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Change Designs



By Robert D Gilbreath.

Have you ever been confused with all the terminology around change management? Use this wonderful dictionary by Robert Gilbreath to understand change management terms.




Acquisition. The purchase of one company by another. Operations, assets and organizations may or may not be consolidated.

Alignment. The synchronizing of efforts, organizations, individuals or processes with each other. The mutual redirection and refocusing of work and the elements required to achieve it. Alignment assumes common goals and collaborative or cooperative effort to achieve them. Realignment is a goal and challenge of most change efforts.

Announcement. Formal public notification of the intent to change, restructure, downsize, merge or acquire companies. In the case of mergers or acquisitions, announcements are to notifyshareholders of the intent to buy shares. Announcements are also often required by law in cases where facilities are closed, operations are to cease, and/or employees are to be terminated.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI). A relatively new approach used to drive organizational change, often held up as an alternative to what adherents call "deficit-based" changes (gap closure). AI focuses on the strengths and possibilities of an organization as opposed to its faults or deficiencies. Some enterprises are using Appreciative Inquiry as either a substitute for or adjunct to conventional gap-analysis and transformation management.

As-Is. Current organizational or process conditions. The as-is represents the starting point for change. The to-be state is the desirable outcome of change, with the difference between as-is and to-be conditions termed the "gap".


Once you understand change management terminology,

you can focus on doing change, rather than talking about it.


Barrier. See obstacle.

Baseline. A measurable performance level or other as-is condition, against which changed levels are compared. A baseline is a metric for starting conditions.

Best Practice. An identified objective of improvement, often based on the best observable case among other companies or organizations. A best practice is the paramount one among all others. It is not necessary optimal, ideal or perfect--just the best that others have achieved. Best practices are often used as goals or guides for a change project.

Blowback. Negative unintended consequences of a change effort

Bolt on. Acquisition of a company or asset in which integration among buyer and seller is minimal. Often used to increase capacity or extend corporate reach without disrupting ongoing operations.


Champion. Person taking individual responsibility for enacting successful change. Champions are generally supportive and enthusiastic about change and actively involved in bringing it about. Champions also help promote change acceptance and sponsorship in others.

Change Agent. Person who sponsors and enables changes. One who promotes and assists the change effort by influencing and encouraging others. This identity may be formalized or simply informal, as long as the individual is an active catalyst for the proposed changes. Change agents may come from all levels and functions in an organization.

Change Council. A group of users or people affected by planned change that meets and reviews change implementation issues. Change councils help assess the impact of proposed or enacted changes and allow for redesign or modification of those changes, where required. They provide valuable feedback as change proceeds.

Change Drivers. Forces or factors that cause an organization to be different. Change drivers are the starting points for change; the reasons organizations embark on transformations. Common change drivers include: new technology, mergers or acquisitions, downsizing, outsourcing, expansion, competitors' moves, new strategy, and corporate restructuring. Change drivers push or pull companies into the future.

Change Fatigue. The condition that results from too much change, happening too quickly, over too long a time, or with prior unsatisfactory results. When a group is experiencing change fatigue,it is reluctant to take on any more changes. It's important for change managers to assess this condition before imposing more change.

Change Teams. Separate task forces performing detailed transformation work during the change period. Commonly arranged by function (e.g. Human Resources, Manufacturing, Accounting, Purchasing, Sales, etc.) and/or geographic region. Can also include teams focused on key accounts, products, or service lines. Often a combination of these categories is used to form the respective teams.

Charter. Objectives and planned conduct for a team working on a change effort. The charter outlines the team's responsibilities, scope, and way of conducting its work.

Closure. Finalization of a merger or acquisition upon purchase, exchange of stock and debt, or both. Closure ends the deal-making and negotiation phase. Most integration projects swing into high gear upon closure.

Communication Plan. A compilation of all critical communications that are planned as each phase of transformation unfolds. Communication Plans help assure uniform, timely, accurate and effective exchange of information, both within and without the company(s).

Communication Strategy. Overall approach to managing communications during a change project.
Competency (Competency Model). A set of specific requirements for each position in the company. A listing of expectations and capabilities deemed necessary to perform a task or fulfill a position. Many change programs involve redefinition of competencies and redesign of competency models.

Consolidation. See Integration.

Collaboration. 1) The process of people and groups working together to identify and solve change issues. 2) A merger or acquisition characterized by cooperation and amicability by both companies towards each other.

Critical Resources. Assets needed to conduct a successful transformation. These may include people to staff the change teams, money, time, tools, permissions, office space and the like.

Contest. A merger or acquisition not as adversarial as a Raid nor as cooperative as a Rescue or collaboration. Some degree of friction, debate and resistance occurs among the affected parties.

Culture (Corporate Culture). A general term for the shared beliefs, values and expected behaviors of a group of individuals. Many change programs disrupt, amend or set new standards for corporate culture.


Deal Window. Used in a merger or acquisition project, the period between the Announcement (or publication of an intent to merge or acquire) and its eventual closure. During the Deal Window the companies may be planning for integration, continuing due diligence reviews, and negotiating final details of the agreement.

Deficit-based Change. An approach to transformation that identifies an as-is condition, determines a to-be state, and seeks to "close the gap" between them. The difference between to-be conditions and as-is (current) ones is called the deficit. The implication is one of deficiency: less-than preferred strategy, structure, processes, performance and/or outcomes. Change is the process of overcoming these deficiencies.

Deliverable. The end-result, or product, of specific change-related work. Examples are decisions made, reports submitted, analyses approved, costs recovered, organizations restructured, executive appointments made, facilities closed, contracts signed, etc. Features of a deliverable include: 1) a clear, understood definition, 2) due date, 3) person or group responsible, and 4) a measurable or identifiable outcome.

Diagonal Slice. Organizations can be visualized as having two dimensions: a horizontal one (across several functions such as accounting, sales, manufacturing, or across various geographic or product groupings) and a vertical one (ranging from the top executives on down to the lowliest workers). A diagonal slice is a representation of opinions, characteristics or people that includes samples that vary horizontally and vertically. Sometimes change teams or change councils are designed to include a diagonal slide of the organization. This is done to assure a comprehensive and diverse set of participants or viewpoints and agendas.

Diffusion. Dissemination of new viewpoints, attitudes, skills or behaviors throughout an organization. Sometimes called "assimilation". Change is successful when the required attributes are diffused across all organizational dimensions--when they are taken up by the vast majority of members.
Diffusion Mechanisms. Common ways by which new attributes are spread among an organization's members. These include Common Message, Common Reaction, Social Response, Message Propagation and Witnessing.

Due Diligence. An objective evaluation or assessment of an acquisition or merger candidate. Usually performed by the acquiring or offering company, due diligence evaluations help determine the true market value, and hence purchase price, and may uncover liabilities, weaknesses, and/or hidden value or assets. Due diligence uses legal, financial and operational expertise and typically precedes a formal offer and announcement.


End State. The desired outcome of a change effort. The planned result of a transformation. Also called the "to-be" condition.

Escalation. The activity of moving an issue up the chain of command for attention and resolution at higher levels.


Fast-Track. A term representing the overlapping of design and implementation activities in a change project. When a project is fast-tracked, certain changes can be implemented while others are still in the design phases. The purpose of fast-tracking is to compress the overall change process--to complete it earlier than if all aspects of change were first designed or planned before any of them are implemented (the so-called back-to-back approach). Most change projects are fast-tracked.

Focus Group. Collection of individuals assembled to discuss and react to proposed changes or those that are in the process of enactment. Focus groups should represent users of change, and commonly seek to identify problems and improvements during a transformation effort. Focus groups are led by a facilitator, who assures their viewpoints are heard and compiled in a way that allows the project to benefit. Focus groups can also represent specific stakeholder groups, such as customers, suppliers and employees.


Gap (Gap Analysis). A gap is the difference between actual conditions (as-is) and preferred ones (to-be). Gap analyses identify changes that are needed to bring the as-is organization or operations to the to-be state. Eliminating or closing the gap is the purpose of most change efforts.
General Risk. A risk that applies to the entire transformation, not just to a specific part or time frame.



Influence. A measure taken to affect an outcome or person. Influences attempt to guide, shape or modify. Often unpredictable and subjective in nature, influences differ from controls, which are more determinate and predictable.

Initiative. 1) A unique endeavor for the company, usually outside the bounds of operational work. Initiatives are often termed "one-off" and prompt the need for change and change management. Most enterprise transformations are divided into several constituent initiatives. The sum of all initiatives is usually the transformation itself. 2) A specific, unique task or goal of a change team. Teams often work to accomplish several initiatives, which may or may not be related to or dependent upon others.

Integration. The consolidation of operations, assets, finances, management and organizations that takes place during a transformation. Also called Consolidation.

Intervention. A planned change to an organization or the work it performs. Interventions are ways to enact change or enable its occurrence. Change management relies on a number of large and small, general and specific interventions.

Issue. A contention among changes, change teams, or change activities that requires resolution. Issues may be overlapping scopes of work among parties, differing objectives, variations in goals, or conflicting priorities or activities. Issue management helps identify, quantify and resolve these.



Key Performance Indicators (KPI's). Areas of accomplishment that are measured to determine if work is performed as expected. Can be goals, standards, or specific, quantifiable achievements. Examples include budgets, work rates, errors, time requirements and the like. Sometimes called "metrics". People and groups are often judged by their attainment of specific KPI's over a period of time.



Major Account. A key customer, supplier or other party (other than the changing company itself) which could be positively or adversely affected by the changes planned.

Merger. The combination of two or more separate companies into one. Most mergers presuppose the consolidation or integration of operations, assets, management and organizations. Internal mergers, as when single companies centralize functions or combine operations, run many of the same risks, and use many of the same change techniques as external ones.

Metric(s). Values based on measurements of quantifiable elements. Ways to empirically judge conditions or performance. Measurements that help identify progress or performance levels.
Milestone. A planned date by which certain change-related activities or events must start, finish or achieve pre-determined results. Each change project creates a series of milestones against which to measure progress.


Noise. Confusion and distraction during a change effort. Often due to multiple, conflicting messages, priorities or actions. Noise hinders successful change.


Obstacle. An impediment to successful change. Obstacles are challenges to overcome when planning and conducting transformations. They may be structural (such as when an organization is not designed to achieve the to-be state), personal (as when individuals actively or passively resist change), or financial (not enough money to finance or absorb changes). Obstacles can also be political, social, regulatory and the like. Anything that has the potential to stop or weaken the change effort is an obstacle.


Pilot. A partial execution of changes to test or evaluate their costs, effectiveness and/or issues. A pilot is usually confined to a discrete set of changes or to a specific area or function. The goal of a pilot is to test and modify proposed changes before applying them to the entire organization (roll-out).

PMO (Program Management Office). A centralized repository for standards, methodologies and talent that overseas a series of ongoing projects. PMO's often issue rules of compliance for projects across organizations, provide tools and project management expertise and audit or monitor project performance. Sometimes separate PMO's are established to manage large initiatives that require major control and oversight to achieve joint objectives, such as with a merger integration effort.

Project. A collection of plans and activities to make something that doesn't exist or to reshape something that does. Projects are episodic and take place outside the boundaries of traditional company operations. Most enterprise transformations are change projects.



Raid. A hostile takeover attempt resisted by the to-be-acquired company.

Readiness. The state of an organization regarding its ability to change. Readiness is a general term that gives an indication of challenges or difficulties ahead of a change project. Companies often use surveys, questionnaires, or focus groups to assess an organization's readiness for change. Readiness studies point out potential problems, resistance, and needs of an organization or subgroups within it

Redundancy. The condition of excess or duplicate processes, organizations, assets or capabilities among merging, or otherwise changing, companies or groups. Eliminating redundancies is a key objective of many transformations.

Reengineering. The analysis and redesign of businesses processes to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness. Reengineering projects commonly create change and prompt the need for change management.

Resistance. Energy or effort used to retard, delay, minimize or thwart planned changes. Resistance is the opposing force in most change projects, and it may be active or passive, specific or general, and episodic or permanent. Resistance is also called "push-back". The goal of every change project is to identify, understand, prevent and/or overcome resistance. Resistance is the personal or individual obstacle to change.

Re-skilling. Equipping the workforce with new skills, knowledge and tools to perform in a changed environment. Usually involves training, new job aids and new performance expectations.

Resolution. When an issue is decided and no longer needs to be addressed, a resolution has been achieved. Open issues are considered until they are resolved. Another term is "closure".

Retention. Keeping valued assets within the company during the transformation period. These include people, processes, customers and the like.

Rescue. A merger or acquisition actively sought by the to-be-acquired company, often in anticipation or reaction to a raid or hostile takeover attempt by an unwanted suitor. A “white knight” rescues the target of a raider.

Risk. Possible problems with change or its results. Identifying and managing risks is a key duty of change management. Risk can also be failure to capitalize on opportunities.

Rollout. 1) The application of piloted changes or plans across an organization. 2) The implementation of change among the affected organizations. Rollout is the process of "going live" with changes.

Rollup. The serial or aggregate purchase of several companies to create a much larger one. Often these companies are local or regional, can be competitors, and present a challenge with integration into a composite entity.


Specific Risk. A potential problem confined to one or more areas to be changed, or to one or more change teams.

Sponsor. A person or group that endorses, supports and/or champions change. One goal of change management is to enlist sponsors to promote and defend the changes ahead.

Stakeholder. Individual or group that has an interest in or is affected by the company undergoing change. Stakeholders include company owners (e.g. shareholders), employees, suppliers, customers, retirees, and the general public. Stakeholder management is the set of activities needed to identify and accommodate these interests (one way or the other) for the benefit of the transformation's objectives.

Step Change. A quantum leap in condition or performance. The sudden jump in characteristics and/or capability that most transformations expect. As opposed to incremental change, which is characterized by gradual, localized or minor improvements.

Stretch objectives (or goals). High goals to which an organization or individual may aspire. Stretch objectives are difficult to obtain yet realistically possible.


Target. Planned condition or level of accomplishment. A target is a specific goal of change.

Task. Specific level of work with a specific outcome. Many transformations are divided into a group of constituent tasks. Initiatives are also often divided into component tasks. In highly granular approaches to change, tasks can be further subdivided into "sub-tasks".

Tender Offering. A solicitation by the acquiring company to purchase outstanding shares of the to-be-acquired company from its stockholders. Usually granted for a fixed period expiring at planned date of closure for a set price. Can include the offer of cash, assumption of debt, stock in the acquiring company, or both. For publicly-traded companies, the tender offering is usually publicized in popular periodicals or journals (e.g. newspapers, public record) and/or through the mail.

To-Be. The desired end state of a change effort. Once the to-be state is achieved, the change is over. The gap represents the difference between the as-is (current) state and the to-be (desired) state. The purpose of most change efforts is to eliminate this gap.

Transformation. Major change in a company. Transformations are significant, encompassing, and vital to the success of the enterprise. Minor tweaking of organizations, management or operations are not considered transformations. To transform an enterprise is to make it new, different, and/or redirect its mission and composition.

Transition. The time period from initial change planning to eventual completion of all changes. “Transition” is a loose term encompassing change planning and implementation. The transition period is the interval between the old way of being and doing and the new way(s).



Variance. (also called “Exception”). A deviation from plans or expectations. Examples are milestones missed, cost estimates overrun, deliverables late, etc.

Vision (Visioning). An imagined end-state for an enterprise. A visualization of what the company wants to be and how it wants to be viewed by others. A new vision is often the starting point for transformations, and major transformations without a commensurate vision are handicapped. A vision appeals to others and presents a desired to-be state. Visions should be compelling, attractive, rational and achievable.


Workforce. People who comprise organizations. Includes all management and employees.



About Robert Gilbreath

An internationally known expert on change management, Robert D. Gilbreath founded the worldwide Organizational Change Practice of Anderson Consulting and is now president of Change Management Associates. He is the author of Save Yourself: Six Pathways to Achievement in the Age of Change, and Escape from Management Hell. His latest book is Compel: How to get others in your organization to think and act differently.

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