Redefining Change Management

Traditionally, much of the activity involved in change management has revolved around the art of communication and persuasion. To effectively create change in an organization, it is imperative to anticipate the reactions of stakeholders to a proposed change, and effectively communicate with them in such a way that they willingly buy into and accept the change. But as critically important as they are, communication and persuasion alone are not adequate to effectively achieve change in an organization.

Most significant changes do not happen just because someone changes their mindset. For example, a dieter can think about losing weight until the cows come home, but the pounds aren’t going to come off until they start actively changing their habits—whether that be by working out, altering the foods they eat, or installing a diet tracking app on their phone.

The same principle holds true for organizations. Let me tell you a story that illustrates how.

Why Traditional Change Management Isn’t Always Enough

Many years ago, a client of mine – a big multinational company, was rolling out a new performance management process. Part of what they wanted to do was to get better feedback from their managers to their employees. They felt that this new process would help with this.

This company did an excellent job by traditional change management standards. They spent time communicating the new process and managing the change so that people would see the wisdom behind the new process and feel good about it.  However, they didn’t do anything about the people or the technology.

When the process was first introduced, everyone bought in. Team members agreed that it was a good idea and were excited about implementing it and about the benefits they would realize through using it. But without proper support and guidance in how to manage the new process, things started to fall apart.

First, the human resource partners ended up picking up the responsibility of enabling it, while the managers were left unclear on what they were supposed to do. In addition, no one thought through what technology might be needed to support the new process. No one took the time to ask “how will we collect this data and effectively roll it up?” So, at the last minute this global organization ended up trying to do a new performance management process on spreadsheets.

It was a nightmare. HR partners were mad because they already had a full plate and now they were trying to roll out this change without an effective tool with which to do it. The managers were screaming that this was the stupidest thing ever. Even though they understood why it was being done, because the logistics didn’t work the entire idea was now terrible in their minds.

If you analyze this scenario from the point of view that change management is primarily about communication and persuasion, you could argue that it went just fine. People liked the idea, they were buying in, and they were willing to do it. But in reality, this organization did not complete the change journey to accomplish their original set of goals. By the time they got through the first round everyone wanted to kill the program and never do it ever again.

Keeping the Destination in Mind

Yes, we do need to help people understand what will be changing and how it will benefit them. But just as importantly, effective change management also requires implementation of new processes and systems, and/or alteration of existing ones. It requires that roles be redefined. And it requires ongoing monitoring and tracking.

Traditional change management doesn’t always address this action-oriented side of the equation. That is why we have begun to refer to change management as journey management. We have come to view it as a journey you are going through to transform an organization and the way people think and act within it to accomplish desired results.

Planning and communication are critical when you are preparing for a journey. You do have to decide where you are going, plan your itinerary, and convince your travel companions you have a good plan. But, it doesn’t stop there. To get where you want to go, you actually have to purchase your tickets, pack your bags, and board the plane or the train and/or gas up your car and go.

In the same way, the work of change management has to last longer than just announcing the change.  It must follow through with appropriate action. It must take the organization through the point where the processes, the people, and/or the technology actually do change.

Here are a few questions we have found helpful to ask during this process:

  • How does the process need to change? Are these processes implemented?
  • How do the people’s roles and responsibilities need to change? Are the people and roles different?
  • How can the systems support and enable the change? Are the technologies in place to support the change?

These questions are intentionally phrased in two parts, for the initial and later stages of change management. In our minds, it is only when you get a Yes to the second question in each set that you can confidently call your change management initiative a success.

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