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Leadership Development

How to Implement Effective Organizational Change

Change is hard.

Zingerman's Bottom-Line ChangeTo paraphrase Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig, “the only thing constant is that we are always going to be changing.” Instead of resigning to the often negative feelings that can accompany change, we decided at Zingerman’s that as an organization, we wanted to not simply just let change happen, but intentionally work on managing change well. As such, what follows is Zingerman’s Bottom-Line Change® “recipe” for how to implement effective organizational change.

We know when we follow these steps, we’re far more likely to have success than when we don’t!


Step 1: Create a clear and compelling purpose for the change.

The first step to creating effective organizational change involves documenting the compelling reasons for making the change on paper to share with others. When asking other people to change their behavior and form a new habit, they’ll want (and deserve) to know why they’re being asked to make said change. What’s in it for them?

When considering the compelling reasons for a change, try to think of every person or group that you foresee being impacted by the change, and come up with a reason that they’ll find compelling for committing to it. You’re “selling” people on the change in this step, and you’re doing the work here to get them on board. And, like any good salesperson, you’ll need to tailor your pitch to whomever you’re speaking to. If you’re unable to think of and effectively communicate compelling reasons that will speak to them specifically, it will be much more convenient for them to continue doing things the way they’re currently being done.

This step serves two purposes:

1) It allows you, the change leader, to get clear about the reasons for making the change so that when you’re met with the inevitable resistance to change (there will always be some resistance!), you’ll be better able to defend the change. 

2) This is the first step to building the shared level of dissatisfaction with the current way of doing things, or the desire for something to be done in a different way. The higher the shared dissatisfaction, the more likely you can outweigh the resistance.

Step 2: Create a positive vision of the future and develop leadership agreement on that vision.

We’re very clear that at Zingerman’s, anyone can be a change leader, but that doesn’t make everyone a decision-maker. A front-line employee may be leading the charge to make the change, but they don’t move past Step 2 unless leadership has agreed on the change. It’s especially helpful for the change leader to know who the decision-maker is early on the process. Who will have the final say on whether a change is made? Is it the leadership team? A manager? The business owner? Knowing who will make the final call to move forward (or not) can help shape the vision, and even the compelling reasons, this will clue the change leader in to who they’ll need to focus on selling their idea to. 

At Zingerman’s, we define a vision as a picture of success at a particular point in the future. It’s written with enough richness of detail that ideally anyone can read the vision and imagine themselves in that desired future state. When thinking of a vision for your proposed change, you’ll want to write an inspiring and strategically sound vision of what it will look like after the change has been made and things are working the way you’d like them to. Many of the compelling reasons you came up with in Step 1 will be woven into the vision. If people have a chance to see how much better the future will be after your proposed change has been successfully implemented, they’re far more likely to get on board! 

In this step you’ll also engage your Advisory Content Experts, or ACEs. These are folks from either inside or outside of the organization who have some expertise in the change you want to make and who can offer advice or guidance on the change. They may have some thoughts on your compelling reasons, or they may be able to share what they wish they would have known when they tried to implement a similar change, and you can take their advice into consideration.

Step 3: Engage a microcosm to determine who needs to know about the change and how to tell them.

At this point in the process, you’ve been thinking about the change you want to make for some time and when considering how you’ll communicate it more broadly, you may feel like you have a good sense of how you’ll do that. What’s important to remember is that it’s often the case that we know how to communicate the change to people who are a lot like us – i.e. if you work in sales, you’re probably quite comfortable communicating with other salespeople. Therefore, you may not know how to best communicate with someone working in production. If we only communicate through the channels we are most comfortable using, we’re missing out on letting other groups of people know about the change. 

This step is all about forming a microcosm, or a small subset of the whole group you’ll be rolling the change out to, and asking them to help create the communication plan WITH you. Choose representatives from all of the different groups impacted by the change and ask them, “Who needs to know about this change?” and “What’s the best way to tell them?” At Zingerman’s, we like to think in terms of opposites when choosing our microcosms. If we ask someone in sales to join, then we’ll also ask someone in production. We’ll ask someone who has worked at the organization for a long time and someone who is newer to the organization. Someone who works during the day and someone who works at night. The ultimate goal is to have one person representing each group of people impacted by the change and ask them how to best communicate to others like them. This helps us ensure that we don’t miss telling anyone that the change is happening. 

Step 3 may seem like an insignificant step, or one that could be skipped. (We know that we’ve tried to skip it in the past!). But we like to compare this step to the baking soda in a recipe for baking biscuits. If you’re a baker, or have made biscuits before, you may have an idea of what we’re getting at… When considering all of the ingredients needed to make biscuits, the weight of the baking soda compared to the combined weight of all ingredients is relatively small. Maybe one or two tablespoons. But if you don’t use the baking soda in the recipe, the biscuits don’t rise – you’ll end up with some doughy hockey pucks. Just like the baking soda, this step appears small, but without it, we aren’t going to get a change that sticks!


Step 4: Tell everyone impacted by the change and (have them help!) develop an action plan.

This is a critical step in any change, and it plays a big part in the change’s success! Step 4 involves bringing a group of people together whose help you’ll want with rolling out the change. You’ll typically call a meeting with everyone (or announce this in meeting that’s already been scheduled), and tell them why you’re seeking their help – namely that you value their opinion and thoughts! As the change leader, you’ll formally share your compelling reasons (Step 1) and the vision (Step 2), report out on what the microcosm told you for the communication plan (Step 3), and then share the action steps you’ve already identified. 

Once you’ve shared the work you’ve done on the change thus far, turn to the people in the meeting and ask them what they need in order to implement the change – What, if anything, needs to be purchased? Do we need to put a new system in place? Who will be responsible for changing the website, updating the voicemail, etc.? This is a great opportunity to document the questions the team has and compile a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to share with others who aren’t there.

In many organizations, the action plan is set by the key leaders or owners, and very often, the folks who are actually going to be rolling out the change are rarely consulted in forming the action plan. This step ensures that the voice of those who are going to be carrying out the change are in the room. This way, we don’t overlook the steps that will help this process run more smoothly.


Step 5: Implement the Change!

It’s game time! If you’re about to go “live” with the change and suddenly several people say, “Haven’t we done this already?”, that validates the great work you’ve done in steps 1-4. You’ve done these steps well! People already know the change is coming and are ready for the change to be put into place.

At Zingerman’s, we use the Deming Cycle of Continuous Improvement in this step to Plan, Do, Check, Adjust.

Plan – This is Step 4, and you’ve done that! You’ve already planned the work.

Do – Officially go live with the change. All of the work you’ve done in the previous steps has prepared you for the change, and this is where the change is officially made.

Check – Build in “checks” as the change goes live. In our experience, people are more willing to go along with a change if they know that there will be continuous opportunities for providing feedback. The checks could be done at a weekly meeting for a few weeks. Or they could happen at a monthly gathering. Or it could be done informally, over email. 

Adjust – As you check in on the progress of the change, be open and willing to adjust as needed. 

At Zingerman’s, we’ve added two additional steps:

Celebrate Change is hard! When you’ve led a change process and the change has been successfully implemented, take the time to celebrate! As organizations, we are often quick to move on to the next thing. Take a moment to reflect on all of the hard work that went into making the change happen and give yourself and your team a round of applause!

Document – How did the change go? What did you like best from the roll-out and is there anything you would do differently next time? Documenting what you learn from rolling out change can help you, and others, in the future.


There you have it, the 5 Steps to Bottom-Line Change®.  We believe they make change much more manageable and effective. In our work with organizations, we’ve found that it’s often the case that change gets implemented using these steps, however, often in reverse order: 1) Someone implements a change 2) People around them ask how it is going to work 3) Someone inevitably asks if a certain group of people were told about it 4) People start questioning what’s supposed to happen now that the change has been made and finally, 5) Someone asks why the change happened in the first place.

The 5 Steps ensure that the work is done up-front so that by the time the change is officially rolled out, the process has been worked through and the change can be implemented successfully!

Curious to know more about Bottom-Line Change®? You might find these resources helpful:

[WEBINAR]: Change How You Think About Change
[WEBINAR]: Bottom-Line Change®
[ARTICLE]: A Recipe for Change Management