10 Commandments for Leading Organizational Change

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but noones thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy.

Leading change is never an easy task for both senior executives and employees in organization. Leading organizational changes in fact is changing people, changing ourselves. Organizational change and individual change are inseparable. To me, leading changes is the matter of changing the mind-sets, culture of people; prepare people well ready for transformation in terms of awareness, prowess, and visioning; creating trust from within, from outside, between executives and employees, and among teams and employees; engaging people’s participation to the process. Leading organizational change is also about learning to lead one self by going outside of the comfort zone, experiencing trials and adventures, opening to new ideas, new perspectives, helps.

Hopefully, this can help as an useful guideline for leaders/ executives/ anyone who has difficulty in managing and leading change at work.

1. Communicate the organization’s vision and strategy

First, let’s take a look at this in the view point of an employee. If you started to work in an organization where you never hear about how the leaders want to lead the company, what the strategy, visions, and missions are, do you feel committed to want to make contribution? Many people choose to leave the organization because they don’t feel motivation to continue, especially when there are changes and the changes are not communicated through from top to grass level. A successful internal communication system is the one that can help managers to deliver messages to employees about the changes, strategy and visions.

One of an effective way to communicate the organization’s vision and strategy is to give people opportunities to participate in the process of discussion and making changes. “Involve every layer” is one of the principles recommended. When vision and strategy are explained to employees, it is easier to gain their trust and make the changes happen in a shorter time.

10 commandments for leading organizational changes

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Communicating the organization’s vision and strategy also helps to avoid organizational change failure. The leaders play a riding role, while employees play the elephant role in the metaphor “Rider-Elephant relationship”. The rider has vision and strategy about direction to motivate the elephant moving forward willingly.

2. Be a good role model

In order to lead people and changes, leaders also should know how to lead themselves. Leading people is not just about understanding others’ identities, but also understanding of own identities, motivation and other inner drives.

Transforming organizational change fails because managers donot act as a role model. This is very true. Executives cannot expect employees to change if they themselves do not show their willingness and motivation to change.

As a role model, managers should also learn leading themselves in circumstances, especially during changes; adapting themselves to different situations and acting rationally. When employees can see their boss as a good role model, they will learn from that and lead themselves better if there are changes. Besides, being open to new ideas, being creative and innovative should be spread from boss. I believe that this will help the change progress faster and more efficiently.10 commandments for leading organizational changes


Clarity is very important. Failing to set proper expectation is one of the mistakes that leaders keep making. Being clear about what should be said and delivered is more important than just issuing some general instructions.

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3. Recruit and retain the right people

This is not an easy mission. Managers should consider from beginning about candidate experience and qualifications. Normally companies have certain criteria and expectation when recruiting. In fact, there are cases when many candidates’ applications are turned down because they are overqualified. Some companies do not want to recruit overqualified people because it is possible that the candidates later find out that their work is not challenging enough, they might leave the job, and company has to recruit again, which is very time consuming and costly. However, some companies choose to select zero-experience candidate because they can see the potentiality, etc.

Knowing to put the right people to the right positions is very important. This require mindsets and culture understanding.

10 commandments for leading organizational changes

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Once the right people have been recruited, retaining them is also a challenge. As the economy improves and the job market grows, employees can have more options, thus making employee retention even more challenging. There are plenty of reasons for people to change jobs often nowadays. The reasons can be for more challenges, for better working environment, for promotion, for motivation, etc. Companies always need talents to keep growing. Therefore, retaining the right people does helps managers to lead organizational change successfully.

By giving employees their sense of identity, creating a great place to work, understanding the culture, understanding state and profile awareness, coaching, training, providing them with opportunities to be creative, innovative, getting promoted, motivated and having challenges, raised salaries, organizations can keep employees stay.

4. Understand mindsets and cultures

“Lead with the culture” is an extremely important principle, yet executives often ignore. Organizations often focus too much on business outcome and forget about mindsets and culture. Looking inward and outward should be equally important. Not only customer satisfaction is taken care of, but also employee satisfaction, stakeholder satisfaction should be paid attention equally.

Resistance is always a part of the change process and can’t be avoided. Understanding mindsets and culture can help managers to prepare with possible different levels of resistance and have proper countermeasures/ strategies. People have different reasons to resist changes. For example, changes mean something that has become familiar/ habit has to be different. People might scare that they have to give up something close to them. Resistance can come from different assessment. Change can also come from misunderstanding if the strategy/ vision is not communicated effectively. One important reason relating to psychology is that different people have different tolerance for change. Some can take it easily, some find it hard, some can’t deal with. Each layer/ level in the organization requires different approach and suitable solutions. Same approach does not work for everyone.

10 commandments for leading organizational changes

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Understanding mindset and having proper strategy will help with better behavavious shift. Culture and mindsets are important influencers on organizational change. Organization should spend more investment on culture and behaviour. For example, discussion among teams, employees should be held more frequently so that employees have opportunities to show their wish and expectation, and also suggestion or recommendations to better performance of the organization. It is important to make sure that voices from all levels are heard by the managers.

The role of emotion on organizational change is very important, yet often ignored by managers. Understanding mindsets also means that leaders should understand their own identities, motivation and inner drives.

5. Engage, empower and enrich people

Engage, engage and engage is the key word for leading organizational changes. Doing together is the best way to make changes fast. When employees are engaged in the process, they naturally understand the need for the change and possible prospectives. Therefore, they will easily support the change. Personally I think that bosses are always too busy with strategy, meetings, talking with seniors and often forget about engaging employees from all level to the process, especially when there is a change. However, engaging is a critical influencer which plays an important role in boosting or slowing the change progress. ”People always support what they create” is a key element for initiating change. An example illustrated in the article about ACHMEA insurance group has showed that ”Employee First” is a great way to work and to start with change leading. The organization created its vision with participation of not only senior managers but also key players including employees, stakeholders, etc.

Engaging people can be done through dialouge. This approach will help to educate employees about strategy and vision, motivate people and encourage higher performance, limit rumors and align employees. Colllaboration, generating ideas and sharing are recommended ways of communication.

10 commandments for leading organizational changes

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Managers are people who should know to trust their subbordiates by giving them full responsibilities for achieving the results. Many managers try to hold power by doing everything and never let their subordinates chance to feel important in the organization. This is a mistake. When people are trusted and empowered, they will contribute more and work more responsibly. There is no motivation when employees are not given any power and freedom for creativity. This is how organization fails to lead changes because when employees are only given instructions to follow, they will never understand the motives and will hesitate to change and accept the change. When they have freedom to talk and express their ideas, they will be more supportive to the changes.

6. Encourage creativity and innovation

While maintaining basic principles, organizations should let employees freedom to be creative and innovative.

10 commandments for leading organizational changes

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Raising technology skill and digital IQ is essential. Digital technology has great effect on all industries. Technology helps to improve productivities and wring out costs. With more modern advance technology such as AI, data science, etc. technology has helped to increase revenue, create customer experience, build capacities that lead to business success. Organizations that do not know to make use of technology will be surely left behind. Managers should know how to activate the digital growth engine of the organizations to make it a successful business. A strategic approach to IT should be paid special attention.

Besides, experiments are helpful to escape behaviour traps that can cause organizational change failure. Managers should be brave to go with innovation and experiments, and open to more solutions/ alternatives to problem solving.

7. Build trust internally and externally

Trust is very important. When people trust you, they will follow you with no skepticism. Building trust internally and externally means to build trust within the organization, with stakeholders, with customers and relevant partners. Trust is vital for sustaining change and can increase the acceptance of change.

That vision and strategy should be explained clearly to employees is one effective way of gaining trust. Vision shared and understood is very important to make change happen in a short time.

10 commandments for leading organizational changes

Employee feedback is also good way to understand employees and gain their trust. When the employees feel that they are listened, they will repay the trust with commitment and friendship.

8. Create a shared culture environment

One of the failure that organization makes is failing to create a shared culture environment for employees to communicate and collaborate, to continuously learn and train themselves, and especially to view failure as learning opportunities.

Sometimes companies focus too much on problems, strategies, etc. Creating a shared culture environment is often ignored. ”Bright spots” is an example of how company can share successful stories of employees who have made successful changes, how a sales worker could sell a peak amount of products, how an employee has applied new technology/ innovation in his/ her daily tasks. Internal communication department should make this happen. Sharing is learning from each other and understanding each other. Such simple care from the organization can actually help to inspire and motivate people impressively.

10 commandments for leading organizational changes

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Inspirational and motivational leaders breathe life, confidence and creativity into the organization. They create a shared culture environment for everyone and inspire people to achieve more than they may ever think that they can do it. There is no doubt that people change when they are engaged and committed emotionally. And when people have a shared culture environment, it will be easy for them to move on together and do the changes together.

9. Engage leadership in the leading change process 

Changes always should start from the top level. Managers are those who connect people, know how to engage, empower and enrich people; how to recruit and retain talents.

10 commandments for leading organizational changes
To lead people through changes, managers need multiple intelligences

Knowing challenges of changes on organizational level is very important for managers who want to lead changes successfully. There are 8 steps that can help to turn organizational challenges into opportunities.

  • Establishing a sense of urgency
  • Creating a guiding coalition
  • Developing a clear shared vision
  • Communicating the changes and its aims
  • Empowering others to act
  • Producing short-term wins
  • Pushing toward vision
  • Making it stick


10. Assess, measure, and adapt

10 commandments for leading organizational changes

Measuring the outcomes of changes is very essential to any organizational change. Measurement can be done in three ways: financial impact, employee satisfaction, and customer satisfaction. Based on the measurement results, necessary improvement will be carried out.

Assessment and adaptation are one of key principles of leading change management. It is very important to always review, evaluate, and make change for strategy when there arise external factors. For example, when there is financial crisis, budget will be reviewed and revised accordingly.

Hang Do



Chris C., Tom P. and Chrisie W. Raising your digital IQ in Strategy + Business Issue 82. February 2016.

DeAnne Aguirre & Micah Alpern. June 2014. Ten principles of leading change management.

John P. Kotter & Leonard A. Schlesinger. July/August 2008. Choosing strategies for changes. Havard Business Review.

Margaret J. Wheatley & Myron Kellner-Rogers. April/May 1998. Bringing life to organizational changes. Journal for Strategic Performance Measurement.

McKinsey&Company. Making the emotional case for change. McKinsey Quarterly 2010 Number 2. March 2010.

Nate Boaz and Erica Ariel Fox, Change leader, change thyself, McKinsey Quarterly, March 2014.

Peter de Wit. Scaling up transformation by McKinsey Quarterly. March 2011.

Robert H. Schaffer. September 2010. Four mistakes leaders keep making. Harvard Business Review.

Book 1: Managing and leading people through organizational change

Book 2: Challenges of changes on organizational level.

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