Change management is so important for making sure that the change you deliver is embedded in the organisation. In other words, if you want people to use what you create — or to shift their ways of working to the new standards and processes you implement — then you have to help them through the transition.
Here’s my list of top change management books for leaders.
1. Leading Change by John P. Kotter
Professor John P. Kotter is a leading authority in change management, and this is the book to start with. Leading Change (2012) is a comprehensive guide to his 8-step process for managing change.
Kotter’s way isn’t the only way to manage organisational change, but it’s a common model now and it’s helpful to understand the process so you can see what, if anything, you want to apply to your own projects.
2. Making Sense of Change Management by Esther Cameron and Mike Green
Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools and Techniques of Organizational Change is now in its fifth edition.
It’s a bestseller, billed as the “definitive” guide to change management, and it’s comprehensive. You’ll learn the theories and change management models and see how you can use those in the workplace.
Aimed at people doing change management in a leadership role (aren’t we all?), it will help you understand how to adapt an organisation in readiness for change.
I think this book is more for transformative, disruptive, organisational change instead of project-led ‘small’ change, but the theories, case studies and techniques can definitely be applied to a project environment.
3. Our Iceberg is Melting by John P. Kotter
Another book by Kotter, Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions, is an easy read about why the ‘burning platform’ is essential to help businesses move to new ways of doing things.
I loved this book when I read it: it’s a business fable (which is not a type of book I like to read) but it’s fun, and it definitely gets the message across.
Oh, a ‘burning platform’ is where the change is so extreme you have to jump from the burning platform into the sea in order to move forward (and survive) and there is no going back.
4. Communicating Change by Elizabeth Harrin
Disclaimer: I wrote this one!
Communicating Change is all about how to talk to people about the changes your project is delivering. You’ll get lots of practical advice about what to say when, how to identify how people want to receive information as well as recommendations for doing the communication.
Communicating Change is published by Bookboon in ebook format, and you can get it here (or included in your Bookboon subscription if your company has an account).
5. The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook edited by Richard Smith et al
The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook: Essential Guidance to the Change Management Body of Knowledge is an accessible and practical guide to what change managers actually do.
It has chapters written by well-respected practitioners, so while you will pick up the theory, the aim of the book is to make it possible for you to do change management in your organisation, in big and small ways.
Aimed at people who don’t necessarily have the job title of change manager, if you deliver change as part of your role, you’ll find something useful in here to help.
The topics covered include sustaining change, change readiness, and there’s a section specifically on change in a project management setting. There’s also a substantial section on facilitation, because talking to people is so much of what change management is all about.
6. The Theory and Practice of Change Management by John Hayes
This is another book that has had multiple editions, so be sure to get the latest version. The Theory and Practice of Change Management is a bestseller in the field but feels to me less accessible than some of the others on this list as it’s really an essential reading for final year MBA and change management degree students.
Probably not the best one to start with, but it’s a well-respected guide to the field so it felt wrong to leave it out!
7. Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson et al
Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High is a frequently-recommended book. This is less about the theory of change management, and more a guide to how to talk to people about change when it really matters.
It’s a reasonably priced book that will do well on your shelf for all kinds of situations, not just managing change at work.
8. Switch by Chip and Dan Heath
Chip and Dan Heath have written some great books, and Switch: How to change things when change is their well-read take on change management.
This is a good guide to overcoming resistance to change, and it’s easy-to-read style means you’ll pick up nuggets of information without it feeling like your reading time is work time.
9. The Catalyst by Jonah Berger
The Catalyst (2020) is so good! There are so many wonderful examples in it, and I sat reading in the Waitrose cafe not noticing the time passing. It’s a book about how to reduce resistance to change through removing the roadblocks.
Instead of pushing harder, first seek to understand. Then you can dismantle the objections one at a time. Berger gives you a step-by-step guide to do exactly that. The case studies and examples are brilliant, and help illustrate his points with such clarity.
This one is a must-read.
10. Leading Transformation by Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoega Ramsoy
Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future by Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoega Ramsoy was an interesting read, but I’m not sure how repeatable the case study would be.
The book basically shares a fascinating business case study that resulted in organisational transformation. It draws heavily on neuroscience and change management, and talks about using science fiction writers to design the vision for the future – sharing good practices relating to storytelling.
You’d need a brave organisation to replicate the results, but there are tools in here in your own projects, especially around the use of stories to communicate the vision of the new world.
These books will give you a rounded view of change management, and plenty of practical tips for making organisational and project change run smoothly in your business — and stick.
Which one will you read first?