Change Management Dancing


External Change Management Consultants must be able to dance.

At times that might be the dancing frog that just keeps things happy and moving forward.

At times that might be as the choreographer planning and guiding the steps.

The wrong kind of dancing for this role is standing in the center of the stage as the star of the show.

External influence should strengthen, leverage and mentor internal capability, not substitute or replace.

Why is this dancing so hard?

Operations as Change

Many change situations are very close to something you would call operational.

For IT, is an upgrade change? Sometimes and for some parts of the effort.

Is a performance management initiative change? Maybe if it changes the way the culture must operate.

Is a sales training and development change? If it has structural and procedural components maybe.

It is easy to bring in change people to provide missing leadership and try get done what should happen as part of regular operations.  This pattern makes the change dancing difficult. Do you take the lead in order to get things done? Or do you take the time to make sure tasks that require accountability are done by internals?

For my own work I try to use the operational measure (admittedly subjective) to decide when to do and volunteer and when to guide and delegate. As a second option if something is a teachable task I will take the time to do so. As an “always” approach I do the best to teach and mentor when something is change related and can help operations now and later.


There are plenty of times in this role when it is hard to be patient. When operational things slow down the change process- like multiple reviews for communication, filled calendars and invisible leaders- it is tempting to just do everything yourself. It is nice to get things done and done fast. It is easy for this to be an enabling behavior. Stakeholders will wholeheartedly welcome anyone who is willing to do their work for them- and then expect it the next time. You get your speed this time and the time it takes for the next round doubles.

Speed, when it comes to change is a relative measure. Externals must be careful to go by “change speed”, which requires a broader view and a longer timeline.

Success Measures

How is that external measured?

It SHOULD be for value. Value would include helping the organization build capability, guiding change forward and  doing no harm (in a way that does a lot of extra good).

Task accomplishment is just such an easy way to feel (and in one way BE) successful. See speed above, this is fleeting success (and must constantly be reinforced).

Since change management is always about compromise (our end states and paths to get there are too close to perfection to be possible) there is a middle ground. Maybe take a little longer, basically do the task yourself, but teach someone internal at the same time. Do some of the tasks, but not all. A difficult thing  for externals is to not take credit for anything (its ok if someone else gives it to you just don’t let credit be your motivation for CM).  Getting used to passing credit or guiding others to do the things that will give the credit internally is a CM competency.

Contingency/Third Party

The dance is slippery, like butter on the floorboards, by contingency and third party arrangements.

For CM, for the stakeholders involved, there is NO reason for a third party. Whether or not it makes sense for the organization as a whole is also questionable.

When a contingency relationship is set up the practitioner is basically an employee. Which means they will be measured speed-wise and success-wise by task. The third party thrives on this approach- the better to puff up their “services”. Middle management is comfortable with this arrangement- they do not have to give up what they consider control. Leaders seem to like it to, because it passes things down the line.

It is just an ugly last place dance though.

Change is about trust and accountability. With that it becomes about moving to end states and development of the individual and the organization. Why insert things that make this equation tenuous?

It is a dance, this external change management practice. Stand on stage and get everyone to notice you? Or choreograph the dance with the talent (and potential capability) of the individual and organization?

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