Employee Experience

A Model For Managing Complex Change In Small Businesses

6 Mins read

To the audience reading this article: whatever your current job is, please remember the beginning of your work, the very first days. Do you remember how many processes you had to learn to do your job? If you’re lucky, you’ve probably had training in place to help you do that. If not, well… it must’ve been hard. 

Managing complex change is similar to that new job training you had…or never had. It deals with the human change aspect and it means that it puts effort into changing, improving, and making positive transitions of human resources to get the wanted business-related outcomes.

As a business owner, you know how important market changes and trends can be. Simple technology advancements can bring significant changes to your small business – for example, your employees’ job roles. As a part of the HR department, you know that it’s not always easy to introduce changes in your organization. Big career transitions—to new jobs, companies, industries, or geographical locations—are a harsh reality for executives working in dynamic global enterprises.  The change could be a process that doesn’t always go smoothly.  For this reason, we will further discuss some of the best models for managing complex change in small businesses. 

Understanding the Knoster Change Model

Timothy Knoster used the Model for Managing Complex Change in the TASH (1991) and ever since, many people refer to it as the “Knoster Change Model”. 

According to this model, there are 5 components required to ensure an effective and smooth transition or change process: vision, consensus, skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan. The model further claims that if any of the components misses, the chances are that the process will risk its efficiency. 


At first, there must be a vision as to why change is needed. Why is it necessary, is the vision shared between the whole team, and are the employees buying into the concept? Are there goals you can measure? If the team members are asking: “Why should this change apply to me?” – you may have not transmitted properly the overall vision.


Skills come next on the list of requirements of managing complex change. Do employees have knowledge or training in the tasks they are expected to complete? If not, will they get it from a reliable source? Anxiety may result from feeling unqualified or untrained.


Employees frequently require incentives in order to change. What will change do for them? Before the change can take place, everyone must recognize their value. The element that can either foster consensus or foster resistance among the personnel is incentives. Incentives might be monetary or intangible, such as recognition for accomplishment or status. It’s crucial to develop them consistently and with a clear connection to the vision.


Resources, which can be either physical or emotional, are also crucial to change attempts. We frequently hear statements like “They don’t support me” or “They ask us to do more with less.” People tend to have an emotional reaction when they lack resources. What supplies are on hand right now? Do they fit the bill? Are any internal resources available? Is the allocation of resources equitable? What materials are required, and how will you acquire them?

Action Plan

An action plan is the last component needed for transformation. All stakeholders should be represented in the development of the change action plan, which should be crystal clear. Without it, staff members could feel as if they are simply running in place. Moving forward and noting progress is impossible without a plan.

If you are wondering whether every step is necessary to follow, we will help you out by highlighting possible negative outcomes if any of the components go missing:


Even if you have an action plan, resources, incentives, and skills – without a clear vision your team could end up confused.


Every other component together without the necessary skills (i.e. Communication, public speaking, political or advocacy) is not as effective. No matter how well-intentioned and committed your team is to manage complex change, if they lack the necessary skills, they will be anxious to fail.


Incentives are the kinds of things (rewards, recognition, celebrations) that keep important community stakeholders engaged. Without incentives, you might have changes in progress, but they will be slow and typically accompanied by a high level of resistance.


Even if you have the vision, skills, incentives, and action plan, but lack the resources (money, people, time, equipment), you will end up with frustration because you’ve got a plan, and you know how to accomplish it, but you don’t have the resources to get the job done.

False Starts

Even if you have the vision, skills, incentives, and resources but no action plan (a plan broken down into steps that people can take and accomplish in small bits), you will end up with a ‘false start’ This means that you may progress with change as a process, but will often be left behind due to steps being missed. 

 We can conclude that The Knoster change model is particularly a great tool for both planning change and identifying problems with ongoing projects.

Change Leadership Model

This model is built around three main components (3 C’s) that provide the necessary relation between the process part of change and the people part of change, so that you can successfully be managing complex change.

1st C – Communication

Unsuccessful leaders tended to concentrate on the “what” of the change. Effective leaders, on the other side, communicated both the “what” and the “why”. Stronger buy-in and eagerness for the change were generated by leaders who either described the move’s goal and linked it to the organization’s values or highlighted its advantages.

2nd C – Collaborate

In order to succeed with the planned changes, bringing people together is crucial. Successful cases show that employees are involved in the early stages of change processes – to ensure their commitment.

3rd C – Commit

Effective leaders made sure that their personal attitudes and actions supported change as well. Change is challenging, but the leaders who successfully handled it were tenacious and persistent, as well as willing to venture outside of their comfort zones. Additionally, they focused on the larger picture and gave the change effort more of their personal time. Unsuccessful leaders were negative, unable to adapt to new situations, and frustrated with slow progress.

Small Business Change Management

If you have thought about implementing change in your small business, you might wonder what change management tactics are required to get things started. A combination or single use of above-mentioned models is always recommended. 

However, there are some extra steps from the models to ensure the change management in your small business is successful:

Risk Assessment

Even if you can’t predict everything, you should be well-aware of any potential obstacles that may stand in your way. Throughout the transition, emphasize to the team the value of risk analysis, and don’t be afraid to change as necessary.

Maintaining a positive organizational culture requires heavily involving your team rather than trying to handle everything yourself. Doing so will pay off even after the transition is over.

Quick tip: To keep the change on track, brainstorm with your team to come up with suggestions for additional potential roadblocks. Then, create a “Plan B” for each scenario. In this way, you and your team won’t have to scramble to get back on track if you encounter a difficulty because you will both know exactly what to do.

Use HR Software

Using spreadsheets or other straightforward methods to implement a change management strategy is difficult; instead, use HR software to guide you through this occasionally challenging process. You may design plans and manage staff as you make this transformation with the aid of recent advancements in HR technology.

Quick tip: Since each small business is unique, you shouldn’t simply select the most well-liked HR software choice. Before choosing, read a few software reviews and test out the most promising choices.

Knoster Change Model

Remember, Managing Complex Change Is All About People

Be mindful that various people may react to change in different ways and that you will need to manage personalities and make frequent adjustments while going through this shift.

That is why it is so important to communicate. People become uneasy when an organization is changing and they feel left out of the loop. It’s a logical reaction. In order to create the impression of a discussion and demonstrate your appreciation for your employees’ contributions, communicate frequently and ask for feedback.

Throughout this procedure, be mindful of your employees emotions. Have open communication with them and enlist their assistance in finding solutions. Be adaptable enough to modify your plan in light of what they say. Keep emphasizing the advantages that everyone will experience as a result of seeing this transformation through.

Keep in mind that managing complex change involves managing people as well as creating and carrying out a plan. So give empathy more weight than productivity. In the end, your staff members will be more devoted to you and content with their positions.

Further Reading:

Commuting to Work: The Ideal Distance
Structured Workplace Learning
No Call No Show Policy
Change Management Books

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About author
Fatjona Gërguri is the content writer for Employee Experience Magazine, covering the relevant topics about employee experience, organizational culture and general HR topics.
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