Change Management

Leading a Virtual Workforce Transformation: 10 Keys to Success

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A global coronavirus crisis has taught us that we are living in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. This virus has exposed vulnerabilities beyond our control, threatening our long-term health and economic stability. Critical to defeating this pandemic is ensuring global business continuity and a healthy global workforce. As a result, hundreds of millions of workers were asked in March 2020 to work from home, leading to immeasurable virtual workforce challenges.

While remote work is not a new concept for many, several issues have plagued the virtual worker throughout the years. For example, have you ever wondered why virtual workforce efforts at your organization are not successful or fail to stick? Or why your direct reports struggle to adapt to a remote work environment? Or perhaps you’ve wondered why people managers and leaders are challenged with engaging employees in a virtual work environment?

In this article, we’ll answer those questions and explore:

  • why long-term virtual workforce efforts fail
  • how to prepare, equip, support, and enable leaders in the virtual workforce of the future
  • where workforce leaders and staff position themselves on the virtual workforce change curve

This information is designed to guide leaders, people managers and employees toward fully embracing a virtual workforce as ‘the way they work’.

But First, Why Do Virtual Workforces Fail?

  • No Burning Platform
  • No Sustainable Vision
  • No Leadership Training (in a virtual workforce)
  • No Virtual Role Modeling
  • No Culture Integration

No Burning Platform

Up until now, there was not a compelling business reason for organizations to move to a virtual workforce environment. Yes, there were always cost efficiencies to be realized but those gains were often eclipsed by workforce inefficiencies. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was considered a perk, a convenience and / or a differentiator for many organizations globally. However, as of mid-March, the game has changed. A virtual workforce is not only critical, but essential to business continuity, increased productivity, and workforce health.

No Sustainable Vision

Lewis Carroll famously said: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. Unfortunately, many organizations knowingly (or unknowingly) subscribe to this philosophy when introducing virtual work environments. One of the greatest misnomers about a virtual workforce is that the same business rules, processes and norms apply for this model as they would for the more traditional model. Without a vision and a new, reimagined operating model and culture, virtual workforces will struggle to achieve long-term success.

No Leadership Training (for virtual workforce)

Preparing leaders and employees for success in virtual environments is one of the most overlooked gaps in virtual workforce deployments. Leaders and managers with a remote team are significantly underserved and lack the skills to effectively manage their subordinates in a virtual world. The lack of time invested in training has led to failed virtual workforce cultures and short-lived virtual workforce success. Leaders and managers who are challenged to lead in a virtual workforce quickly determine: ‘while it is one thing to know how to lead, it is another to learn how to lead in a virtual environment’.

No Virtual Role Modeling

Given the lack of training, it is not surprising that one of the leading reasons virtual workforces are often unsustainable is the lack of leaders who model the necessary skills, competencies and behaviors required in a virtual workforce. Without sufficient skills to model critical behaviors in a virtual work environment, their efforts are often perceived as ‘do as I say, not as I do’. What is needed are leaders who are willing to champion a virtual workforce and model critical behaviors.  Without them, employee buy-in and long-term sustainability is at risk.

No Culture Integration

What differentiates one organization from another is their unique culture, including but not limited to, how they interact and support each other. Organizations invest heavily in establishing a culture that is unique to their specific core values. However, when leaders decide to move to a virtual workforce, they often fail to integrate the culture that once thrived within a traditional office / workforce setting. As a result, employees are left feeling isolated or disconnected and the culture they once supported is now obsolete. A culture integration plan is paramount to long-term success as organizations transition to a virtual workforce.

Flattening the Curve

When more than 200 million remote-enabled professionals were recently thrust into a new future of work, they were given a mandate to work from home full-time in the interest of public health and safety. This was the largest disruption to a global workforce in recent memory. For a substantial number of workers, however, remote work was nothing new. For the majority of others, however, working from home on a full-time basis was a complete paradigm shift in business operations and a radical departure from business as usual.

The seemingly insurmountable challenge that organizations faced was how to create a virtual workforce strategy (practically) overnight. This strategy should include a change management and communication plan that ensures leaders, people managers and employees fully embrace a virtual workforce as ‘the way they work’. The strategy should also include communication and training on how to use the collaboration tools required to be successful and productive in the new environment.

For illustration purposes, let’s look at a traditional human change curve. This is the journey that most employees experience as they encounter change. The change curve itself is agnostic as it applies to all human behavior, irrespective of the change experience. You’ll notice in the graphic below that humans will experience a dip in morale and/or productivity as they transition from the denial stage to the exploration stage of the curve. This is common with all change and is often referred to as the ‘valley of despair’ within major change transformation initiatives. How do you bridge this ‘valley of despair’?

Change Commitment Curve

Source: Kubler-Ross

Bridging the Valley of Despair

The millions of office workers who transitioned from a traditional workforce to a virtual workforce earlier this month experienced, and continue to experience, a dip in the change curve. Carefully managing a change to a virtual workforce is paramount to business stability and continuity. Further, how we help leaders, people managers and employees’ transition along the change curve is critical to their ability to embrace a virtual workforce as the ‘new normal’, at least temporarily if not in the foreseeable future.

How to Lead an Organization Through a Virtual Workforce Transition

Here are ten actions for leading organizations through a virtual workforce transition:

  • Establish virtual role models to serve as transition champions
  • Determine KPIs and define ‘what success looks like’ with a transition to a virtual workforce
  • Develop a communication plan with targeted messaging
  • Develop a change plan to manage leader / employee transition to a virtual way they work
  • Conduct a stakeholder assessment to capture hearts, minds and fears of leaders / employees
  • Execute a change impact analysis to determine old vs. new way to work
  • Conduct a training needs analysis to identify skill gaps between traditional work and virtual work
  • Conduct a readiness assessment to gauge leader/employee preparation
  • Develop a training plan to ensure adequate skill building throughout the transition
  • Continually survey virtual leaders, people managers and employees to measure success

Tips for Virtual Role Models

Like many of you, The CARA Group has always had the capability and full functionality to work remotely.  Since we needed to transition, however, to a full-time virtual workforce as directed by the state of Illinois stay at home work order, our biggest win in the transition was through the establishment of virtual workforce change champions or ‘Virtual Role Models’. Without our Virtual Role Models, collectively, The CARA Group would not be up and to the right on the change curve. Below are some best practices and key behaviors required of a Virtual Role Model who will have ultimate influence over whether your organization fully embraces a Virtual Workforce as ‘the way they work’.

  • Be vulnerable and share where you are on your own virtual workforce change curve
  • Empathize with peers and subordinates
  • Acknowledge new norms in a virtual workforce
  • Share success (and failure) stories
  • Remember the golden rule and apply it in a virtual workforce setting
  • Celebrate, reinforce and reward desired virtual workforce behaviors
  • Continue to skill-build to evolve virtual workforce capabilities
  • Establish a virtual watercooler for employees to interact personally
  • Recognize that the speed to transition and productivity in a virtual workforce will vary by individual

Click here to read CARA’s President and CEO’s perspective on Finding Our Strength to Lead in a VUCA world.

Please connect with us if you could use help with leading your organization through a virtual workforce transition or simply want to talk about your current situation as you ponder next steps. We’re here to help!

Where are You on the Virtual Workforce Change Curve?

Comment below to:

  • Share where you (or your leaders) are at on the virtual workforce change curve
  • Share your experiences in leading organizations toward embracing a virtual workforce as ‘the way they work’

Microlearning:  How to Create Exceptionally Productive Teams in a Virtual World

By | Change Management, Commitment to Community, Learning | No Comments

To help you implement or expand your remote working programs, The CARA Group has created this quick microlearning to help your virtual teams become exceptionally productive! These best practices come from our years of experience helping global companies transform their workforce. We hope you like it and share it with others who find it useful.

5 steps for Successfully Integrating Project and Change Management

By | Change Management | One Comment

In January, 2015, PM Network Magazine interviewed me for an article titled ‘If I Had Known Then.’ The premise of the interview was for project managers who had led large business transformation initiatives to share at least one lesson learned from their career.

During the interview, I introduced my 80/20 project leadership philosophy. I shared that when leading transformational change; 80% of the project is art and the remaining percentage is science.

“Leading business transformation initiatives is partly science; but mostly art.”

Andrew Barnitz, PM Network Magazine (January, 2015)

The art refers to the components of change management for an initiative intended to bridge project solutions with expected business outcomes. The science refers to the utilization of critical project management components such as monitoring the project, controlling budgets and managing scope.

“Project management ensures the project is designed, developed and delivered successfully. Change management ensures that the project is embraced, adopted and used by the targets or recipients of the change.”

Equal necessity, unequal support

While the integration of project and change management disciplines are imperative for project success, they are often viewed as separate and unequal components of a successful business initiative. The problem is that project management often gets the lion share of stakeholder attention while change management is often neglected and ignored. As noted above, this can cause problems because change management is the 80% that contributes the most to an initiative’s success.

The following statistics show the impact of placing too much focus on project management while neglecting change management.


of change efforts fail due to over-emphasis on project process rather than the people aspects.


reason why projects fail is a result of poor sponsorship.


of the participants who integrated change management and project management in their project met or exceeded their project objectives.


reason why project initiatives fail is due to no change management methodology existing within a project.

As you can see, it is critical that change management have as significant a role as project management for business initiatives to be successful. In the remainder of this article, I’ll discuss how to ensure change management is given the attention it deserves through successful integration with project management.

Integration begins with role clarity

To begin understanding how to successfully integrate project and change management, let’s first understand and distinguish the roles of both the project manager and the change manager and where their roads converge and at times, collide.

  • According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a project manager is accountable for the success or failure of a project. They are responsible for the planning, executing and closing of the project. Further, the project manager is also responsible for managing teams, ensuring progress and motivating project team members. They are responsible for ensuring that project goals are in alignment with key stakeholders.
  • According to Prosci, a change manager will play a key role in ensuring projects (change initiatives) meet objectives on time and on budget by increasing employee adoption and usage. This person will focus on the people side of change, including changes to business processes, systems and technology, job roles and organization structures.

As indicated above, these roles are united with one common purpose: to ensure project goals are met and business results achieved. However, how each role goes about executing their work is meaningfully different. For example, project managers are often solution-focused where change managers are often outcome-focused. Consequently, there is a lack of understanding between the role of project manager and change manager in many organizations. This misunderstanding leads to conflicts between business functions and OD/Change COEs as to where to invest resources such as budget dollars and people.

Other barriers to integration

Besides confusion around role clarity, there are many other barriers to project and change management integration that you should be aware of.

  1. Even in 2019, the discipline of change management is in its infancy stage by comparison to project management. Thus, change management professionals like myself are in the early phases of converting non-believers.
  2. Since the role of the project manager has expanded significantly, most do not have the capacity or capability to learn change management.
  3. Change management is not easily measured since the results are often intangible. Thus, executives who control budgets struggle to justify the expense and fail to get behind change management efforts.
  4. While project management has been engrained deeply within the fabric of corporate America and beyond, change management is still struggling for a seat at the c-suite table.

The benefits of integration

To deal with these barriers, it helps to influence leadership on not only the benefits of change management, but the enormous impact an integrated approach has on business transformation.  In a nutshell, an integrated approach ensures project benefits are fully achieved and realized by utilizing the strengths of both, project management and change management disciplines.

Project management ensures the project is designed, developed and delivered successfully. Change management ensures that the project is embraced, adopted and used by the targets or recipients of the change. Thus, an integrated approach is designed to deliver the desired outcomes to the business.

Other benefits of project and change management integration include:

  1. Enhanced employee and leader engagement
  2. Increased sustainability of the change enterprisewide
  3. Realization of your people ROI for the project
  4. Avoidance of change saturation across an enterprise
  5. Measurement of an organization’s change tolerance

5 steps to integration!

So now that you know which barriers to integration you need to overcome AND have a firm understanding of why integration is so critical to project success – below are five steps to integrate project and change management within your organization:

  1. It starts with education.
    • Informing leaders, stakeholders, project managers and project team members on the benefits of change management is critical to project success.
  2. Set expectations around how change work gets done.
    • Acknowledge that the discipline of change management is based on facts and insights gathered through data gathering tools and processes such as (but not limited to): stakeholder analysis, impact assessment and change readiness assessments.
  3. Use consumer-friendly terms when describing the change process and work efforts.
    • The process for change management may be viewed as inefficient to the untrained eye. When conducting stakeholder analyses or change readiness sessions – explain the why behind each approach.
    • Further, use basic language to explain each process (i.e. stakeholder analysis is a conversation with key decision makers to determine if they are supportive of the project or not and perhaps, why they are or are not supportive).
  4. Ensure project and change management synergy by presenting a unified front to project leadership, stakeholders and team members.
  5. Collaborate with the project manager and key stakeholders to embed a change methodology and subsequent deliverables within a master project plan and status report.

Effective integration leads to better results

There is an interdependent connection between project and change management disciplines, much like the symbiotic relationship between project managers and change managers. Thus, true project success requires that  both roles and disciplines not only co-exist, but to serve as a complement of skills and methods. And perhaps Leonardo Da’ Vinci said it best:

“To develop a complete mind: Study the science of art; Study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

After all, we as project managers and change professionals, are tasked with wearing many hats like Leonardo once did; a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, poet and story-teller. Even more remarkable today, Leonardo’s words can be applied to contemporary project delivery over five centuries later.

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Project success requires more than luck!

By | Change Management | One Comment

For many, shamrocks, the color green, leprechauns, and beer are just a few words that come to mind when they think about St. Patrick ’s Day. Also common around this time of year is the expression Ádh mór ar an hÉireann which is Gaelic for ‘Luck of the Irish’.

While ‘luck’ is something one may count on when playing the lottery, it is not a strategy I would recommend for successful project delivery. Project success requires more than luck; it warrants a sound change management strategy and approach. The second largest reason why project initiatives fail is due to the absence of a change management methodology integrated within a project.

“The better we apply change management, the more likely we are to deliver on project objectives. Prosci’s correlation data from over 2,000 data points and 10 years shows that initiatives with excellent change management are 6 times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management. By simply moving from ‘poor’ to ‘fair,’ change management increases the likelihood of meeting objectives by three fold.” (1)

To best illustrate the importance of incorporating change activities in everything you do, consider the following case study.

“Brace for impact”

Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of leading over 100 projects impacting over 2,500,000 employees globally. During that time, the projects I’ve led have faced all sorts of resistance from sponsors, process owners, senior leaders, Finance/Legal personnel, HR representatives and employees. Fortunately, such resistance has been significantly reduced over the last decade as organizations begin to recognize the importance of change management and its proven correlation to project success. Just as I thought the field of change management was turning a corner, however, I came across an unlikely situation appropriately titled: “Brace for impact”.


I was leading a business transformation initiative for a client that would impact several thousand employees. This project was part of a larger technology roadmap designed to a) create an improved employee and leader user experience, b) standardize core HR processes across all lines of business and c) encourage managers to assume greater ownership of core HR responsibilities.

Unique to this initiative was a recommendation I proposed that would empower actual leaders, employees and key HR stakeholders participate in an iterative design approach. This Agile design model would not only build a coalition of support and advocacy at the end user level, it would also lead to an increase in quality delivery from a people, process and technology perspective.

The iterative design approach was particularly necessary as the new system and supporting processes represented a cultural shift in how managers would operate and lead moving forward. Consequently, it was critical to design and implement a thoughtful change plan to ensure employee and organizational success.

Additionally, the change approach would have to weather key organizational attributes including (but not limited to):

  • The client was averse to change
  • The client was not steeped in the discipline of change management
  • The client subscribed to a command and control decision structure
  • Sponsors, leaders and HR personnel did not have an appreciation for the benefits of change management


With the above org attributes in mind, I designed and implemented the requisite change management strategy for an initiative of this size, scale and scope. I employed an unsophisticated, yet practitioner-based change approach to minimize learning curves for the change champion network, sponsors and leaders.

Below is a subset of change activities I implemented to mitigate and / or accelerate progress from a change adoption perspective.


Org Attribute

Change Approach / Deliverables

The client was averse to change

I conducted an initial change readiness assessment to identify early resistors and adopters and implemented an iterative review, design and demo process to ensure stakeholder buy-in.

The client was not steeped in the discipline of change management I installed a change champion network and provided them with weekly mentoring, upfront education on change management basics, and a change champion toolkit for executing change.
The client subscribed to a command and control decision structure

I operationalized a bottom-up design model by socializing its benefits and by positioning change champions as SMEs with project-level decision rights. I also had the team host numerous focus groups to collect user insight and gauge end user support.

Sponsors, leaders and HR personnel did not have an appreciation for the benefits of change management I developed an integrated project and change management plan that was simple to understand and demonstrated how planned change work would enable project success. I also conducted stakeholder analysis interviews to understand change resistance and developed change tactics to mitigate it. Throughout the project I highlighted how outputs from change readiness and stakeholder interviews informed the end design and development of the new tool and supporting processes.


Overall, the initiative was successful in each line of business with the exception of one. The HR change champion refused to engage in basic block and tackle change activities. In lieu of participating in these change efforts, she informed me that her business function ‘doesn’t need change management support as my team and I will just brace for impact after the new system and processes are implemented.’ While this was clearly not a recommended course of action, I was not able to garner the necessary support from her leader or executive sponsors to influence her thinking or hold her accountable for anticipated business results.

Since the HR change champion did not fully embrace our change management approach, her client-facing HR team did not participate in numerous change opportunities such as design sessions, focus groups and system demos. The absence of core HR resources in the impacted area led to gaps in system functionality and newly designed processes that would not work in their current operating environment. As a result, her managers were not prepared for all of the fast approaching changes and their employees were caught off guard by the changes to the new system and supporting processes.

Lessons Learned

Since the premise of change management is to link project solutions to specific project outcomes and, mobilize people to deliver results, employing basic change practices would have resulted in a higher level of project success. In short, a reliance on luck or a ‘brace for impact’ approach to change management will not yield desired project outcomes or end user adoption.

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(1) Source: