A key for successful change projects

Investing sufficient time and effort in anchoring within the organization is a key for success and enables the desired results to be achieved more quickly.

Authors: Caroline Öhrberg & Richard Nyström




Most of Axholmen’s projects result in some form of change to clients’ businesses. Investing sufficient time and effort in anchoring within the organization is a key for success and enables the desired results to be achieved more quickly. In addition, anchoring helps to make the change a more positive experience for the people involved. This article highlights the importance of anchoring before starting a change journey.

What is anchoring?

When a change decision has been made but the implementation phase has not yet started, it is critical to communicate the change within the organization. Activities to ensure a common understanding among employees, respond to and manage the anxiety that often accompanies change, this is what we refer to as anchoring.

The anchoring message should be built upon three main pillars:

  1. Common understanding of needs – Why is the change needed? What are the underlying drivers?
  2. Shared vision – What is the target state? What is the vision for the future?
  3. Making change concrete – What does the change entail? What concrete steps should be taken?

If one of these fails, there is a high risk that the whole project will fail.

Figure 1: Three factors that need to be anchored for change projects to succeed: 1. Shared view of the problem 2. Shared vision 3. Concrete next steps.

Three main pillars for anchoring


It is crucial that those affected by the change understand and accept the underlying drivers. There must be clarity about why it is not possible to continue as before, e.g. due to high costs compared to competitors or loss of market share.

However, it is not enough to communicate the drivers. It is equally important to demonstrate them in action – something that is often forgotten. Management cannot say one thing and then act in another way – e.g., flying business class while the company needs to make savings.

We see failure of communicating “why” as the main reason to why companies fail to anchor. Management must show perseverance and maintain a consistent line throughout the change to succeed.



In addition to communicating why the change is needed, the message must also paint a picture of the target state. An appealing vision that is sustained throughout the change is needed to motivate the organization to want to support the change and will get everyone pulling in the same direction. Such a vision could be “when we have successfully implemented the change, we can”:

  • Regain our market position
  • Hire employees again
  • Survive as a company

The vision can be described in different ways – in words, in pictures, in numbers, or any in combination of these.



The third element that should not be missed in the communication is a concretization of what the change means. The change journey needs to be broken down so that employees can grasp what it initially means for them. They need to understand their own role in the change and how they can make a difference.

Making the change concrete does not necessarily mean presenting a detailed time and activity plan for the entire implementation, but it should at least describe the first steps of the change and how they will be implemented. For example, a first step could be for the head of each department to organize a team meeting to discuss with employees how that department can contribute to the change objectives of the company as a whole. This helps employees understand and gives them the tools to be able to contribute to the change.

Effective anchoring

Compiling communication material with the right message is not enough to achieve success in anchoring. A consistent message needs to reach all organization levels involved and middle managers often play a crucial role. To get the message right, middle managers need to be given the right conditions – such as timely information, speech scripts and, not least, guidance and training on how to deal with questions and concerns from employees.

Anchoring may also need to be adapted for different target groups. There are often people in the organization who quickly embrace the vision and can act as positive role models for their colleagues. Encouraging these people can be a good way of building support. This can be done by including their input into the process or by giving them a role in the change process.

It is not uncommon to find people who try to oppose the purpose of change. These people should be reversed before concerns about the change are spread. This is known as the 20/60/20 rule, where 20% are positive, 20% are negative and 60% in between are neutral.

Figure 2: 20/60/20 rule


Change is a something all companies must go through, and mastering anchoring is critical. Anchoring takes time, both to plan and to implement, and you also need to give those affected time to emotionally digest the change – to understand, to have the ability, and to want, both with logical thinking and the gut feeling. Management must be prepared to show perseverance and determination and repeat the messages over and over again. In our experience, time invested in anchoring significantly pays off in the implementation phase of the change journey.




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