This is what four people, with different roles, from different organisations had to say about their experience with traditional change management.
Change management is not a good word around here, we’ve been through 14 change managers in the last 2 years and every single one has failed. We’re kind of scarred!Head of Transformation
I have never come across a good change management approach… hold on (thinking)… nope! Every single time it has been a new person, who is overwhelmed and is so consumed by ticking boxes, but hasn’t actually provided any real benefit to the project!Project Manager
I have seen a lot of top-down approaches to change, but never any granular bottom-up approaches that have truly brought people onto the change journey.Head of Risk
Oh the change manager- yes they’re the person who sits a bit far, who always comes around asking us to fill in spreadsheets. We don’t interact with them much beyond that.Agile coach
This is an unfortunate, but real problem that the change industry is currently facing. Whilst there are many examples of change management being done well, there is significant opportunity for improvement – which is especially worrying when change managers may be responsible for taking entire departments and sometimes entire organisations through major change transformations.
I’ve interviewed several people in the change space, embarked on a PhD in change facilitation research and worked with over 300 teams to implement change and make it stick. I’ve also recently been asked to run change workshops in an MBA Program. From my observations and experience, these are the 5 biggest opportunities for change management:
The 5 biggest opportunities for change implementation
1.Moving focus beyond the change plan
Change management can become purely about developing a change plan and that’s where many (not all) change managers stop. Whilst the planning is crucial, what about the involvement in the implementation of that plan?
2. Building internal change capabilities through training
Like many consultants, change managers can often come with standard answers and spreadsheets. There is minimal focus on training those involved in the change, so that they can make it happen themselves. Roy Ashkenas, co-author of The Boundaryless Organisation wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review saying that, ‘While the content of change management is reasonably correct, the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped.”
Change managers understand why a change plan needs to be completed and the complexity of change, but those who are being asked to implement the change plan have no idea why they’re doing it. So naturally, they will see this as unnecessary work that takes them away from their BAU. This is a big reason why the statistic that ‘70% of change initiatives fail’ has not changed in the last 15 years – because the change management approach hasn’t changed in the last 15 years
3. Change mangers being brought on earlier in the change journey
I have previously been asked to write up a change framework for an organisation, two days prior to roll out of a major change project. What is the point? People need to be taken through the change journey from the beginning, not expected to read a 50-page document outlining what the most ideal change framework looks like. While the processes and frameworks are crucial, these need to be put in place proactively and collaboratively with leaders and teams rather than reactively and in a silo.
4. Creating more tangible evaluation measures for the change aspect
The change manager might have KPIs or measures related to the overall change project, but how about the strategies they use in bringing people onto the change journey? How are these strategies measured? Many people think it’s how well the change person “fits” in with the culture and that’s why it’s so hit and miss. This should not be the case. The strategies change managers use need to be systematic, consistent and effective regardless of what type of culture they’re placed in. How do you know it was the change plan that was responsible for the success of the project and not the fact that the teams were a rare breed of innovative early adopters?
5. Moving from change manager to change facilitator
Whilst the title ‘manager’ sounds much more appealing than ‘facilitator’, however, the true role of good change manager is when they become a facilitator of change throughout the entire organisation. How many times have you successfully “managed” to change other people? Change can’t be led or managed, it needs to be facilitated. Organisations and consultants are constantly using the words ‘collaborative and holistic’, but are they ensuring the planning as well as implementation phases are collaboratively and holistically facilitated?
Collaborative doesn’t mean a top-down ‘waterfall’ approach, nor does it mean one person putting together an amazing change plan and then disseminating it across departments. Collaborative does not mean the executive team putting together all aspects of change and then expecting everyone to follow suit. Collaboration means everyone being involved – in the planning, implementation, tracking and evaluation of the change.
I recently interviewed the CEO of BPAY Group, John Banfield, on how he and the team were able to transform the culture of the organisation leading them to win the Aon Hewitt Best Employer Award in 2018. These were his three tips for successful transformation that sticks:
- To involve your employees along the change journey, by enlisting continuous feedback.
- To seek external agents who provide you with knowledge and support throughout the change process, but not do it for you.
- Ensure that leadership own the change, are proud of the change and are motivated and truly living the change.
For changes to truly stick, change needs to move from the “managed” approach towards a more “facilitated” approach which engages all involved, equips them with change knowledge and supports them through the change, but not do it for them.