Do You Speak Change Management?

Originally Written By: ROSE ALCAMO |  Published: APRIL 2018
Rewritten by: CATHERINE DAW


How we speak and attempt to share information in the world of Change Management is important. The approach and indeed, the terminology itself can create an unconscious divide between us (Change Management people) and the rest of the world.

Consider the sheer volume of jargon; from “current state” to “resistance” to “sustainment” and so on. Not unlike other professions, it’s incumbent upon Change Management practitioners to translate their unique concepts into lay terms. If left unchecked, this type of Change Management-speak might unwittingly compromise communications , alienate those being supported, or even perpetuate the notion that Change Management lacks value; it’s hard to value what we don’t “get”.

Here is an example of Change Management-speak: Engagement activities will be delivered to impacted Stakeholders to mitigate resistance and optimize adoption at end-state. Translation: Employees will be invited to orientation sessions to learn about the Change and how it will affect their work in the future

The original phrasing isn’t at all incomprehensible but would a Significant Other, or better, a child agree?  As a former Mentor and respected Business Leader used to say, “Talk to me like I’m five.” For him, the simpler the message, the easier it was to assimilate and act on.

The responsibility is to ensure the why, what, when, where and how of this important work is understood. Only then can it be viewed as relevant and impactful.

To this end, it is advised to relinquish this type of “speak” altogether in favour of learning the language of business. In most cases this will mean a conscious translation of our Change Management goals and actions into operational and quantitative (if not financial) terms. If nothing else, you will immediately capture the Sponsor’s attention, and begin to build a common language on which to effectively communicate.

This conscious transition to the foreign language of our organizations, sponsors and teams is tantamount to undertaking a Change initiative of our own. Here are four basic actions to employ in the quest of being better understood to bring about meaningful change:


Consciously avoid the term Change Management altogether
Simply describe what’s changing. For example, Company XYZ will introduce automated procurement allowing all employees the convenience to make corporate purchases from their desktops.

Learn the language of business
This is truly a best practice but easily missed when project priorities require stealth and speed of execution. Depending on the industry vertical and business function(s) being impacted, you may be in a recurring cycle of having to learn a new business language. No matter how difficult, it will be worth the effort. Convincingly speaking the language of your Client is not only a more intimate level of communication but you will quickly become embedded in the organization’s culture.

Accentuate the positive
In New Age business writings, the Chinese symbol for Change is presented as a combination of the symbols for challenge and Given the Age of Change in which we all live, it’s interesting to see how with a shift in perspective, what was negative can be positive.

While risks need to be mitigated and resistance diffused, an optimistic view of the planned Change will pique interest. Reinforce the business rationale for the Change and all the anticipated benefits.

Have a “non-Change Management” person review your work
By way of a personal test, take your best sample of business writing and share it with someone who does not know your occupation. Ask them if they can make sense of what they’re reading.  If they can’t, then simply in your own words (no CM speak) tell them what you were trying to convey. It may take a few attempts but eventually, you’ll realize that to be universally understood (and in turn, achieve your intended goals), you must simplify your language.


For those struggling with Change Management jargon, either because you don’t speak it, or you do and don’t know how to speak anything else: build your awareness! Sine die. Translation: We’ll talk about this again later.