What Role Does Manageability Play In Change Success?

CHANGE MATTERSJUST TO REMIND YOU. The first critical element of a successful change is Comprehensibility. So you’ve determined that the change makes sense to everyone in your company or organization. Now comes the next critical element: Manageability.

Critical Element #2 – Manageability

Manageability is when individuals say to themselves: ‘I can handle this change. I can do the new work (or the different work). I can manage whatever comes about as a result of this change.’

Manageability isn’t only about the work. Let’s think of all the things that can change because we know it isn’t just daily tasks. It can also be your reporting structure; you or others might lose their jobs or have to re-bid on them; you might have colleagues that now work in different areas based on the change. All of these things can cause people to think that the change is unmanageable for them. And if that is the case, then they will either resist or check out – neither of which you want or can afford. By thinking about what those changes will be and how to help employees manage them, you will be setting everyone up for success.

change-puzzleIs the work changing? Think about things the new skills needed on day 1, on day 30, on day 90. Is their boss changing? What can you do to help employees see that having a new boss won’t destroy their career path. Will employees be losing their jobs as a result of this change? What is in place to help those employees deal with that loss? Is there outplacement? Is there a career center? Will you run special workshops on budgeting to prepare for job loss? Is there counseling available? All of these components I’ve mentioned can go a long way in helping employees feel that they can manage the changes coming about.


One thing that can help a company through any change, and can increase the manageability quotient, no matter what is planned is resiliency. Resilient employees can manage more change than non-resilient employees. You don’t have to wait for a change to think about this, or plan for it. You don’t have to wait for a change to create a plan to help yourself or your employees increase your/their resiliency. The model I use for resiliency has four segments: Purpose, Control, Outlook and Physical/Spiritual Well-Being.

Purpose: In order to be resilient an individual needs a sense of purpose that surrounds their life – to know what they want to achieve and to be actively working towards it. Your sense of purpose might be that you want your kids to grow up happy, healthy and interested in higher education. Your work contributes to that because it may allow you to save money to support that latter goal. It may also give you the means to buy healthy food and spend quality time with your children.

Control: Employees also need to feel a sense of control. I’m not saying you need to feel like you control everything (wouldn’t that be nice!), but rather that you know what you control about in your life and what you don’t. For example, you may know that you control how you react to things but you can’t control the actions of others. You know that you don’t control the weather but you can control paying attention to the weather forecast so you dress yourself and your children appropriately Tied up in this is also our need for control. Some of us have a high need to control everything in our life – even though we don’t control everything. Others have less of a need. During times of change it isn’t necessary to lower your need for control, only to be aware of yourself and your needs.

Outlook: An important component of resiliency is your outlook on life. You may be naturally positive in your outlook, or naturally negative. Again, it doesn’t matter which one you have – only that you are aware.   I will say that those who have a more positive outlook tend to be more resilient during times of change. And it is possible to change your outlook, or at least teach you some tools so you can ‘look on the bright side’ during change.

Physical/Spiritual Well-Being: One of the most important components to maintaining resiliency during times of change is taking care of you both physically and spiritually. Those who gather with a community of like-minded individuals on a regular basis can withstand change and all that it brings more productively than those who don’t. And this might mean doing Tai-Chi in the park every week, or going to religious services, meeting with friends every Thursday night or meditating with friends. Taking care of yourself physically hopefully means you are healthy – eating right, exercising, and getting enough rest. Or at least you are taking steps in that direction. All help you withstand the havoc a change can wreak on your life.

Managing Through Change

I once worked on a manufacturing plant closing. What was somewhat unique to this closing was that it was going to take place over three years. And in the meantime products needed to be manufactured, processes needed to be improved and employees needed to learn new skills. It might seem weird on the surface, but that was the reality. It became a time of the BIG Change and the Little change. The BIG change was the plant closing. In order to keep employees we offered retention bonuses to each person working in the plant. From the Plant Manager to the person working on the manufacturing floor. Each person was not only told his or her bonus up front, but also his or her end date. When we first decided to do these things another consultant told us we were crazy and that we’d lose all of our employees. In fact, this consultant was so convinced we were doing the wrong thing he set up a secret meeting with the SVP who had made the plant closing decision. She backed the decision and that consultant was kindly asked to not return.

That great fear, that all the employees would leave, didn’t happen because we told them two important things: when they would be no longer employed (even if it was three years in the future) and how much more they’d benefit by staying. Both those elements are critical for the manageability factor – believing you can manage what the change will bring you. So we told them. We also spent three years helping them prepare – from helping them think through things like budgeting for a potential lapse in employment for a few months to building skills that would make them more marketable. All the while continuing to manufacture quality pharmaceutical products. That was the BIG Change. For the Little Changes, the ones that happened in order to improve processes or improve quality outcomes, we made sure they were trained appropriately and thoroughly so they always felt they could do their jobs, no matter what.

All of this also helped everyone build his or her resiliency, which is so critical during times of change. They learned the components of resiliency – having a sense of purpose, understanding your own need for control, maintaining a positive outlook and physical and spiritual well-being – and gave them ideas on how to build each one. We happened to be doing this during a time of great change, not the best timing. But still it worked. I like to recommend that you do this in your company as part of regular developmental activities. Put it as a requirement in everyone’s developmental plan. And if you are too small to have such plans, talk with employees about resiliency and ways they can develop themselves in the different areas.

I Can Manage This!

Whether you are the dreamer of change, the implementer or the implementee, believing you can manage all the change will bring you on the positive side of the second critical element – manageability. And once again, this is not selective. Every single one of your employees needs to believe they can manage what this change is throwing at them in order for it to succeed. This might require you to do extra training, or have managers who can have productive conversations with their employees. It might force you to put processes and practices in place you didn’t have before – like outplacement, career services, employee counseling and advising. Know that any investment you make in your employees at this point will be paid back to you and you will see it on your bottom line. The company I spoke about before enjoyed unprecedented quality and productivity improvements during the three years it remained open. Sure, it cost them a bit, but it was returned to them over and over again.

So you know about comprehensibility and manageability. Next up, the third and final critical component – connectedness.



Beth Banks Cohn
Beth Banks Cohn
BETH is dedicated to helping individuals and companies implement business changes that actually work. Beth believes in the ripple effect – that change handled well benefits everyone in an organization, over and over again. As a recognized expert in change as well as corporate culture, Beth consults domestically and internationally with a wide range of disciplines and businesses. Beth is the author of two books: ChangeSmart™: Implementing Change Without Lowering your Bottom Line and Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times…and Beyond (with Roz Usheroff).

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  1. I find that storytelling works good when culture change is involved. You just tell a few stories about that guy or gal everyone knows and how awesome they are. Then stoke the coals that everyone can be awesome too. For other kinds of change such as operational or strategic, then data narratives and anecdotes may work well.

    I’ve always felt that change had both a rhetoric side and model-driven side. What actually knits these two things together is up for debate.

    • I agree Chris that storytelling can be quite effective. But you need effective storytellers to pull it off. That is where I find storytelling fails to live up to the hype. Some leaders are great storytellers, most are not. Data narratives work well for people who are interested in data, not everyone is. I find tailoring the narrative to how people instinctively approach solving problems, using the Kolbe model ( gives me the best success.

    • Agree. But, a tool is only good as the person that uses the tool. There are way too many that blame the tool and not the fool misusing the tool. I’ve seen things like Kolbe be abused too because there was poor understanding on where the assumptions are coming from. I onetime had to fight tooth and nail to stop IQ tests and Myers-Briggs from being used to target people for layoffs.

    • Agree. Tools in the hands of fools are just scary. And using IQ tests and MBTI to lay off people? Well that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen if ever there was one. No matter how much Kolbe or MBTI train and certify people to use their tools there is still the chance that people will use ‘outside the scope’. I’ve seen it too.

  2. Good article. I would suggest, however, that your model works best on the “upper layers” of the employees.

    I think there will be less success within the model framework with workers that are high school dropouts and those trying to get to the next paycheck before their landlord throws them out. That set simply has different points of purpose, control, and outlook. Some businesses have a very high ratio of these people to those that are clerical/white collar, supervisory, and highly skilled.

    • Hi Ken, I would beg to differ with you. I used this model with the employees in a manufacturing plant that was scheduled to close over a three year period. Yes, they were living paycheck to paycheck, but talking about their sense of purpose and spiritual well-being, among the other model topics was actually quite helpful for them. It helped them put the fact that they were going to lose their jobs into perspective in such a way that they didn’t just try to find another job, but use their time left in the company to really decide what they wanted to do next. That gave them an incredible sense of control that many hadn’t felt very often, if at all. Purpose can be putting food on the table and keeping a roof over the heads of my family – it doesn’t have to be lofty. Knowing whether you are a ‘glass half empty or full’ person helps you approach change the best way you can. How you look at these topics may differ based on level and socio-economic class, but the model can still be useful.