Change Management, Business Transformation, business analyst, business analysis, changing individuals

BAs And Change Management: Changing Individuals


This is the second article in the series “Business Analysts and Change Management: What we need to know”. To check the first article please click here.

Changing individuals is as complex as the human nature itself. No single article, nor a whole book can address this overly complicated endeavor.

It goes without saying that achieving a change at individual level by leading an individual to wholeheartedly embrace a new change is leadership challenge, let alone overwhelming business analyst with this huge task. However, as far as the individual change is concerned, what we need to know and do –as business analysts- is “How to design the proper tactics and interventions that institutionalize the change (e.g. new ERP system, redesigned business processes, new organizational structure, new policies, etc.”) at an individual level”.

Definitely, if the change that we are analyzing were a far-reaching one, it would be virtually impossible to study and design the change for every employee in the organization. However, we might be concerned with the severely affected individuals or the most influential individuals. This assessment is part of the Stakeholders Analysis and Management, which is out of this article scope.

There is many practical concepts to know if you are serious about this level of change, but we will focus here on the very core gist that you can apply in your business analysis work straight away.

Firstly, we need to understand how humans learn

David Kolb developed a very interesting model of the various learning styles (also known as experimental learning). Every person has her/his own preferred way of learning and acquiring new knowledge (a.k.a. learning style), however, this must not imply a person might not mix many styles together. These are the four different styles, with some considerations that a business analyst can take into accounts

  • The Activist Style (Doing Mode): in this style, the person prefers to jump immediately into doing the thing and see what happen, shifting from trial to another. With this style, the business analyst must encourage the users to start experimenting right away by providing them with prototypes and other mock-up solutions. Usually, these people do not like documents and other type of business analysis deliverables. Be aware, enforcing them to read your documents might backfire.
  • The Reflector Style (Watching Mode): These are the observers. They want to reflect on all viable options before reaching final decisions. They want to know about other experiences before taking any action. With reflectors, you need to pose many questions to engage them. Mastering the art of questioning is an important skill to engage with reflectors. You need to show them that you frame the problem and the solutions from many perspectives, and you must avoid appearing one-dimensional in your proposition.
  • The Theorist Style (Thinking Mode): These are the conceptualizers, the ones who like seeing the full picture and how the different elements of the new change (e.g. system, process, business model, etc.) are related to each other. With theorists, you need to elaborate on the context of the new change (the environment, the ecosystem, the landscape). It is not enough for them to know about the change without linking it conceptually with other elements. Furthermore, it is very important to utilize any theories, articles, books, publications that support your ideas. Focusing on the solution alone might show you very superficial in their eyes. So, leverage on any literature that support you, and ensure that your models are well researched.
  • The Pragmatist Style (Feeling Mode): These people like linking the change with their own experiences, by feeling how this change or solution will affect them and be aligned with their own circumstances. They prefer to understand the practicality of the change, before getting involved in it. With this style, you need to present a lot of case studies and examples to successfully engage the pragmatists in the change. Furthermore, you must link the change constantly with their own problems, business needs, and goals.

Technically speaking, there are many other models that explain how we learn, however the above model is widely used by educators.

Conduct “Change Propensity Analysis”

Mike Green and Esther Cameron suggested five factors that you might assess to understand the success possibility (i.e. Propensity) of a given change. If the business analyst is playing the role of change agent, he/she must have a full grasp of these factors before embarking on the business analysis work (adapted from “Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools and Techniques of Organizational Change”):

  • Nature of change: transformational vs. incremental, externally imposed vs. internally generated, IT-driven vs. business-driven, routine vs. one-off, expansion vs. contraction.
  • The Consequences of the change: Who will be the winners and who will be the losers? You need to list all the affected parties with the possible impacts on them.
  • The Organizational history: You need to understand the track record of how the organization has handled change in the past, what the prevailing culture is, what the capacity of the organization is in terms of management expertise and resources to manage change effectively.
  • The Personality type of the individual: This is a major determining factor in how she or he responds to change. Many personality models (such as The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator MBTI) can give us an indication of how an individual will respond to change. It is very important here to understand the motivating forces (power, status, money, affiliation and inclusion, etc.).
  • The history of an individual: It can also give us clues as to how he or she might respond. By history, we mean previous exposure and responses to change, levels of knowledge, skills and experience the individual has, areas of stability in his or her life and stage in his or her career. For example, an individual who has previously experienced redundancy might re-experience the original trauma and upheaval regardless of how well the current one is handled. On the other hand, he or she may have acquired sufficient resilience and determination from the previous experience to be able to take this one in his or her stride.

Comprehend The Role of Anxiety

Edgar Schein suggested that when a person undergoes a change in his/her life, there are two forces that affect him: the Learning Anxiety (the anxiety associated with learning something new and unlearning the old methods), and the Survival Anxiety (the pressure of change, and whether he or she will survive the change).

For a change to kick in at individual level, “the survival anxiety must be greater than the learning anxiety”. This is why change in governmental organizations is usually very difficult, as the employees would have low level of survival anxiety, thus for most of them the fear of learning something new would be higher than the fear of surviving (e.g. losing job, getting demoted, etc.).

Practically speaking, it is very important to reduce the learning anxiety, instead of increasing the survival anxiety. Later in this article, we explain a model that can help us in designing the proper tactics.

Assuredly, the psychodynamics of change is much more complex than this. If you are keen to know more about this, please check these models: Kübler-Ross model (five stages of grief), Satir Change Model, and Spiral Dynamics model.

Choose a holistic approach for change, instead of one-dimensional view

Personal change is incredibly thorny topic, which combines many disciplines (psychology, neuroscience, genetics, social studies, etc.), thus there are many schools of thought about how to change a human being. One of the most commonly adopted approaches is the behavioral approach to change, which was very popular in 20th century (popularized mainly by the pioneer in the behavioral psychology “Skinner”). The main theme of this school is to achieve the intended results by means of reward and punishment (e.g. conditioning, or the carrot-and-stick approach). Most of change management programs are still designed and planned using the carrot-and-stick approach. The appeal of this approach lies in the sense of control (or the illusion of control) that the change consultant feel during the planning and design of the change, although the realization of the results are not guaranteed.

It is not uncommon to see the main tactics used to reinforce a change include stuff like: rewards (bonuses and commissions, prizes, praises, recognition, status & power, working relationships, etc.), or punishment (threats, controls, shaming, pay cuts, etc.). One of the most well-known models in this regard is ADKAR Model (Awareness of the need to change, Desire to participate and support the change, Knowledge of how to change and what the change looks like, Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis, Reinforcement to keep the change in place).

Although linking the performance KPIs with the behaviors of the employees is very common practice now, the problem with the behavioral school is ignoring the other parts of the human nature, focusing on the physical part only, and assuming that the behavior is the main thing to change, not the beliefs, norms, or the values.

Adopting a more holistic approach to understand the human nature can help avoiding getting into the trap of “one-size-fits-all” approach, as no single theory can explain how to change.

I think the work of the late human expert Stephen R. Covey is so important here. In his book “The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness” (which is a sequel to his first masterpiece “the 7 habits of highly effective people”), Covey illustrated a model called “The Whole-Person Paradigm”. In this model, he emphasized on addressing the four main components of the human nature: Body (to live), Mind (to learn), Heart (to love), and Spirit (to leave a legacy). Covey explained that ignoring any component would result in acute symptoms that would -inevitably- adversely affect the bottom line. I highly recommend you to read this book if you are interested in understanding this model.

For the sake of brevity of this article, let us get into the essence of this model. When a business analyst design the change management tactics and interventions, it is very useful to use Covey’s model, and not sticking into the carrot-and-stick trap. For example, you can design these tactics:

  • Mind: aligning the personal goals with corporate goals, engaging the stakeholders in the change vision, using the creative power of the users, the proper training (formal and informal), the proper feedback loops.
  • Body: Here we can focus on the financial and non-financial rewards and on designing the performance systems (e.g. KPIs) that reinforce the required behaviors. In this component, we must consider the proper organizations structure, systems, and other “Hard” components in the organization.
  • Heart: This part is very difficult, because it depends on the prevailing culture, an on the behaviors and moods of the bosses. To realize the change, the employee must be treated fairly, respected, and consistent way. If the change is dominated largely by the mood of the boss, then this a bad indicator that the change might fail. The key word here is “Empowerment”. The business analyst might need to design some recommendations on how to empower the relevant stakeholders. Having support groups is very important as well.
  • Spirit: We have to tap into the conscience of the person. Linking the change to larger cause, explaining the positive social impact of the change, linking the change to the values system of the society, defining the positive role models, etc.

Needless to say, the above concepts are very simplified version of what a change agent can do to reinforce a new change. This article is not meant to be an exhaustive list of models and techniques. On the other hand, I hope it highlights some baby steps to embark on this journey.

Author: Zaher Alhaj Hussein, Consultant & Business Analyst

Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) 2010; TOGAF® 9 Certified, 2012; Prosci Change Management Certified, 2014; and Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP®) 2014.


Esther Cameron, Mike Green. “Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools and Techniques of Organizational Change”. Kogan Page; Third Edition (June 15, 2012).

Stephen R. Covey. “The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness”. Free Press; Reprint edition (November 29, 2005).

Edgar H. Schein. “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling”. Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (September 30, 2013).

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