleaders or bulldogs, whatever is called for in the moment. 

As change occurs, another important activity is reinforcement. A big part of this is engaging program or organizational-wide leadership to enforce the change. This activity truly begins in pre-change and extends through the end of post-change, but it becomes extremely important in the midst of the change. There are approaches coming out of organizational psychology that can be helpful here, such as Vroom’s Theory of Motivation, McClellan’s Theory of Three Needs, or McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y.

Step 3: Post-Change

Follow-through is a must. As Gennep would say: the new status must be confirmed and the change must be reincorporated as the new norm. This is done a little differently in each framework, but necessary activities include reinforcement and reanalysis. 

As said above, reinforcement is heavily featured in post-change activities. The goal is longevity, driving the change through ongoing champions and dwindling resistance. Success is celebrated, momentum is reinforced, and improvements are consolidated. Through these activities, the new order is anchored in behavior.

One often-forgotten activity that takes place after the change occurs is reanalysis. Throughout this whole process, you’ve generated a mountain of information, from stakeholder input to process metrics. Current-state assessments performed before, during, and after the change are a great way to analyze that information, evaluating the effect of the change. 

Change management is the study of human behavior. Change is inevitably difficult for humans, yet change is unavoidable. As professionals in change management, we bring a people-centered approach to our work. We partner with clients to ensure employees and stakeholders understand, support, and adopt the desired change and it starts with a very critical element: listening.  We view our clients’ change as if it was our change, and their people, as if they were our people, with a foundation of respect. 


Impactful change leaders understand not only the holistic process of change but also the simple process of change, disruption, adaptation, and confirmation. They know the tools and the steps to help guide them in executing that change. 

Great change leaders think systematically. They’re fluent in the interwoven nature of change. For example, the reliance on, and the potential impact to, a long-term strategy: the new business opportunities that are presented, the operational impacts, the cost impacts and implications, and the efficiencies that could be gained from a change. 

The best change leaders are those who recognize that there’s an absolute, inextricable, undeniable criticality of engaging their people and their teams in bringing about change. No process, no strategy, no business model, no ROI, no calculations will matter if there’s an absence of engagement on the team.

When faced with challenging situations effective change leaders have the ability to:

1. Respond in a timely manner to a market force or operational inefficiency. 

2. Understand that change is a necessary process, and that it will happen again.

3. Learn from the challenges in front of their organization and learn from the change process they undertake.

4. Challenge the status quo and ask strategic unbiased questions with a focus on improvement and solutions.

5. See how change can and will impact their organization at an enterprise level.

6. Explore new processes and tools to support and scale change and improvement.

7. Communicate clearly and effectively to their team so that team members know the “why” behind the change and understand how their role fits into both the process and the outcome.

Large-scale change takes place across all industries with some of it intentional, and some of it unexpected. Regardless of the forcing mechanism, effective change leaders find ways to engage teams at a more human level, and in doing so choose engagement over exclusion and as a result prioritize organizational health and success.  

As professionals in change management, we bring a people-centered approach to our work. We partner with clients to ensure employees and stakeholders understand, support, and adopt the desired change and it starts with a very critical element: listening.  We view our clients’ change as if it was our change, and their people, as if they were our people, with a foundation of respect. 


At The Gunter Group we categorize our work into four practice areas: Technology, Execution, People, and Strategy, with client engagements often stretching across multiple service categories.

In our People Practice work we empower companies across all industries to align their people and strategic objectives in order to maximize results.

In this Q&A we explore our People Practice in greater detail — as we visit with Kara O’Connor, Service Delivery Manager – People Practice.

Tell us a little bit about the nature of work TGG focuses on within the People Practice:

What separates our People Practice is the unique and focused way that we ensure people and culture are cared for and prioritized in any big change. We frequently assist organizations with large complex change initiatives that balance technical proficiency (project management, business analysis, etc.) and people proficiency (change management, employee engagement, etc.). Our team focuses on being well-rounded so we can thoughtfully bring both perspectives to the table.

What is the most rewarding aspect of supporting clients in TGG’s People Practice?

If we do our jobs well, people feel like we’ve helped them prepare for and overcome something challenging. We’re helping avoid burnout, helping find clarity, and helping design a future with people at the forefront. This truly makes a difference for people’s lives, when their human emotions and reactions are respectfully accounted for. When we’re able to support change like this, it’s very meaningful and very rewarding.

What are recent trends you see impacting businesses in the People Practice space?

I’ve really loved seeing more conversations about integrating change management into agile projects. You’ve typically seen change management presented in very traditional, waterfall methods and these methods are not the only way! 

What do you anticipate impacting organizations over the next 3-5 years in this area?

I think People Practice issues are becoming more mainstream. A few years ago, change management was really on the periphery, not many people were prioritizing it in their projects. Now, we’re seeing more acknowledgement that without addressing the human component in the workplace, you’re missing half of the picture. 

Tell us about one of your favorite projects your team has worked on:

Right now we have someone working on a social and emotional wellness program for a large public school system. At a time when school staffs are being stretched thin, it is great to know we have someone to help organizations strategically plan for and build programs that support the mental wellbeing of their staff. This ultimately has a huge impact on our community as a whole in light of school staff connecting with parents and students.

More about Kara O’Connor:
Kara owns a diverse background in organizational change, team leadership, project management, communications, and marketing analytics. She is passionate about keeping “people” at the center of change management and large-scale initiatives and has enjoyed bringing strategic, people focused solutions to her clients for over 10 years. Kara is very skilled at considering issues with a fresh perspective, which results in her suggesting and implementing viable solutions that may not have been previously considered by an organization. She has worked in a wide range of industries for many nationally-recognized brands, in technology, healthcare, sportswear, and education. Kara holds a B.S in Business Administration and Marketing from Central Washington University. She is also a Certified Scrum Master and PROSCI Certified Change Practitioner. In her free time, Kara enjoys spending time in the great outdoors with her family of four.


The Gunter Group hosted the ACMP Pacific Northwest chapter’s monthly Coffee Chats in April, May, and June. Just as everyone was figuring out how to deal with so many things changing, we facilitated a three-part webinar series entitled ‘Reflections on Change Management in Uncertain Times’. The conversations were timely but the change lessons we learned are timeless.

Afterward we sat down with our host, Stephen Bacon, to get his perspective on how to navigate through large-scale change.

In case you missed the webinar series, you can view replays here:

Part 1: How Things Have Been Disrupted
Part 2: How We Are Adapting
Part 3: What We Are Learning

More about Stephen Bacon:

Stephen is passionate about understanding the overarching strategic goals of an organization and leading the changes that are so often necessary to implement those strategies. His expertise is managing strategy and change projects across a variety of organizations. Stephen has spent twenty years leading initiatives at Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions and not-for-profits in the education services, technology, financial services, consumer products, and healthcare industries, including extensive international experience. Stephen is a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), holds a green belt in Six Sigma, and is accredited in various psychometric assessments (MBTI, ESCI, NBI). He holds a B.S. in finance and marketing from Boston College and an M.A. in organizational psychology from Columbia University. In addition to his service on not-for-profit boards, Stephen has three young children and a chocolate lab. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon.


Part 3 (of 3): What will we carry forward?

We completed the last session of our series with ACMP Pacific Northwest — ‘Reflections on Change Management in Uncertain Times’. Thank you again to ACMP for the opportunity to facilitate this important conversation. 

Part 1 of the series was about how things have been disrupted, Part 2 was about how we are adapting, and in Part 3 we had a very open conversation about what we are learning.

This conversation was very candid and we highly encourage you to watch the replay. Some highlights of our discussion were around

– The importance of vulnerability and connection during this time
– Staying curious and humble in our learnings
– Not attempting to continue business “as usual”
– Creating new normals in our work environments
– Being a present listener and practicing empathy

A replay of our June discussion is now available and we encourage you to listen in on this collaborative information sharing!

View slide deck onlyDownload

Hosted by:
Stephen Bacon
Senior Consultant
The Gunter Group


On June 12th, we’ll wrap up our three-part series around ‘Reflections on Change Management in Uncertain Times’ with ACMP Pacific Northwest.

In April, we discussed what has been disrupted due to COVID-19. In May, we discussed how we are adapting to the changes. In June, we’ll look ahead to what we will carry forward.

This month, we look forward to discussing questions like:

– What has forever changed in the way we work?
– What DON’T we want to go “back to normal?”
– What will the “new normal” look like?

We encourage you to consider these topics ahead of time as this will be an interactive discussion.

REGISTER NOW to join us on June 12th at 9am PDT as we finish out this series!


Part 2 (of 3): How are we adapting

We hope you are enjoying our series around ‘Reflections on Change Management in Uncertain Times’. Thank you to ACMP Pacific Northwest for the opportunity to facilitate this important conversation. 

During our Part 1 discussion in April, we talked about how things have been disrupted and you can view a reply of that conversation here.

In Part 2, this month, we discussed how we are adapting and some key learnings out of our conversation were:

– We’re moving beyond the “how are you” platitudes
– Video call fatigue is real and we are navigating that together
– Communicating more than you think you need to is probably the right amount
– We are seeing more agile thinking from leaders
– It’s not a given that we will learn from this—we need to keep talking about it

A replay of our May discussion is now available and we encourage you to listen in on this collaborative information sharing!

View slide deck onlyDownload

Be sure to join us for the last conversation of the series (Part 3, June 12th @ 9AM PDT) when we’ll discuss what we are carrying forward. Watch Now

Hosted by:
Stephen Bacon
Senior Consultant
The Gunter Group


We invite you to join us on May 8th for ACMP Pacific Northwest’s monthly Coffee Chat as we continue our three-part series around ‘Reflections on Change Management in Uncertain Times’.

In April, we discussed what has been disrupted due to COVID-19. In May, we will dive into how we are adapting to these changes. In June, we’ll look ahead to what we will carry forward.

In case you missed April’s Coffee Chat, here is a replay.

This month, we look forward to discussing questions like:

– How are you focusing on the long-term, despite the uncertainty?
– What techniques do you have for effective communication?
– How are you using this time to strengthen your relationships?
– How do you stay connected to work when you’re home?

We encourage you to consider these topics ahead of time as this will be an interactive discussion. Attendees from April’s session really enjoyed the candid conversation.

Register now for both Part 2 & 3 of this series!

May 8, 2020 @ 9–10 AM PDT  | Register Now 
Part 2: How we are adapting

June 12, 2020 @ 9–10 AM PDT  | Register Now
Part 3: What we will carry forward


Part 1 (of 3): What’s been disrupted?

Recent events have disrupted the way we’re all working. Change Managers in particular are used to adapting to new situations. Now everyone is taking part – in real time – in the biggest workplace change in decades.

The Gunter Group hosted ACMP Pacific Northwest’s April Coffee Chat and discussed topics with the change management community such as: What’s been disrupted in your way of working?

– What’s been disrupted in your way of working?
– What leadership challenges are you facing in this new reality?
– What does relationship building look like now?

View a replay of the discussion or download the slide deck below

ACMP TGG Coffee Chat PresentationDownload

Be sure to check out the remaining 2 discussions in our three-part series.

May 8, 2020 @ 9–10 AM PDT  | Watch Now
Part 2: How we are adapting

 June 12, 2020 @ 9–10 AM PDT  | Watch Now
Part 3: What we will carry forward

Hosted by:
Stephen Bacon
Senior Consultant
The Gunter Group