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Creating and Sustaining Momentum

red and white arrows pointing to the right.  The word 'motivation' is written across the central arrow.


Gaining and maintaining the momentum of change is the challenge of change leadership. Change managers need to consider and execute a range of approaches to managing this momentum. Change often falters after the first flush of enthusiasm. The ability to re-energise and mobilise stakeholders is a key success factor.

This is achieved by:

  • Creating a compelling case for change.
  • Early and ongoing, honest and open consultation with stakeholders, seeking their opinions on the change and its outcomes, thereby building trust and confidence.
  • Identifying and engaging potential champions, making them advocates for the change.
  • Employing methods to manage resistance and being mindful of the empathy required to meet the emotional response to change, including any perceived break in the psychological contract.


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Identifying early adopters

Many influencing strategies that address the issue of momentum in change consider who, among the stakeholder mix, are themselves influences of others. Frequently, change managers are not the most effective people to influence particular stakeholders. This may be due to a lack of personal chemistry with that stakeholder, a lack of position, a lack of shared history or a lack of recognised credentials in the eyes of the stakeholder.

In a large population of stakeholders who all seem to have more or less the same power, the strategy is to identify and target the early adopters and seek to recruit some of these opinion leaders to the role of champion. For example, you could include some of these people in your stakeholder workshops, as well as asking them to take on key communication events.


The innovation curve suggests that new products and services are adopted at different rates by the market and may appear before reaching a mass market audience (‘The Chasm’). We can use this idea to look at the take up of innovations and change at The University.

The innovation curve

Watch this short clip about the innovation curve on Youtube.

Read more about the innovation curve, and overcoming 'The Chasm' in this useful resource.


Building a powerful coalition

From Leading Change by John Kotter:

“The first step in putting together the kind of team that can direct a change effort is to find your right membership.  Four key characteristics seem to be essential to effective guiding coalitions. They are:

Position Power

Are enough key players on board, especially the main line managers so that those left out cannot easily block progress?


Are the various points of view - in terms of discipline, work experience etc - relevant to the task at hand adequately represented so that informed, intelligent decisions will be made?


Does the group have enough people with good reputations so that it's pronouncements will be taken seriously by colleagues?


Does the group include enough proven leaders to be able to drive the change process?

The last concern, about leadership, is particularly important stop you need both management and leadership skills on the guiding coalition, and they must work in tandem, teamwork style. The former keeps the whole process under control while the latter drives to change.”

It is important to remember when bringing together your guiding coalition that those with the most hierarchical authority may not be the best people for you.  Look for those who are enthusiastic about the change, and who can persuade colleagues of the benefits of it, as well as proactively help you to problem solve too.

Watch this short video from LinkedIn Learning about building a change coalition, via your University subscription.


Building and sustaining momentum

It can take an effort to build momentum for your change initiative and is even more challenging to sustain that momentum, especially if there is lots of planning needed before implementation, or if the implementation takes a long time.

Momentum can be built through regular communications, engagement with stakeholders and an active change agent network. Timing the build-up of this momentum is crucial. If there is a long leading time for the change, it can be detrimental to build momentum for the change too early. People will become frustrated, lose interest and begin to focus on other priorities before the change can actually be implemented.

Building and sustaining momentum during the planning and implementation stages of a change initiative can be supported by four key strategies:

1. Timing of communications

Increasing the frequency of communications will help to build momentum as users hear more about the change as implementation approaches.

2. Phased approach to implementation

If the nature of your change allows, carry out a pilot before rolling out to all users. This gives the opportunity of testing solutions and approaches to the rollout, as well as gathering case studies and good news stories from early adopters. This will increase the interest of users who are waiting to go live, as they hear how their colleagues are getting on.

3. Keep visibility of the change high

When the change starts, especially if you have built up momentum, it may be the top of everyone's priority list. However, if it is a long rollout, or an extended period of embedding is needed, other things will begin to take people’s attention and your change may slip down people's priorities. In order to keep people focused on the change, keep the levels of communication and good news stories high. Publish hard data updates, for example ‘300 more people have gone live with the change this month’.

4. Task managers with the responsibility for delivery

Build successful implementation for their areas into their targets, objectives or reporting. Remember: ‘if it isn't measured, it doesn't get done’.”

(Taken from the Effective Change Manager’s Handbook)



Evaluation of Change and Celebrating Early Wins

Setting achievable evaluation markers for your project and celebrating these early wins is an important part of change management as it helps to reinforce the benefits of the change initiative and motivate stakeholders to continue supporting it.

Examples of milestones to celebrate may include:

  • the business case evaluation
  • targets met in terms of cost, quality or time
  • industry benchmarking
  • stakeholder satisfaction surveys
  • internal data of colleague satisfaction and wellbeing, including rates of absenteeism or sickness and staff turnover
  • knowledge cafes
  • skills audits
  • feedback from mechanisms such as focus groups



Change and Emotion

The emotional response to change

Change can trigger high emotion in colleagues. This can be due to a number of factors, including memories of being affected negatively by a badly managed change in the past.  It is important to give space and time to these feelings, and to act with empathy and understanding towards colleagues as they work through the stages of transition as illustrated by the Fisher curve below.

  Visual of Fisher's Personal Transition Curve

Watch this short clip on navigating the change curve via your University LinkedIn Learning subscription.  


Practical tips for navigating The Change Curve

A similar curve to the Fisher curve above, showing a start from the baseline, up to a peak, down to a trough and then another upwards trajectory.  This curve is split into three.  The three segments are outlined in the text below

Phase 1: Own the Problem

The first phase concentrates on helping people to acknowledge and recognise the need for change. This initial phase can often be overlooked or rushed, sometimes through the presumption that everyone understands the reasons for change and that all agree on the root problem. People need to be – literally – happy to leave the old ways behind and will end this phase on a high because they ‘own the problem’. As a change leader during this phase you will:

  • Establish rapport
  • Show empathy
  • Understand the business
  • Help diagnose the problem
  • Focus on facts
  • Challenge if necessary
  • Deal with ‘denial’

Phase 2: Own the Solution

The second phase creates agreement on exactly what will change and how. This sounds exciting but look: the curve dips! This is because there will be lots of negotiation here, and inevitably some options for change will be chosen over others. Then there’s the realisation of just how much you’ve all taken on…. But from here the only way is up, and people will go for it because they now ‘own the solution’. As a change leader during this phase you will:

  • Encourage creativity
  • Resolve conflict
  • Flush out the options
  • Look for the win-win-win
  • Focus on goals
  • Get into the detail

Phase 3: Own the Outcome

The third phase is all about moving from the plan to the point where the change is embedded as business as usual. It’s an uphill ride, but if the team ‘owns the outcome’ they will be determined to succeed and will find their own solutions to any glitches that arise. As a change leader during this phase you will:

  • Be more directive
  • Train
  • Coach
  • Personalise
  • Involve early adopters
  • Help set new goals
  • Review and learn

Adapted from The Change Toolkit.


Resistance to Change

You may notice active or passive signs of resistance to your change initiative.  Use the two tables below to help you think through the root causes of the resistance you are feeling:

Active signs of resistance   Passive signs of resistance
Being critical

Agreeing verbally but not following through (“malicious compliance”)

Finding fault

Failing to implement change


Procrastinating or dragging one's feet

Using facts selectively

Feigning ignorance

Appealing to fear

Withholding information, suggestions, support or help

Blaming or accusing

Standing by and allowing change to fail

Intimidating or threatening  
Distorting facts  
Starting rumours  




This resistance may stem from many sources.  Resistance can be a blameless situational force:




Previous change experience (history, cynicism)

Lack of conviction that change is needed

Organisational culture, power, and politics

Discomfort with uncertainty

Lack of clarity as to what is needed

Incentive system rewards actions inconsistent with change goals

Perceived negative outcomes

Inappropriate change; clash with ethics

Supply-side: keep making choices that first created success (Gans 2016)

Attachment to the established culture or ways of doing things

Timing is wrong

Demand-side: keep supporting existing products and customers (Christensen, 1997)

Perceived breach of psychological contract

Too much change is occurring


Valid concerns about the change implementation

Valid concerns with the way the change is being managed


Gans, J. (2016). The other disruption. Harvard Business Review.

Christensen, C.M. (1997). The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fall. Boston, MA: Harvard School Press.


Tips for overcoming resistance to change

 Now that you have identified the root causes of the resistance you are feeling, below are tips to overcoming this resistance:

Reason for Resistance

How to deal with it

Loss of control over territory

  • Leave room for those affected by change to make choices, get involved with planning and take ownership

Excessive uncertainty during the change

  • Create a sense of safety with certainty of process, clear simple steps and timetables.

Change is sprung on people as a surprise

  • Don't plan changes in secret - keep people informed of what is happening.

Too many differences at once

  • Minimise the number of unrelated differences.
  • Where possible keep things familiar.
  • Avoid change for change’s sake.

Loss of face from those associated with current state

  • Celebrate the elements of the past that are worth honouring.

Concerns about competence

  • Provide abundant information, education, mentors and support systems.
  • Run systems in parallel during transition if possible.

Change is more work

  • Allow some people to focus exclusively on the change.
  • Reward and recognise participants.

Ripple effects - change interferes with the activities of other areas

  • Enlarge circle of stakeholders.
  • Consider all affected parties and work with them to minimise disruption.

Past resentments surface due to the interruption of a steady state

  • Consider gestures to heal the past before focusing on the future.

Sometimes the threat is real - change is resisted because it can hurt

  • Be honest, transparent, fast and fair.
  • For example, one big layoff with lots of support is better than a series of smaller cuts.

From: The Effective Change Manager's Handbook


A further resource is available from Prosci: 5 tips for Managing Resistance to Change


The Psychological Contract

The term 'psychological contract' refers to individuals’ expectations, beliefs, ambitions and obligations, as perceived by the employer and the worker. It emphasises the importance of the ’human’ side to the employment relationship.

The psychological contract, different from a contract of employment, describes how the parties themselves understand their relationship, their own views of commitment and what they can expect to receive in return.

Employee’s perceptions of their employers’ obligations are often informal and imprecise and may be inferred from actions (even towards other employees), or from what has happened in the past.

The psychological contract is based on employees’ sense of fairness and trust, and their belief that the employer is honouring the 'deal' between them. A violation (or breach) of the psychological contract by the employer can have sudden and powerful consequences for people and organisations. It can lead to negatively affecting job satisfaction, commitment, performance, and increase turnover intentions.

You may find that some resistance to change can be explained by a perceived breach in the psychological contract, for example an erosion of perks, or by shifting responsibilities.

Breaches of the psychological contract by an employer are not always avoidable. External factors like economic downturn can impact the ’deal’ between the business and its people. However, organisations can avoid many negative outcomes if they demonstrate fairness in how they deal with the situation, even if they can’t promise positive outcomes for all.

An iceberg, showing that employees provide Work and the employer provides pay above the water.  However beneath the water the host of additional expectations are shown.  Beneath the surface, the employee provides time, effort, trust, creativity, productivity, loyalty, mentoring, acceptance of chnages, sacrifices, work/life, care and service.  Below the surface, the employer provides benefits, empowerment, security, recognition, qualifications, satisfaction, responsibility, development, promotions, status, tools and dignity.

Tips for maintaining the psychological contract during a change

  • Communications: An effective two-way dialogue between project team and impacted peoples is a necessary means of ensuring the voice of end users and resourcing teams are heard throughout the project.
  • Managing expectations: particularly when bad news is anticipated, managing expectations will increase the chances of building and maintaining a realistic psychological contract.
  • Measuring attitudes: Project teams should monitor attitudes towards the change on a regular basis as a means of identifying where action may be needed.

Adapted from Psychological Contract | CIPD