5 Essential Ingredients for Mastering Change

By: Eric Heckerson, EdD, RN

In the modern world of business, we are often asked to define leadership and reflect on how it applies to our respective roles. Of the countless definitions that have been created, consider one which suggests that a leader is a facilitator of change. In this approach, whether the idea for change comes from within the individual or from an external source, a leader’s role is to assemble and coordinate the various components to achieve and sustain the desired outcome. Based on this approach and the role leaders play in driving results and managing people in transition, a leader’s comprehensive understanding of change is critical. Leaders must be effective at guiding the components of change and managing barriers along the way. The model below provides a framework which identifies five essential ingredients for effecting change---vision, skills, incentive, results, action plan. This article describes the ingredients, their importance and what can happen if you don’t follow the “recipe.”

5 ingredients for change

Defining Change

Before reviewing the five-point model, let’s define the term change to set the stage for leading the process. While some might argue that attempting to create such a definition is too lofty of a task, reflecting on what a leader is attempting to achieve can be a helpful place to start. Consider a basic definition of change as the collection of activities designed to transition from point A to B point). It is the process in which something old stops and something new begins. Change is never-ending. Change can be complex, and one could argue, is at the core of a leader’s foundational responsibility.

The 5 Ingredients

Having a working definition of change in hand, we can now consider the five ingredients, or elements, helpful to bring about change in an organization. These five elements were developed by Dr. Mary Lippitt and adapted many times since. The model suggests that a leader must consider and address each of the five elements in order to achieve and sustain change:

#1 – Vision – The first element of successful change is having a vision of what is being proposed will achieve. If leaders cannot see where they want the organization to go, it will be very challenging and likely impossible to lead team members to get there. A vision should be clear, focused, provide a compelling picture of the change process, and shared widely with members of the team (Senge, 1990).

#2 – Incentives – The second ingredient to mastering change is ensuring the right incentives are in place. Human nature suggests that individuals will inevitably ask the question what’s in it for me? Addressing the question proactively and explaining the “why” behind the change will provide a greater opportunity for buy-in and ultimate sustained success. Leaders must always keep in mind that the desire for a new outcome must outweigh the desire to maintain the status quo. (Burke, 2011).

#3 – Resources – Once clear vision and incentives have been addressed, a leader should ensure that essential resources are in place that will be required to achieve the change. Identify and secure the right number of people with the right skills sets along with necessary equipment, related policies, and finances. The number and type of resources required will vary greatly based on the type of change but investing time to develop a comprehensive list of the resources upfront is a worthy endeavor.

#4 – Skills – The fourth element of mastering change is to ensure that those responsible for the change have the right skills to complete the task. Staff members might require training on a new skill or process now or in the future. Similarly, frontline leaders or department managers might require education regarding their role in implementing, supporting, or championing the change.

#5 – Action Plan – Finally, the last element of mastering successful change is having a clearly written plan. Leaders who write down their goals, strategies, and tactics are much more likely to achieve them (Bossidy & Charan, 2002). The plan does not necessarily need to be complicated, but it should be detailed enough to provide guidance and accountability to the team. Having such a plan provides a roadmap for the change process and provides a mechanism to track your progress.

What Could Go Wrong?

For optimal results, leaders should apply all five of the essential ingredients in the “recipe” to a given process. Approaching change in an a la carte fashion is never as effective and can have consequences. Without vision, leaders and staff might be confused with what the team is trying to accomplish. Without ensuring that everyone has the necessary skills, the effective individuals will experience anxiety. Without addressing incentives, there is likely to be resistance to the change. If the right resources are not in place, the group could become frustrated by not having what is needed for them to complete their task. Finally, without an action plan, those involved will not have a focused roadmap for moving forward and might experience false starts.


While a great deal has been written on change theory, nearly all references acknowledge the role that leaders play in effecting change. As many have noted, most significant organizational change initiatives fail. The five essential ingredients outlined here provide a solid yet simple framework for ensuring that the various aspects of a change process are considered upfront to provide a better chance of execution. A leader must have a clear vision for the change, ensure those responsible for doing the work have the right skills to achieve success, identify the appropriate incentives and motivation to change, secure adequate resources, and assemble the elements into a written action plan. Consider these ingredients as a type of litmus test for the next change process requiring a strong and organized leadership approach.

Creighton University’s online Doctorate in Leadership prepares you to become a trusted authority with the vision, commitment and expertise to become an agent of transformational change. To learn more, call us at 866.717.6365 to speak to a Program Manager or request more information today.


Bossidy, L. & Charan, R. (2002). Execution: The discipline of getting things done. Crown Publishing.
Burke, W. W. (2011). Organization change, theory and practice. (3rd ed.). Loa Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Knoster, T. (1991). Presentation at TISH Conference. Adapted from Enterprise Group, Ltd.
Kotter, J. P., & Cohen, D. S. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.
Kotter, J.P. (1996). Leading Change. Harvard Business School Press.
Lippitt, M. (1987). The Managing Complex Change Model. Enterprise Management, Ltd.
Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline.