Monday, September 3, 2012

The End OF Change Management As We Know It?

Now Just Hit The Shot!
What do we really achieve as Change Management practitioners?  Or maybe the question is: “do we make enough difference to justify our cost?

These questions disturb me.  We may be the only profession on earth that develops business on the strength of the rallying cry: “70% of change initiatives fail.”

Let me be clear about what I mean by Change Management.  I’m not talking about the mechanics of project management to launch an idea, flip an ERP switch, or have one company buy another.   In all of these cases something eventually changes if you follow and force the steps of good project management.  What I’m talking about is whether we can transform an organization by changing its fundamental approach to business so it is better positioned to cope with its changing world.

I know that we do a lot of good.  We do remedial business education; build capability; and position people for success.  Those who work with us love us; they say it is a career changing experience.

However, at a point in time in most transformation engagements the client hits fee fatigue and the work ends.  We leave declaring victory on the strength of our other rallying cry: “change is a journey.”  How is this possible?  We all extoll the fact that the world is changing at an exponential rate, but we tell our clients that our work is a journey.  In effect we bring them to the brink of success then let them be dragged back into the tar pit as we fly off to our next opportunity.

I believe there’s something wrong with the way we work if we’re comfortable in the world of “70% of our work fails on this journey of change.”  Where is the issue?  I’m not sure, but sometimes I think we’re just too nice. 

Most of our change management methodology is build on the principles of participation and empowerment to generate ownership and sustainability.  This is great in organizations with high employee empowerment and engagement.  But these aren’t the types of organizations that typically engage change management agents. 

Organizations in need of transformation are rarely hot spots of engagement.  Have you looked at employee engagement data later?  A trickle of decline has turned into a torrent.  Clients need us because their employees aren’t empowered or engaged.

Sure, individual empowerment trumps obedience in the ideal world; but we’re rarely afforded the time and resources to change organizations one person at a time.  Our lever is to influence mass movements within the organizational setting.  It’s our job to find and force the “tipping points” to initiate these movements.  Friendly facilitation may be a barrier to transformation due to:

  1. Lack of Resources:  Today’s organizations are lean; the fat is gone.  We are often working with and through people who have “a real job.”  They’re working with us in the fringes of their time.  Often they miss the deadlines for their change tasks or complete them with perfunctory poor quality.
  2. Lack of Capability:  Often we’re working with staff who have no passion or potential for the work, or we’re working with high potentials that we need to teach.  We spend lots of time with either “encrusted resisters” or “neophyte sponges.”
  3. Lack of Leadership:  We all know the face of leadership, and that’s exactly what we get.  A face with platitudes but no commitment.  Well, what do we expect?  Executives have dozens of competing priorities.  They never have enough time to give us the attention we’re seeking.

Are these symptoms sentencing facilitative change management to its journey of 70% failure?

Maybe it’s time to inject confident strength into our work.  I fully understand that we need to draw on people and knowledge from within the organization to develop solutions.  I know we’re the caddies; we never get to hit the shot.  However, there comes a time when the caddie has to push the seven iron into the golfers hands. 

Our biggest issues in change management are that often client team members don’t do their work, are absent from the project, and cancel meetings.  This is exacerbated when executives don’t make the needed decisions.  When this happens we need to intervene with strong conviction to:

  • Select Teams:  The criterion for participation is not “availability.”  Client team members need to understand organization dynamics; be passionate about making changes; and be willing to take risks – even with their careers.
  • Replace Participants:  No passengers.  No shirkers.  Members have to own their commitments.  Replacement is the answer for missed deadlines and poor quality work.
  • Remove Resisters:  A big part of change management is “change – management.”  If key stakeholders don’t want to play then we need to ask that they be removed from the line of sight.
  • Be an Irritant:  Our primary purpose is change, not developing relationships.  We’re not about: cooperating, coordinating, and integrating.  Our careers are dependent upon the organizations transformation, not its politics. 
  • Take up the Slack:  Stop waiting for others to do their work or coaching them when they can’t perform.  Reallocate the work or do it for them.  Get the result and move on. 
  • Feed the Executives:  Do the executive level work for the executives.  Executives want to look good.  They’ll demonstrate their commitment as long as everything is done for them.  Clear the path, write scripts, and make decisions inescapable.

I know there is a school of thought that says change can’t be imposed from the outside.  There is a belief that our job is to reveal change to people; have them learn heuristically and change through epiphany.  Well has this delivered high returns?  Isn’t it time to change the practice of Change Management as we know it?

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