The Muddy, Messy part of Change Management

Change in the mud

Smack dab in the middle of every initiative is the muddy part. That is where many small decisions have to be made. Where each of those decisions pits itself against another (typically across functions). The mud is made thicker, stickier and harder to negotiate with performance measures that are short term and not tied to the initiative. The traverse is complicated because everyone is trying to escape the muddy field first. What does that look like for CM?


Many companies have a “greater good” from a branding and loyalty perspective that loses its connection when it does not jive with individual potential and reward. “We do not do it that way” is a common refrain (and I feel the mud get thick). Except that I can almost always find someone who has or who is willing to do it another way- IF they stand to reap individual gain.


No matter how thorough the change process, no matter how deep the questions and the gathering of information, technology always seems to turn out to be more complicated than anyone thought. First it is the old stuff, then it is trying to figure out the new stuff, then it is the human element of “different  keystrokes”. The mud gets next to impassible if the “When” date of adoption got set early and is hard and fast (hint the biggest reason for failure of technology initiatives- a hard set adoption day). You can make a sloppy path through the mud if there is a transition from old to new.


How many times have you found yourself having said, “I can do that” and then realizing you really can not? Big, fast, but never ending initiatives are filled with these altruistic (or self serving see category one) promises/assumptions. It helps for the CM team to not only look at apparent capability, but build in, develop and/or consider safety valves.


Every one of those stakeholders have a career. Every one of those careers is looking for a path. We all know that career path is its own mud field. Odds are you have dirtied someone next to you in your climb. Initiatives are often a free for all through the gunk. Very often the organization supports and even encourages this kind of behavior. And very often CM does not get to address that structure before everyone runs into the bog.


Is never easy. Our section of mud is filled with holes that drag the initiative deeper into problems. All those little decisions we mentioned earlier eventually add up to DELAYS. You could pad time early on, but if anyone knows about it you can bet they will take it. This is the area where it is a godsend to have a crack project manager on the team. CM practitioners have a good sense of human nature and how that effects forward progress; project managers can translate that into a time equation.

So the muddy messy part is a dance between what you built into your change process and what appeared on its own. It is typically a constant slog thanks to the “too late, too low” approach for most initiatives. The extreme muddiness is to be dropped into the middle of change when someone else started it- all too common. That is when you move around in the mud and keep track of the mess, the corrections, the results as experience for the next time around.

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