Change management: simplifying change projects

I used to get asked to do “change management” on projects that were not change management projects.

This is annoying if, like me, you really love doing change management projects, and there are so few opportunities to do really proper change management like those you read about in change management books.

The projects I was asked to work on were often the very opposite of change management projects, they were projects designed to minimise change while something disruptive happened. They were business continuity projects with the aim of avoiding the impact of changes happening elsewhere.

The most common example I was involved in was an office relocation, where you want the impact of the move to have minimal impact on the operation. You might want to take advantage of an office move to improve some things about how you work together, but the point is that they are peripheral, you are not changing how people work in order to improve your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and therefore, although it’s a bit change-management-y, it isn’t really driving transformation of the organisation.

If we look at an organisation’s performance over time (using the KPIs as the performance measure) then a successful organisation will probably be happily motoring around the amber/green lines most of the time.

The purpose of this type of “change management” (i.e. business continuity management) is to keep the Organisational Performance (OP) line as consistent as possible despite being buffeted about by disconnected external factors (i.e. disconnected from the KPIs, and so not central to the performance of the organisation).

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Learning evaluation: I wouldn’t start from here

This article builds on L&D is not about training courses, it’s about improving workplace performance

In the L&D business, evaluation is the step in the process that gets done least well.

It is the poor relation, the neglected tail-end-Charlie at the end of the cycle that feels more like a box-ticky obligation than a critical cog in the machine.

I think this is dangerous.

If we are unable to provide a professional set of results to justify the investment made in our services, we are doomed to be stuck on the periphery.

This leads to what Charles Jennings calls the “Conspiracy of convenience” where everyone is happy that the training happened and the ragtag of MI measures and happy sheet smiley faces confirm that the box was ticked properly.

As a socially-awkward INTP, I am never quite sure when I am being super clever and when I am being hyperbolic, so please tell me to calm down if this is over the top, but I believe that showing senior leaders a jumble of unimportant graphs and expecting a pat on the head is infantilising the profession, reinforcing the idea that we are not central to the organisation’s success.

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Change: principles of problem formations and problem resolution by Paul Watzlawick, John H. Weakland, and Richard Fisch

This isn’t an organisational change book.

It’s about individual problem solving from the perspective of psychology and therapy – but the underlying ideas are applicable to change management anyway, and for this reason the book is a useful addition to the change manager’s bookshelf.

Change is an individual journey anyway.

All change management models I can think of: PROSCI’s ADKAR, Kotter’s 8 Steps, William Bridges Transitions model, Lewin’s unfreeze-change-freeze (that really needs a better name), change equation, Peter Senge’s approach … they all focus on the individual (less so Kotter perhaps).

So a psychological approach is useful, but we have to be careful. If we’re not trained psychologists, we have to be cautious with using the little bit of knowledge we get from this sort of book, and make sure we don’t overreach into territory we’re not qualified to operate in.

So I’m not going to talk about all parts of the book, I’m going to twist this review toward organisational change management and learning and development … so if you’re interested in this from a therapist’s perspective, this review won’t float your boat.

Change

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Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a man blindly careering toward a midlife crisis, I was interested to read a book that sought to explain how people transition from one life phase to another.

I was particularly intrigued to learn how to do so in a healthy and reasonably normal way (not that I ever aspire to normality, but as I’m talking about territory that is personally uncharted, I’m happy to hold hands with someone who knows the best way through).

I wasn’t disappointed.

At least not initially.

WBT

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Change management: how the organization is put together

As part of my posting about change management theory, I want to introduce the model of the organization proposed by Henry Mintzberg, and talk about how this is important to understand when planning a change management strategy – I also add in a cheeky bit from a White Paper (So Now You Know Why 70% of Change Initiatives Fail?) I was kindly sent by Dutch Holland of Holland Management Coaching.

Mintzberg is one of the big names in the MBA business, perhaps only surpassed (wrongly in my view) by Michael Porter. In a 1991 Sloan Management Review article (The Effective Organization: Forces and Forms – behind a paywall), the great man proposed that organizations were subject to seven forces, each organization having its own balance between the forces, what he called its configuration.

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What makes a “guru” a guru?

The other day someone asked me this question:

What makes a “guru” a guru?

During a job interview, they had been asked to rate their change management skills on a one-to-ten scale with novice at one end and guru at the other. This caused him to think what made a guru, and did it really belong at the end of this scale?

It’s a great question.

The word “guru” is massively overused. It has come to mean anyone with some expertise and a Twitter account. The self-awarded “guru” status gets applied to any number of things that have no business with gurus.

Illustrative example #1: I once saw someone claiming to be a guru of Yahoo! Answers.

So, first rule of guru-ness: “guru” can only apply to fields that require a significant depth of expert knowledge and skills. (This necessarily excludes Yahoo! Answers and social media).

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A Six Step Change Management Cycle that is OK, I suppose

This is the second in my Change Management Theory suite of blog posts.

I am going through my old MBA materials and re-reading all the old bits on change management and blogging about it to reinforce the learning.

See here for the earlier post on Change Management Frameworks.

I am a little skeptical of all models and theories in business education. They are useful insofar as they provide structure and process, but they are not the be all and end all. This model (from the Open University) is fine, but I find academia increasingly confused when it comes to things as practical as change delivery. They don’t seem to know what to do with themselves.

The academic hinterland behind change management is wonderful stuff: psychology, theories of communication, adult learning, that sort of thing – but when it comes to mapping out this sort of change model, I think more practical sources such as Kotter’s “Leading Change” (link to my review of “Leading Change”) or the ADKAR model are better.

That said, I will plough on, seeing as I’ve got this far …

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Four basic change management frameworks

As a way to keep Change Management knowledge reasonably fresh in my brain, I’ve decided to blog some stuff that will, I hope, help me to sound clever when the need arises.

This process will help me spout fancy theory when working on Change Management projects, an important part of Looking Dead Clever, which in turn can lead directly to better rates of pay, so this is no laughing matter.

So this post looks at four basic change frameworks which are useful when thinking through how to tackle change initiatives.

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Change management is not project management

Change management is one of those jobs that you have to explain to people.

You can’t just say that you’re a Change Manager and expect everyone to nod and understand what you’re on about.

It’s not like saying you’re a Doctor or a Fighter Pilot, it’s more like saying you’re a Waste Transformation Consultant; the sort of fancy unclear title that people suspect is just another word for a Garbage Relocation Operative.

There is an understandable suspicion about new-fangled job titles like “Change Manager”. Any job that we used to live without has a whiff of superfluousness about it. Do we really need change managers? … and what is change management anyway?

Change Project

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Leading Change by John P Kotter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that changed my life. It got me interested in things like organisational psychology, change, management, and leadership, things I’d previously never considered worthy of my attention.

Kotter’s main thesis is to set out an 8-step structure for organisational transformation, a structure that maps clearly onto Lewin’s Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze change management model.

The main value in Lewin’s model is the two ends: unfreeze and refreeze, these are the phases that get least attention as most organisations simply rush to change things (without unfreezing) and then fail to embed the new way of doing things in the culture (refreeze).

This is why change management is not project management – the change project is the easy, the bit in the middle, but achieving organisational change is the whole piece.

LeadingChange

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