"Why can't I just say, ‘do this because I said so?!!' Shouldn't that be enough?!!'" This is what my friend Jonah and fellow parent of a three-year-old said to me recently, as we were swapping stories about the trials and tribulations of raising kids. Or more specifically, the trials and tribulations of getting them to behave the way we want. As Jonah noted with some exasperation, everything—from putting on their shoes, to eating their carrots, to, for goodness sake, stopping the endless bickering with their siblings—seems to be a series of negotiations. He doubled down on his original point: "Why isn't ‘because I said so' enough?"

"Well, that depends on what your goal is," I replied. "Do you want compliance or do you need commitment?"

One of the things that I love about change management is that it can be applied in nearly all facets of life, big and small. The basic principles I use on client projects involving process and technology changes that impacts hundreds of employees are the same principles I use with changes involving my family. The complexity is different obviously, but the concepts are the same.

So, whether I'm talking to Jonah about getting a three-year-old to eat her vegetables, or I'm talking to a client about getting employees to embrace and adopt a new technology (metaphorically eating their vegetables), I always want to know, do we need stakeholders to merely comply with the change? Or, do we need them to be fully bought in and committed to the change?

Sometimes, we only need the former, in which case, maybe you can take the "because I said so" approach. But let's face it, change—even positive change—is scary. I would argue that nine times out of 10, even the most seemingly mundane changes need some level of commitment from stakeholders in order to be successful long-term. Stakeholders need to be bought in—they need to understand why the change is happening, what the long-term goals are, how it impacts them, and what resources they have to support them.

Here's a simple example. Let's say you're part of the leadership team at Initech, the fictional company in the movie "Office Space." Initech wants all employees to report project status through a new TPS report. Alternatively, let's say you're part of the senior leadership team at IBM, circa 1993, and you're about to completely change corporate strategy from one that's based on selling hardware to one based on selling services. Both of these situations require change management. Here's a high-level view of how the level of change management effort might break down.


"Fill out your TPS report"


"We're changing corporate strategy"

Leadership & Stakeholder Engagement

  • Discussion point in senior staff meeting
  • Identification of possible pockets of resistance within the organization
  • Consensus on vision statement across all senior staff
  • Detailed stakeholder analysis through three layers of management
  • Stakeholder management plan
  • Multiple change readiness assessments

Learning & Development

  • E-mail distribution of a quick reference guide

  • Detailed training plan
  • Classroom training on new skills
  • CBTs on new skills
  • Identification of change agents
  • Train-the-trainer events

Organizational Alignment

  • TPS report completion added to job performance reviews
  • Updates to job descriptions and expectations
  • Creation of new jobs
  • Creation of new compensation model
  • Changes to recruiting process and strategy


  • Discussion point at all-hands meeting
  • Weekly reminder e-mails
  • Identified communication strategist
  • Advertising campaign
  • Use of all media including videos, portal, social media

Clearly, these two situations are miles apart in terms of their complexity and impact. But ultimately, if either change is to be successful, the stakeholders need to buy in. They need to be committed. The question then becomes, how far up that commitment curve do you we need to go? Every step costs time and effort and you want to calculate how much you need to spend. But, I would also argue that every step also increases the likelihood of long-term success.

Hopefully, I can remember that the next time I'm running late as a result of my three-year-old refusing to put on her shirt because "it's not the one with the giraffe on it."