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People, processes, and change

Change Management: Dealing with Emotions

Philippe Robitaille
Best Document Practices

Change management helps to ensure the acceptance of any new system, process, or method. In the case of a content management initiative, where content reuse is critical, there are some unique issues that challenge acceptance, especially if more "traditional" authors take pride in ownership and are passionate about the creative process. In other cases, where authors have to deal with excessive content, the initiative may lead to author apathy. This article examines a recurring change management issue that presents itself in many projects that depend on content reuse-dealing with authors who are either passionate or dispassionate about enterprise content. It describes some of the emotions you may discover during a content management implementation and provides strategies for dealing with them.


If you are implementing a content management system, be prepared to manage the change that it will bring to affected areas. If you are implementing content management to enable the reuse of content, expect that it will test the attitudes and emotions of content creators. Be prepared for authors who are passionate about their content insisting that they are the only ones qualified to work with that content. In other cases, you may find authors who are all too willing to relinquish ownership of content and embrace the new enabling technology. Those authors prefer to work with content dispassionately, their goal being to achieve routine departmental commitments.

There are two aspects to consider. First, attitudes can vary considerably even from department to department. People, workgroups, and departments have different attitudes about their work and the product of their work. This is typically inherited as part of the organizational culture and should be discovered during the analysis part of your content management project.

Second, in most cases the attitudes prevail from before implementation through to deployment and operation. The implementation of content management is often a coincidental imposition on what exists. Therefore, two kinds of adjustments are required. As a project manager or sponsor, you may need to adjust the way your system is deployed relative to organizational strengths and weaknesses. As a business owner or change agent, you may need to adjust organizational attitudes about content ownership and lead a transition that shifts existing passions from the desktop to the organizational mission.

Know your affected areas

As you set out to analyze organizational opportunities for improved information processing, be sure to take a good, honest look at prevailing attitudes in the affect areas. You will want to moderate your project's short and long term goals relative to the collective willingness to change. Although attitudes are not obvious matters for immediate concern, they will prove to be of paramount importance as you move toward deployment, and when the reality and scope of change starts to settle in.

During analysis, as you investigate organizational strengths, pay equal attention to the organization's health in terms of team spirit, attitude, and general atmosphere. To what degree are the authoring groups enthusiastic about their content, their departmental objectives, and their organizational mission? Are they empowered to bring about change? Is there a vital culture based on learning and team work? These are all indicators of a healthy atmosphere that results in a passion for the greater good of the organization. However, if there are weaknesses in these areas, they may indicate a tendency for parochial attitudes and a perpetuation of "content silos"].

Although a content management system will introduce considerable benefits to the organization and to those who participate in the content life cycle, it will also introduce challenges that expose the organization's emotional state. It is important to note that any emotional state is completely independent of content management implementation because it may exist before, during, and after implementation.

These conditions are not easy to detect, especially if you are not looking for them. Look out for the emotions described in the following sections and be aware that any given stakeholder can present a composite of these emotions. For instance, it is common to see passion and obsession in the same form.


The pride of ownership felt by many authors is accompanied by a passion for what they do and the creative process they are involved in. This is a healthy emotion unless it is left unchecked and marred by personal ego. Watch out for authors who cling to traditional methods of writing whole information products because they feel that no one else knows the subject matter or audience as well as they do.


Developing content can be a complicated matter and authors may be obsessive about the need to control every little detail. Attention to detail is admirable unless it becomes excessive to the point of mistrusting any other person or system used to format, transform, translate, or otherwise process the content. Content management systems are complex by virtue of the problem that they address. Obsessive authors may be reluctant to relinquish control to automated procedures.


Many people feel they have made a tremendous learning investment in their existing processes and have developed skills both routine and value-added tasks. There is a natural tendency for them to believe that their existing skills will no longer be required or that the new methods will not complement the skills they believe are needed in other job settings.


Unless the organization is forward and collegial, people can easily become cynical of existing procedures and objectives, which will carry over into any new objectives. Introducing content management in such an area will be met with skepticism and doubts about whether the benefits are achievable.


Smaller authoring groups can suffer from isolation and feelings of disconnection with the big picture. Such a group may not appreciate the value of their efforts in the broader perspective and may have difficulties understanding how their content can be unified with efforts in the rest of the organization.


When dealing with massive volumes of content, overworked authors and reviewers can be stricken with apathy. Although content produced apathetically can threaten the quality of your definitive source, it can only be improved with aptly designed content management and workflow.

Engage your affected areas

A variety of change management techniques can be applied to address any one of the various emotions. However, in general, some basic strategies can be employed to garner support regardless of the specific emotions in your affected areas. Take note that neglecting stakeholder engagement is perhaps the single greatest cause of failing change initiatives. The time and energy invested in stakeholder engagement will pay invaluable dividends when it is time to change.

Plan for change

Your project plan should include a change management plan that describes how you will gain support from analysis right through to deployment. The rational-empirical approach to change management advocates that you explain, demonstrate, and train. The common factor is communication, which takes time. Plan for these activities by evaluating how much effort is needed and document it in your change management plan.

In each of the affected areas, you will want to explain the objectives of the project and how the envisioned change will alleviate their specific issues with the existing process. As you explain, listen for variations of known issues and include them in your requirements or have them formally closed.

Demonstrations are a great way to allay fears of the unknown. Make the envisioned change comfortable and familiar to those who fear change by showing how the concepts and tools will work to their advantage. Use specific scenarios that are meaningful in their business process. Be prepared to gather additional issues and further assess the area for continuing or changing attitudes.

A good training program might include conceptual training early on followed by practical training as specific tools or methods are put to test. Learning is known to be a primary agent for bringing passion to the workplace[2]. Delivering abundant training will ensure that stakeholders understand the initiative, support it, and are equipped to contribute content of superior quality.

Deal with emotions

Generally, you will find that the majority of your authors can be categorized as belonging to one of the emotional groups or another based on the organizational culture. Develop a change management plan to deal with the majority and include measures for engaging the others.

If your affected areas include stakeholders from numerous emotional groups, you should plan the transition as appropriate. In addition to organizational change management, use the following guidelines to gain support and debunk any misconceptions.

  • Passion - When addressing this group, draw them into information modeling activities, explain that content ownership rests with the enterprise and demonstrate how collaboration will effectively reduce workloads and encourage creativity in satisfying a broader audience.
  • Obsession - When addressing this group, build trust by demonstrating how the envisioned change will manage the routine details automatically, but with flexibility that allows for manual intervention where necessary.
  • Apprehension - When addressing this group, emphasize that their existing core skills are needed to affect a successful organizational change. Use training to excite them about how they will use their new skills required by content management.
  • Skepticism - When addressing this group, explain how the initiative has management commitment and demonstrate how the concepts of content management can be put to good practice.
  • Isolation - When addressing this group, explain their necessary role in the broader scheme of things and demonstrate the basic concepts of information reuse.
  • Apathy - When addressing this group, explain how the envisioned process will reduce workloads, demonstrate how automated procedures will enforce consistent quality, and build excitement with training on the new methods.


When implementing content management, it is important to be in tune with the attitudes and emotions of the affected areas. If resistance is nominal and the need for change is compelling, then proceed with the project using some of the identified techniques. If the organization is suffering from acute emotional weaknesses, or if the benefits of the initiative are not worth the necessary change, take a serious look at whether this is the right time to proceed.

Having said this, management should recognize the tremendous opportunity of your content management initiative to shore up consistent quality and bring back the passion for higher enterprise goals. After all, content management is designed to reduce the tyranny of work so that authors can get on with higher-value collaborations and move ahead with pressing enterprise goals.

Most importantly, use a project plan with change management that is appropriate for the emotions in your enterprise. If the transition is staged appropriately, people will learn the new concepts and skills, embrace the change, and take a new form of professional pride in the smarter ways of working with content.


[1] Rockley, Ann, Pamela Kostur and Steve Manning. 2003. Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders.

[2] Boverie, P.E. and Kroth, M. 2001. Transforming Work, The Five Keys to Achieving Trust, Commitment, and Passion in the Workplace. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Copyright 2005, The Rockley Group, Inc.