Change can suck. And we can suck at it.

Research from the Center for Creative Leadership indicates that nearly 70 percent of all change initiatives fail to achieve their intended outcome. No wonder overcoming a fear of change is its own cottage industry.

But some of the big brains at Google are changing the game, especially since analyzing the results from a reorganization in one part of their company. Google's employee survey (called Googlegeist) revealed that less than 50 percent of employees were inspired by their leaders in the midst of the change administered, with the same low percentage not even understanding why the change was made in the first place.

And given how fast and often change occurs at Google, the company knew this wouldn't cut it. After conducting a thorough analysis of all leading change management processes (think Kurt Lewin's Model of Change or Jeff Hiatt's ADKAR model), Google decided to create its own four-phased approach with four sets of accompanying questions. The first phase asks a surprisingly simple, but profound, question.


Why is the change even necessary?

I lost track of the number of times in my corporate career I was thrust into a major change initiative without the case for change ever being made clear to me. Thus the need to first ask "Why?" -- "Why is making a change necessary right now?" Also ask related questions like:  

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What are the threats and opportunities?
  • What diverse input is needed from whom about why a change is needed before deciding?

Getting clear on the Why and making the clear case for change to those it will be done to helps turn resistance into resolution. It eliminates uncertainty--and people would rather be unhappy than uncertain. It helps people think of the change as if it's a software upgrade and moves them from thinking "beware" to benefit." 

On to the next phase.


Here, you get crystal clear on what you want to accomplish by asking What questions like: 

  • What is the desired future state?
  • What will success and failure look like post-change?
  • What are the contrary opinions or alternatives?

By getting super clear about what you're trying to accomplish with the change, you'll have a second-check step on whether the change is necessary and you'll increase the recipients' confidence that they have the competence for change.

We get apprehensive about change when we imagine it will leave us exposed as incapable of handling its outcome. But when you're clear on the desired future state, you can visualize it and your success in managing through it.

The Google process then moves to the next phase.


Ask "Who" questions such as:

  • Who is being impacted by the change and should lead the change?
  • Who are the key stakeholders that need to buy in?
  • Who will resist the change, and how can you help them through the transition?

One of the biggest barriers to change occurs when employees don't feel enrolled. It's a human truth that people need to weigh in before they can buy in. Asking Who forces the implementers of change to think through the change from the POV of those who will have to live through it. 

In doing research for Find the Fire, I discovered that the one word most often used by employees to describe their leaders change management efforts is "callous."

Now it's time to think about execution in the final phase (a phase too many leaders jump to first).


  • How will you execute and communicate the change?
  • How will you make the change stick?
  • How will you lead through the change?

The truth is that people don't fear change itself as much as they fear the process of change. When you're clear on How you'll implement change and execute it in a thoughtful fashion, it increases the adoption rate dramatically. 

In fact, following the combination of all these steps improved the adoption rate of change at Google dramatically. One hundred percent of managers understood a tested change while 80 percent of their employees understood it (up from 50 percent). The net result was a 90 percent adoption rate.

So if you find yourself looking for ways to change your change management efforts for the better, let the search giants at Google end your search for a solution.