I thought I’d share a recent conversation with a change director where I was confronted with the direct question: “So, are we approaching change management from the wrong direction?”
Re-occurring statistics published about organisational change success and failure, together with what I knew about this organisation so far, would have lead me to answer this question with a resounding yes, but I paused for a minute and offered a more considered response of it depends. Let me explain why.
I believe we approach change management in the way that the organisational culture allows, in the way that answers the key questions that leaders are asking about their initiatives. The starting point has to be the approach that’s most valued, and in some organisational cultures, the focus is on agreeing a sound business case, building a project plan and following through on that plan. In this type of environment the expectation is that change management would apply the same project logic to any human dynamics associated with the change. At face value I see nothing wrong with that, as a key milestone in achieving benefits is creating an effective sequence of actions that ensure that things that should happen actually do happen.
But in an environment where data is king, we’ve missed a trick if technical issues are allowed to dominate action-planning and go no-go decisions. Project managers start to become good change agents by using change diagnostics to gather people risk data about solution impacts, implementation legacy, commitment levels etc., to inform their project plans, progress dashboards and stage gates.
In other organisational cultures, we come up against leaders with the expectation that change management would feature detailed communication plans, the creation of symbols and big events to drive early energy and optimism for change. The process is often driven by a specialist, dedicated resource and is designed to be more motivational, engaging and with leaders visibly espousing the future. While there is the all-important role-modelling, the change being communicated is just one of many, and people can be left feeling that the level of resilience and engagement required is unattainable and unrealistic given the cumulative change load they are facing.
We’re in a good starting place for effective change management with an organisation that favours engagement. Engagement statistics from Gallup remind us that in average performing organisations, actively disengaged employees outnumber engaged employees by nearly 2:1. However, there’s more to engagement than just communications.
Powerful engagement processes address issues of loss, control, habits, capacity, competence and confidence that people can experience during change, and the trick is to extend our change management practice beyond communication planning to an engagement blueprint that shows how a mix of involvement, learning, rewards and communications would be used, across the project lifecycle to increase ownership and the perception of control. What’s also important here is that the cost of executing this blueprint is included in the business case for the change, and the actual execution of this blueprint is aligned with key project milestones.
Dedicated but integrated
Actually having a dedicated change management resource for major organisational change has a significant impact on project success. Change Managers in our practitioner community shared that in organisations with a 75%+ success rate, 65-75% of change managers are skilled, experienced and dedicated resources on their change projects. However, a recent (2014) Pulse of the Profession report from PMI reminds us that, the most effective organisations take a more integrated approach to change management. So the trick here is to be dedicated, yet integrated.
The purist in me would say that if we’re not approaching change management in a way that integrates with project management, and with skilled, experienced and dedicated practitioners deployed on major business change projects, then we are definitely approaching things from the wrong direction. But in practice, experienced change managers know how to meet their client organisations where they are, to start working from that angle and keep a look out for those teachable moments that allow us to nudge our change management practices forward.
If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also be interested in downloading our free whitepaper, 'The Psychology of Successfully Delivering Organisational Change' which represents a comprehensive and thorough review of not only the academic research on the psychology of delivering effective change in organisations but also selected peer review field work – and our own change data and research with our clients.