How to Prepare People to Work in New Ways

Excerpt from “Change with Confidence: Answers to the 50 Biggest Questions that Keep Change Leaders Up at Night” by Phil Buckley (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, March 2013).

By Phil Buckley
When resistance, in the form of fear, anger, or complacency, is in the way, true learning cannot occur.—Dan S. Cohen
Most big changes require new ways of working: A combination of new knowledge, skills, mindsets, behaviors, relationships, and processes must be adopted. Unless you accurately identify and build these capabilities, the change is certain to fail or not reach its potential.

Once you identify what needs to change, determine how best to prepare colleagues to adopt it. Change happens when people discuss and practice the new ways of working, and your plan should center on these activities. Furthermore, change has not fully happened until colleagues habitually use new ways of working (and forget they are new). The better job you do building capabilities, the better prepared colleagues will be and the greater the confidence they will have to follow them.

Thumbs Down, Thumbs Up
London Heathrow Terminal 5 opened with great fanfare in 2008. Queen Elizabeth II spoke at a special ceremony two weeks before it opened to the public. She enthused about the “bright, airy space and clean, efficient layout” and referred to it as the “21st century gateway to Britain and, for us, the wider world” (2008, March 14, “Queen Opens New Heathrow Terminal”, BBC News, Its main building was the largest freestanding structure in the United Kingdom and had the capacity to handle 35 million passengers annually. It was run by a complex set of 163 different computer systems with 546 interfaces between them.

On opening day, Europe’s largest baggage system failed, and British Airways was forced to cancel 34 flights. Over the next 10 days, 500 flights were canceled, and 42,000 bags were misdirected. Analysis of this start-up failure pointed to a lack of capability as the main reason for the disaster. “Getting people to understand the new role of technology and buy in to the new proposition was our biggest challenge,” said British Airway’s IT program head for Terminal 5 (Krigsman, M.,2008, April 7, “IT Failure at Heathrow T5: What Really Happened”, IT Project Failures Blog, Although training was conducted over the year prior to opening, it wasn’t sufficient to operate the new systems or to properly educate staff on the new ways of working.

Another case in point: Texas Children’s Hospital is one of 76 facilities ranked in at least one specialty in the annual U.S. News Children’s Best Hospital report. The teaching hospital embarked on a four-year change project to move from paper-based to electronic medical records. The end goal was to provide easy access to patient records and information from any department of the hospital. Two departments transitioned first, with one making a significantly greater investment in building capabilities than the other. The first group held project road shows attended by leaders. Ongoing update forums were held through live Web meetings to share the latest updates, profile the functionality of the system, and discuss issues, and an employee computer portal was set up to give easy access to all documentation. Also, when colleagues transitioned to the new system, they used a dedicated support team for ongoing training. Both groups transitioned, but the first group (with superior capabilities support) scored far higher in its preparedness for moving to the new electronic system.

What Works

  • Nominate someone responsible for each process being changed. This person must help design and deliver the training and ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Document capability requirements and the support needed to develop them. Sometimes people will be offered to the project, but they might lack the knowledge or skills to lead the training. It is best to negotiate hard for the right resources, and this document will help you make the case.
  • Training works best when it progresses from creating awareness to building skills to enabling practices. Download the Training Pyramid graphic below.
  • Provide step-by-step job aids for critical processes, such as how to allocate stock to customers, especially those that involve people in different locations or from different teams.
  • Before the launch, provide an overview of how colleagues will be supported (on-site technical support, job aids, help lines, etc.) and when hand-offs between people doing process steps will be made.
  • Make training fun. Studies have shown that people learn and retain more when they are enjoying themselves.
  • Create a single site to house all documents related to the project.


  • Schedule briefing sessions with managers before training begins. This will help them answer questions their team members may have and reinforce the importance of attending sessions.
  • Ensure that everyone affected by the change receives training, and encourage leaders to attend training sessions to demonstrate that attendance is a priority.
  • Secure internal process experts to lead training sessions. This will make your training more relevant and allow questions to be answered based on how the organization operates.
  • Allow enough time in your agenda for colleague feedback on the new processes. They may detect process gaps missed by the design team.

Training Scheduling

  • Make training mandatory. If not, some people will avoid attending sessions to focus on other priorities.
  • Secure enough space to hold scheduled training and a few extra catch-up sessions.
  • Ideally, hold training sessions close to when colleagues will need to use what they have learned.
  • Ensure managers and their teams are scheduled for the same training sessions. They will learn more, especially vis-à-vis applications within their own environment.
  • Track attendance to training and vigilantly follow up with those who miss sessions so they are rescheduled.
  • Send out invites as soon as the schedule is set. This provides a sense of magnitude and momentum for your project.
  • Ensure that the schedule is not so condensed that participants can’t manage their roles. If it is, you’ll have many no-shows.

The heart of your capability plan is defining what needs to change for colleagues to work in the post-change environment and how you will prepare them to do so. Once you build a detailed plan, you need to anticipate risks that could endanger it.

Excerpt from “Change with Confidence: Answers to the 50 Biggest Questions that Keep Change Leaders Up at Night” by Phil Buckley (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, March 2013).

Phil Buckley is a senior change management professional with more than 20 years of experience developing and executing strategies to achieve aggressive business goals across global businesses in Canada, the Americas, and the UK. He has managed 27 large-scale change projects, most recently co-leading global change management for the $19.6 billion Kraft Foods acquisition of Cadbury with a team of 40 change leads across 60 countries. His change assignments include mergers and acquisitions, demergers, organization restructurings, efficiency drives, culture initiatives, business model developments, strategy creation and deployments, downsizings, systems implementations, and organizational capability developments. Buckley is a frequent public speaker on change, including hundreds of corporate keynote presentations, business facilitations, and college teaching classes. His weekly blog can be read at

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