Internal Change Management- Bad Side Effects

In keeping with my inability to hold back when I see things that do not make sense or are not right…

Internal Change Bad Side Effects

  • Arrogance
  • Project focus
  • Scapegoating
  • Over-communication
  • Leverage Lost


The internal entities that I have seen (seen not been a part of creating) all have one thing in common. They were started by insanely focused and energetic limelighters. If their design wins the competition everyone will know who they are. Not just the “everyone” in their organization, but the “everyone’s” at conventions and conferences. Their speeches are all about the things they did, not really what they accomplished for the organization (other than a whole bunch of “tools”) or how what they created (or forced to happen) directs and leads change, just all the stuff that has their name on it. That is one form of internal change arrogance.

The other is the way internal change groups treat stakeholders. It is often the, “I know better about change and people than you do” approach. Gee who else do you remember acting that way with you. Oh… maybe YOUR PARENTS. This kind of approach to change comes out condescending, overbearing and, from the eyes of an outsider, more harmful than helpful. And to think we externals used to be blamed for this attitude.

A mini version of this happens, I think IMHO, because the internal groups have very little connection to senior leaders. They pretend like they do and then they show up at conferences with speeches that are all about how to get “leadership buy-in”. Seriously? Your internal group is at a big deficit if this is the approach they have to take.

When it fails-connecting to owners of change- (and it does) they become arrogant and blame lack of results on the stakeholders resistance or fear or lack of competency (in others).

This side effect is a great (in a bad way) example of human nature.

Project focus

In order for an internal group to get the kind of credit internals need (to make more money) they have to check things off. They have to show specific accomplishments and busy work along the way. (If I was an executive owner of a big change I would make CM practitioners keep track of listening time and maybe talking time-CM is an insurance policy). The best way to do that is to layer the change approach right over the organizations project process. Project managers do a TON of checking-off-of-things. Grab on to their coattails!

The side effect of this side effect is that project management does not necessarily facilitate behavior change. In fact you could say it does not do that at all. There is way too much risk in behavior to tackle that as a PM. Project management is all about curtailing risk. People are really risky.


Usually internal change groups are set up by someone who really wants the change management label. Sometimes, though, they are set up by executives- for the wrong reasons. Maybe someone with a loud voice (could be the same person from our first sentence who got the ear of a leader) is hollering this needs to be done. Maybe everyone on the golf course is talking about THEIR internal change group. Regardless the set up of this group by a senior leader with little thought or external input tends to turn out the same every time.

The group becomes the scapegoat for everything. (And the contractors they hire become human punching bags).

If initiatives fail it is because this group did not “manage the change”. It is because this group could not deal effectively with “resistance”. It is because this group did not train correctly or communicate effectively or engage fully (even though every one of those roles is someone else’s responsibility, we facilitate them).

It is actually easier for the leader if this group does “fail” at just the right level. That keeps the scapegoat intact.

Need I offer who really causes change to fail in these situations?


Somehow, somewhere along the way a gene got implanted into people that says if you repeat something it will be understood. For CM that has translated to saying things in a million different places will get people to change their behavior.

Setting aside the fact that they could be saying the same thing over and over. Or that the message may have nothing to do with end states, just reiteration of what is bad in the present. Or possibly it is wrapped up in some of our first category. Setting all that aside it is possible to over communicate.

The more you say the more messages get muddled. The more something is memorized, it seems, the less connected we are to content (memorized and acted on is different).

Again we have  an overcompensating side effect.

Leverage Lost

The biggest side effect of all for internal change groups is lack of leverage. I would say leverage lost. Because if the group was set up correctly, more an entity than a reporting group, they could have used the leverage change management can provide. When I come in as an external I always have leverage (for awhile and depending on where I am placed in the hierarchy). The accumulation of the previous side effects erases leverage.

The side effect of that is this change group spends a lot of time convincing. Convincing people the change makes sense. Convincing them they have to do certain things. Convincing them leadership is on board. Convincing them they will not lose their jobs as a result of this change. Convincing them something is wrong with the present. Not the way to ever have the leverage needed to change behaviors.

Five side effects from internal change groups and internal change management: Arrogance, project focus, scapegoating, over communication and leverage lost.

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1 comment to Internal Change Management- Bad Side Effects

  • Lots of great points here, Garrett! Many so insightful as to warrant their own post.

    I sense your frustration and sense that the folks in these situations are probably also frustrated but don’t have the benefit of your wider experience and autonomy.

    It occurs to me that many of these folks are entirely well meaning – they understand the value of CM and struggle to set it up in a culture and system that repels it at every turn. For example, to believe in investing in building commitment you have to believe that (a) your people matter (i.e. are not indispensable or at least that the cost of helping them transition is less than the cost of replacing them) and (b) you need their discretionary effort and cannot get it through compliance. Not every Sponsor or PM takes either view. There is usually much ongoing education required on these points.

    Further, it seems to me, many internal CM entities have not contracted aggressively enough upfront with Leadership and the PMO or paced themselves for constant contracting (and re-contracting) with their internal clients, i.e. they compromised to get the Dept started by, for example, establishing the team in HR. Most also do not have strong enough Leadership or Sponsors to enforce their value at the senior levels. Imagine if the Dept Head said to the PMO / initiative sponsor “Our CM practitioners are unique and valuable corporate assets – you can only have one on your team if you use them appropriately. Otherwise we will deploy them where they are properly leveraged”. Hospitals don’t call a neurosurgeon out to do a tonsillectomy and when they are called out they are respected.

    By suggesting the points above I mean to say that some of the problems are caused by the short-sightedness of well-meaning people in establishing the CM entity (which can be addressed) and some of the problems are the “system” in which they are working (requires different interventions).

    Seems to me that there would be value in bringing in an external to do a “Health Check” on the internal CM entity to deliver a 3-yr “Raise our Game” plan (considering that an external’s voice might have somewhat more authority). It could even be positioned as “doing our part to keep moving our organization closer to the 30% success rate on every initiative”.

    Thank you for making me think harder about these issues. I had not considered them from this perspective before.

    What do you think about above?

    Will you have a follow up to suggest how to get out of this “hole”? Maybe “# tips to re-position your internal change management entity for success”?