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CCM Archives - Garrett's Change Management Blog

Change as an Event

Change is complicated.

Change tends to take longer than wanted or expected.

Change involves people and people are hard to figure out.

So how do some practitioners, project managers (and their peer organizations), mid-level leaders and anyone trying to profit from change deal with this?

They try to make Change an event.

How to Make Change an Event

  1. Advocate the tool over the practitioner.
  2. Define distinct beginnings and endings.
  3. Create defining borders.
  4. Layer change efforts over a project approach.


The best way to turn change into an event is to make the tool appear to be the solution.

A tool you can sell to anyone. A service? Not so much.

Those trying to make change an event (the most guilty being potential clients for those service providers) will spend a lot of time talking about and pushing the tool- as if that was the only way to approach change.

If they have a winning (selling) argument then practitioners and stakeholders can be made subordinate to the tool.

(PS you can facilitate change with Word and Excel or with pen and paper).

Starts and Stops

Distinct starting and stopping spots sells (in both senses of the word, as in- buy this and buy into this) for change.

It is comforting to know that this scary change thing will come to an end at some point.

It is comforting to be able to pinpoint when it starts, so everyone can be ready.

Things with beginnings and endings sell easier than stuff with vague timelines.

(PS change is pretty much constant and never-ending and the instant the first person with the change idea talks to someone else change has started).


A false start (pun intended) and stop is only the first level in containing this change thing so it seems manageable and is sellable.

Making a box can create clear edges to this ephemeral change thing.

Assessing (and selling assessing “tools”) can help create some more lines around the change.

Groups can be contained or pushed out; people can be included or not; costs can be “controlled when boundaries are set.

That has the added bonus of looking and feeling just like project management which is something everyone is comfortable with.

(PS Change Management is not project management, nor does it fall under that umbrella, and it flows past boundaries like water to rocks in a downhill stream).


To make this change as an event thing really work you need to layer the approach right over the project/program process of the organization.

If you are selling into organizational change this is perfect. Project processes within organizations are littered with phases, steps and tasks that need a change component right? What better way to add work and effort than layering over each one of those requirements!

(My nicer take on Layering Change).

When change management is layered it automatically takes on the first three items in our list.

(PS Thanks to the global nature of most organizations Layered Change tends to quickly break free of its bounds and touch something outside predefined limits).

Make change an event if you choose- rely on tools, mark starts and finishes, draw out boundaries and layer your approach over existing project management parameters. Be forewarned though- tools are not solutions, change starts as soon as two people discuss it, change boundaries are always subjective and project management is usually the smallest box you can put change into.

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Change Entity Creation

This is a LinkedIn answer of mine in the Change Consulting Group. The question was about starting change/a change group.

Change Entity

Done effectively a change entity is a mix.

Externals can bring a different set of eyes with a wider and more reasoned perspective (internal politics and performance management seriously effect perspective… and maybe reason at times).

Internal know their organization and have working relationships. They know how to get around the symptoms of their own root causes.

Externals are best guiding (outsourcing in this context is a scary word even though I mostly agree with Bud). Internals are best owning.

For your 800 people Trevor you would do fine with just one external with lots of separate talents (training, communications, behavioral change management and some business and technical experience).

Bigger or growing organizations can then scale in more externals, build the capability of more internals and create an entity that morphs with the amount of change in the organization.

For Change Groups: The short version is don’t do this solely internally or fully outsourced.

Also be very careful of owning this in the wrong way as an internal. The politics of ownership of change management (rather than owning the end state of the change) makes for a mess much worse than before the change group started.

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Change Entities are For What?


Big change around the corner?

Thinking of setting up some kind of group to organize and consolidate your change work?


The end of that thought about the change group thing is where you need to pause.

Do this wrong and I guarantee you will reinforce your current problems and stroll along with them into your future.

Enough organizations have gone before you to illustrate what works and what does not.

Change Entity is For?

Most change management tends to jump quickly to the to-do list (and so it fails in some way).

Most organizations that want to set up a change group follow the same process (and so the groups are busy hives of the same status quo).

Ask, and answer, why you want this group. (And you thought gathering “best practices” was the first step).

I will change a word to help you- group becomes “entity”. Change Entities are different.

Genuine Transformation

If your organization is about to go through genuine transformation (transformation is an overused word sometimes used disingenuously) a change entity might make sense. In this case the entity needs to be autonomous, it has to be connected as a partnership to the CEO/Top Leader and it has to have leverage and visibility.

For the really big stuff it absolutely HAS to have early outside influence. We just do not see the future from our own present without help.

“Why” in this case is to craft, guide and build toward a brand new future.

Strategy Integration

Does your organization come up with plans and then pass them off to someone or some function to “implement”? Is that really working for you? Could you make a list of how that is not working?

A Change Entity placed high enough, with enough autonomy, can knit together strategy and work. One well designed (outside influence set up correctly will help here too) can even help to craft smart strategy. If not crafting then planting the seeds for smart ideas.

Implement was in quotes earlier. Integrate and implement have a different feel and a different meaning. Implementation ends, integration continues. As you are thinking through this change entity thing keep in mind times when continuation makes sense and times when beginnings and endings need to be clear.

Organizational Development

Are you short of competencies?

Is half of your stakeholder base contracted?

Is the reason it is tough for your organization to change because the resource loading takes so long (and never really fills needs)?

You can create a change entity that pays attention to old fashioned OD. Use projects, programs and initiatives as the forums to build skill and competencies. A change group can pay attention to who those externals are and how that knowledge and capability is being transferred to internal resources.

Improve Project Process

This is the most common reason Change Functions (a purposeful change of our word) are created.

The project teams are not doing their job.

STOP again. It is likely not their fault, but a combination of many things, that is making projects “fail”.

A well constructed change entity that knows CM is very different from project management, can help address the people equation, the project process itself and the ties to strategy and competency building.

Has to be said- do this on your own and things will get MUCH, MUCH worse. This is a scenario where a trusted adviser is your best bet. That and some dedicated, talented internal leaders.

This is the most common kind of change group with a long list of  “should not have done’s”. The amazing thing about these groups is that they do not see the damage they are doing. They often have motivators beyond actually getting change to happen…

Your Future

Maybe you just want to make the future arrive smoothly?

Maybe you are a young organization that will most likely change soon, but you are not sure when or what that might be?

Maybe you want to build capability and capacity?

A change group calmly designed and put together before that fact (the fact being inevitable change) gets your organization ready with all the tools, processes and a few good people, to tackle that upcoming change.

That entity can morph and grow when the change arrives. In the mean time it can also help facilitate our other categories of project process and strategy integration. If you truly are small all that is close together now- manageable.

Are you thinking of a Change Entity for your organization? First ask for what. Good answers might be: true transformational change, strategic integration, organizational development, improving your project process or smartly preparing for your organizational future.

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6 Tips for Existing Internal Change Groups


So you have a change group set up in your organization.

Things, maybe, aren’t quite going the way you expected.

Perhaps Internal Change Management Side Effects have appeared?

In my own work I spend a lot of time dialing back organizations, teams and internal practitioners to fill in things they missed.

There are some core things that HAVE to exist for change to happen. Getting a few of those “have-to’s” in place can give internal change groups a chance at that leverage and exposure (and dare I say effectiveness?) that they desperately seek.

Need some tips?

  1. Change your perspective.
    First and foremost you HAVE to start thinking in terms of end states, solutions and goals. If you are present focused you are doomed to stay that way. Nothing wrong with the present… when it is the foundation for the future. Craft examples of the future you are going to help guide. Not the “we need this”, “we need that”. Not company x is kicking our you-know-what’s. The spot you want to be that is where you should be looking.
  2. Back away from the tools.
    Tools are a dime a dozen. Pay me for a day and I will give you a stack of them “completely original”. A tool never caused a change. A tool never really facilitated change. A tool always takes time. That was the time you were going to use for tip #1. Without tip #1 you WILL FAIL- no matter how pretty that tool you designed or got sold.
  3. Give up on owner connection.
    For 6 years now I have watched presentations about “leadership buy-in”. Give it up. See scapegoat in yesterday’s post. Those leaders are not listening. Lucky for you there are leaders who will listen. Not the owners, unfortunately, but the implementary leaders. Those leaders who got the buck passed to them and are now the unofficial owners. Officially they are the owners now, but stakeholders see right through that. They could really use your help (you NOT your tools).
  4. Partner with implementary leaders.
    Teach them how to craft end states. Give them a communication plan that is both formal and informal. Create a set of templates that call out this change (yes there are some tools that pass muster). Get a quick mix of leadership interaction early in the change process (use video, audio, text, social media and surprise in person visits). Be the spokesperson and the conduit for this leader (like you wish you could do with the owner-remember you gave that up, right?). (Do this right and the leader you are working with now, will become the owner you crave in the future- call it your personal change end state).
  5. Establish a landing spot.
    It shocks me that these change groups so feverishly set up rarely have a virtual landing spot. There are a lot of hoops to get through to create social media, even if it is just one SharePoint portal, I realize that. I have had a couple of change initiatives that were JUST social media set up, nothing else. This is HAVE #2. Without a landing spot to help differentiate, compare, contrast and put change in context you will FAIL.
  6. Get out of the cave and see the light.
    Insularity kills change groups. Actually I have yet to see a change group be taken away (which bodes well for CM). So inward thinking makes for sick, unhealthy change groups. I can say, no generalization what so ever, there is not a leader of a change group who is more senior or more experienced than some external consultant. I, personally, have been in 70+ cultures doing something for each organization. There is no way an internal can match that. Why would you not use mine or some other external consultants knowledge? Is this about you or the results and the effect you have? Hiding in a cave has never made change happen.

Tips aside look at it this way: You are trying to help your organization get to a spot. That spot requires the talent of individuals. Those individuals need to be able to participate. What can you do to make sure the right people are lined up at the right time to use their talent to pave the way to that spot? It is your role to lay the trail to that spot.

Six tips that can help change groups catch up a little and survive even if a few pieces are missing: how you see change, what you use to get there, who you partner with, how you communicate and a suggestion to look outward instead of inward.

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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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Change Entities


Part of our discussion for the panel presentation: Perks and Perils: Optimizing Internal and External Change Management at the 2013 ACMP conference will focus on combinations and placement of internal and external resources and specialties to facilitate change. The panel, putting a smile on my face, has adopted the term, “Change Entity” to put this all in perspective.

Using this languaging has helped the panel (and has helped my own clients) to separate conversation around change management from status quo patterns. The fast, formal version opposite of the creation of a change entity is to drop a change management function into your organization somewhere. In my opinion, do so and you will have more that can slow down change, placed in the laps of a group that probably will have little leverage or influence. What you will get (I have seen this, by my count five times so far) is some change things layered over your current structure that look and feel like project management.

It is my hope that spread of the term Change Entity will help organizations create a group that does have leverage, influence (and I will add) and exposure.

****I will be posting my version of a Change Entity (also to appear in the panel discussion) as a sneak preview on Sunday April 14th the first day of the conference.***

For now as promised in yesterday’s post, Slow Change- People or Structure? here are a few things you might want to consider when designing a Change Entity:

How High?

You have to ask this question.

Ask it this way, “ Can we have this entity operate at the level of owner for every initiative?” The owner is the person who pays for this change. Even if you have a committee or organic structure there is ALWAYS as single person who pays for the change. Ideally they also have ownership responsibility (and interest).

Each change big or small, project or transformation has an owner that sits at a certain spot, formally, in the organization.

You want your change entity to be able to operate at that level.

If you can’t then you really should stop this change entity process now and first do a change initiative that addresses this problem. For change management lack of access and visibility with the owner is a PROBLEM.

Initial Make Up

Owners are at different places in the organization depending on the size of the change.

Thinking in terms of ownership connection is a good way to determine the make up of your Change Entity.

If you are a Fortune 100 firm owners will be up and down the hierarchy (scattered might have been a better authority reducing word). So YOUR entity will have to have access to at least the SVP level, better the C-level. You will also need to be able to have CM guide small projects.

So your resource list must include both senior and junior resources.

Not sure where to start?

My answers to some of our panel questions, admittedly party selfish also though from experience, insist that most Change Entities require an outside independent consultant. By independent I do mean one single individual. If this individual can be a trusted partner to that highest level owner you are many steps ahead of other forms of Change Entity.

That resource can help you decide how many in this entity will be dedicated to roles (careful this is the part where status quo ramrods the wrong things). They can also help you construct a structure that gets the best resources (best being value measured) at the different levels of change. Most important they can push for flexibility and malleability in the make up of the Change Entity. The next change will be different. You need to be able to adapt to that.

In general your resources will be able to train, communicate, be subject matter experts, practice change at different tactical/strategic balance points and be trusted partners to owners with different levels of experience.


Honestly, is not important.

Don’t let anyone with a pet method tell you otherwise.

Anything that requires steps that have to be in order does not have the flexibility change needs.

Anything that uses the word resistance in explanations (without quotes around it) is questionable.

If a consultant does not ask you questions right away in the contracting process about your structure (performance management system, leadership communication, make up of the org. chart) you are not going to get much change- or at least not any BIG change.

An approach that helps you define end states, “where you are going and will be, hopefully” and tailors activities to pull people to that spot is a good start. If you find yourself constantly talking about the present at what point in the methodology will you address the future?

A suggestion: Choose your method after you create structure to support it.

Change for big organizations can be sped up and more effective with the addition of a Change Entity. Ask yourself who will help you start this process. How high will this entity be placed? What is the initial make up of resources? How important is methodology?

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Slow Change- People or Structure?


Some more background for the ACMP 2013 Conference panel discussion: Perks and Perils: Optimizing Internal and External Change Management.

While thinking through my responses to our panel questions these four areas stood out as reasons for my answers:

  1. As a profession we suffer from groupthink.
  2. Many practitioners are inexperienced (internal and external) or at least one company practitioners.
  3. Organizations are not structured for change.

  4. The models and methodology being used are old, tired and misguided.


Take a broad look at the practice of change management. Where do the most commonly used models focus all of their steps (time)? On people. “Readiness Assessments” are people focused (practitioners of those models pretend like they are looking at areas in the organization, but their spread sheets scream- resistor, red, mark for effort…). Communication is targeted to individuals and groups. Rolling out the change is based on champions and power specialists.

Yes people make the organization. You can’t have an organization or organization in general without people.

That doesn’t mean people is the thing you should focus on to pull change.


What you should focus on, especially if you plan to do more than one big change in your organization’s history (which is every organization) is Structure.

If change is not facilitated through performance systems, hierarchy, communications processes and tools it is not going to happen. In the not-going-to-happen world “change” has end states looking a lot like the state the initiative started with. Maybe different labels, maybe different names, maybe a few changed reporting pairs, but basically status quo fluffed up.

At our panel discussion we will pursue this further in the form of sample change entities.

Change Entities

I was happy our panel moved to the use of the word “entity” to describe structuring change within organizations.

Adopting this languaging freed up the panelists to think of and create examples that represent formal, informal, organic and simple/malleable.

Change Entity has always been my term to help clients separate the thought processes around “how to get our organization comfortable and willing to change”. Not the people, the organization. Tweaking performance systems, working with the way you communicate, testing programs that have leaders genuinely working together cross functionally will cause (or invite?) PEOPLE to change. Doing so with Change Management as a function or some other status quo permanent group will reinforce what people already do (and likely lock in root causes for the inability to change).

Informal Change Structure

An initial question we had practicing for the conference was something like “how do you formalize change management within an organization”. My answer? “You don’t”. Formally pursuing an informal entity  will keep status quo at bay. You do not want to recreate what you already have.

What you do want to do (if you are looking for the ability to change and maybe change faster) is to formally add things to your organizational structure that facilitate change. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I dig into a few specifics.

Is your change management approach focusing heavily on people before assessing the structure of your organization? Are you creating an environment that facilitates change? Have you asked if your organizational structure is ready for this change? Slow change- people or structure?

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Wonderfully Disillusioned-Internally What I have Seen


Continuing with some background for my participation on the panel: Perks & Perils: Optimizing Internal and External Change Management, April 16th at 4 pm PST for the Los Angeles ACMP conference:

For the panel discussion we have some definitive competencies and talents to discuss that match mostly internal practitioners, mostly external consultants and those that fit both (yes, it could be argued that all are needed for any practice of change). As a first step here I thought it might help to impart some of what I have seen on multiple engagements at different client sites (names withheld, of course).

As a reminder I called this list out in my first post:

  • We, as a profession, suffer from groupthink.
  • Many practitioners are inexperienced (internal and external) or at least one company practitioners.
  • Organizations are not structured for change.
  • The models and methodology being used are old, tired and misguided.

The Positive:

  1. A new level of what I would consider heavily tactical change management from internal change practitioners.
    A few client partners I can think of are an imperfect/perfect form of project manager. They get that change at its base level is about getting things done (and getting things to happen) that pull toward end states. So they call meetings with a specific decision as the end point (even though those meetings should be called by the leader[s] responsible for the decision). They craft role descriptions as the change process moves forward to make sure that those kids of decisions will be made later AND that someone will be held accountable. They basically play cop and parent at the same time (or maybe it is parent and boss).
  2. External consultants (OK maybe most were really contractors) becoming internal practitioners.
    This is positive for two reasons: one is that it keeps the difference between consultant and contractor/employee clear and two that internal resources now have a little more of that external boldness. Those client partners I mentioned came from external roles.
  3. More awareness of the components of change.
    Yes people may hesitate to change. How many people blindly move to a new thing? Yes the people component IS a risk. And yes people cannot be managed (for any length of time). At the point CM practitioners begin to manage individuals problems start (no, that is NOT resistance, stop fighting it as if it is). This awareness also translates into a genuine appreciation of external influences down to the individual. It is nice to get to a place where we are welcomed and, breath, respected.

The Negative:

  1. By trying to make everything internal and letting that structure build organically and internally organizations are setting themselves up for scenarios worse than the status quo they are trying to break. I have seen 25 competing change entities at one organization. Nothing like an internal fight to the finish, while still tying to create and sell products! This organic surge is also making it much easier for executives to not be responsible for decisions and to scapegoat (although for an external I guess this is a positive now the internal practitioners have become the scapegoats).
  2. All this work and all this effort and lots of giddy excitement from all the people interaction are moving organizations forward about one step. Because none of the entities for change that I have seen are really addressing root causes. Performance management is never even mentioned. Cross functional interaction is only happening at an organic level (which requires a high level of relationship something people barely have time for WITHIN their functions).
  3. All too often the wolf is guarding the hen-house. Change can move slow because of politics, extra requests, too many deliverables, too much desire for measurement, too much control. Many (no not all but most that I have seen so far) internal practitioners like to be in charge of data and information. They like to manage the interactions of people (guide works much better and requires a level of disconnect that someone who is controlling does not have the competency for). In short they often reinforce those things which slow change.

The environment is getting better. I, personally, am moving from disillusionment toward the commoditization and cost cutting of internal change management to a willingness to partner when the competencies of years of external consulting are respected, rewarded and leveraged. There is a new focus on people, individual and talent, not just with practitioners- that’s wonderful. I fully expect to feel bad (and proven mostly wrong) regarding my current honesty about internal practitioners. That would be the full circle of being Wonderfully Disillusioned.

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Change Management 5 Layers


These layers don’t stack, they are not a hierarchy, they are horizontals of focus that should be happening within change initiatives. I personally address all of these early on with clients. Change will suffer without those conversations.


Not the kind of  “ownership” that is marketed with most approaches. That kind of ownership is more about getting people to lead when they will likely choose otherwise. The kind of ownership I am talking about is at the top- the person who can spend the money. This layer takes a lot of explanation. Ideally that starts with the true owner. Often though it begins with implementary or organic leaders.

Those dialogues are just as powerful.

Helping people to understand the significance of the owner, of the owners visibility, of the way the owner will empower and honor expertise can make a big difference in how the change process plays out. In a way, this understanding helps stakeholders to push some of the buttons that need pushing to get both the change reeled in and to have regular operations move smoother.


Change Management Horizontals addressed the need for translation. Translation is taking ideas and turning them into work. Translation is converting vision to objective to goal to task/work. Organizations should be doing this already with their strategy to implementation process, but they aren’t.

So a layer within change is teaching how to make these translations so they make sense at the level of translation (that may mean type or spot in the organizational hierarchy).


This may be THE area that causes change to fail.

Organizations are terrible at prioritization. And executives are typically late with the decisions needed to prioritize (they react to “scale-up” urgency).

This HAS to be addressed. I can look back at some of my own as a junior consultant engagements and see how tackling this layer would have made a difference.

When you ask this stakeholder to do something are you taking something else off their plate? Do they see where this effort lies compared to other projects, programs and initiatives floating around the company? Are the executives (especially the owner) able to white board prioritization (in something more definitive than pillars or “focuses for the year” or some measure of the things that bring in quick revenue)?

Work has to be prioritized at multiple levels. Change is adding work. Change causes a need for re-prioritization.


Is a layer that is everywhere.

There is the project process. There may be a change process. There are processes for work effort. There is a process for communicating in every organization. There are hidden processes (like internal politics, permission-getting and silent bargaining).

Some time has to be set aside to decide process, to question current process and to create new processes that fit the end state and the path to get there.


Why is it so hard to put work in context with a whole?

Why does the explanation always come out as business speak that has little to do with the individual?

How come there are never clear, clean pictures of everything going on at a high level in the organization with a way to dig into the detail?

I spend a lot of time explaining, teaching (and likely harping about) context. Work has to have meaning. When work is part of change the stakeholders deserve an explanation of the context of that asked for effort.

Five layers that weave and dodge and layer onto and over change: ownership, translation, prioritization, process and context. Make sure you address and dialogue over these layers early, often and throughout the change process.

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Change Management Horizontals


For Change, and for strategy, horizontals exist within the organization.

Each level has a role, obviously for operations, but additionally for translation, communication and leadership in connection to change. This is often misunderstood, misrepresented and rarely tackled by change practitioners. If change management fails (which is a dubious statement considering all the things in the way) it is because horizontals are not understood and do not fulfill their potential role for change. (Read that again if your organization also has weak operational strategy).

You can look at this from the “top” and think cascade. You can look at this from the “bottom” and see the expectation chain. You can start anywhere in the middle to figure out your own roles, responsibility and possibility. We will start at the top since big change (as in transformational, truly, my favorite) must begin with the owner and disseminate through the organization (note I did not say cascade).

The Horizontals

The Chief Executive

Typically this is the CEO.

The larger the organization the more this person has an external focus. I use the term figurehead which I am told can seem derogatory. A figurehead can have charisma, be good at representation and smooth things out (nothing bad about that). In a smaller organization (or a founder based-still company) the CEO is half inside and half outside the organization.

For change this person is both the dad (or mom these days) who comes home and must dole out the discipline AND the guy (or woman) who takes you over to the school to play ball and laugh. They can be leveraged for either, play one role strongly or play both at the right time. I like to think of them as the “no” you never really use (once you start using no and doling out punishment each successive occasion gets a little weaker). They are also the holder of the compliment that is oh so rare.

They translate out to the external environment.

They communicate the connection of the change to the future of the organization (both in and out of the company). They are usually too disconnected to have leadership ability for change (this is less true in smaller organizations).

High Level Leader

This is the owner of the change.

They set the vision for the organization operationally. For change they must learn to describe end states, especially their own, in multiple ways. They are the ones who can turn that place, that spot that will exist at the end of the change, into a picture and a feeling that people can grab on to. They set the tone, they start leadership trust and they are the lever for all the other horizontals. A present and engaged owner is a godsend for change.

Translation for the high level leader is turning the idea into something that seems and feels tangible (note it is not actually tangible until we get to the other horizontals). Communication is visibility for the end state, for acknowledgement along the way and for high level leadership of the change process. Leadership has some cheerleading to it, and at times, some hard truth leading.


The Implementary Leader is the one who makes the most important translation- vision to objective.

That great idea is all well and good, but what does that mean? What will pull people to that spot? If a stakeholder were to stand at that end state and look back what will they say was the grand accomplishment? This person must be able to make that translation- the first step toward tangible change.

Their role in the change process is the translation to purpose.

They must communicate their own interpretation of the end state from a position of expertise. If they can articulate how they fit in for end states then they can make the translation for others. Communication, for them, is often connected to some division of the organizations strategy- pillars is the most used term. “They” for this horizontal may mean multiple people. Co-implementary leaders is very common. It works well if they can disconnect a bit from their operational, functional roles and lead their cohorts stakeholders as well as their own (which reciprocates back and forth and, you hope, smoothes out silos).

Program Level

Program level leads manage goals and goal setting.

They are the first level senior leadership in the organization with the role of making things happen. (Yes sometimes the role of translating orders into instant harried work). They must understand how the idea turned into a vision, what made that become objectives and what the goals will be to both make that happen and tie people to the end state and change.

Multiple streams of goals must be managed at this level. This leader may even have responsibility for multiple initiatives (which then have multi-program/multi-project components). They are the sponsors (there WILL be more than one at this horizontal). A sponsor contributes, participates and encourages others.

They make the translation to something people can put their hands, hearts and heads too.

Communication here is to make clear end states and what that might mean, in general, for expertise, work, people and organizational changes. They are the ones who show how to put the blue blocks together, the yellow in a stack and the white side by side. They help organize at a high level view- that is their leadership role and strength when done well.

Translation to Work/Time

At the project level all that vision, a few objectives and a stack of goals must become work.

The project level Facilitator gets all the ducks lined up in  a row. They make sure that the right people are ready, know who comes before them and who they hand off to and what the time on the watch says. Translation  here is to tangible. It does not get any more tangible than people working hard together on task.

They translate grand schemes into what people value- their own skill and sweat.

This person, assuming the leaders previous did a good job, can make change worth it. Communication here has a chance to compliment, to build trust, to make connections to other horizontals, to wield more power and influence than the organization officially gives them. If that is used wisely the best kind of leadership happens to support change- leading by example right next to the people you are modeling for.

Translation to Specifics

The biggest widest horizontal, the one that is less siloed than all the others and the place where the ultimate translation happens- idea to task- is here.

This horizontal is what my kids call the “worker bees”. They mean that in a complimentary way. They mean people are doing stuff that produces results you can see. A worker bee moves the leaves out of the way. A worker bee writes the code that supports the ultimate function of the software. Those bees tap keys that save the data for decisions, corrections and revenue.

The sad part is that most initiatives force all these people (stop for a second and think that this horizontal, in many ways, is actually EVERY stakeholder, at every level) to make their own translations.

Because while they are silently screaming communication out not much is coming in, or down, that helps place work/people in context with idea/end state. They often lead themselves. They can be very good at organically directing needs and ideas through and up the organization. They get really frustrated at the slowness, the silos and status quo when they can see easy solutions. (And to think, you have been calling that “resistance”).

There you have it. The six horizontals and their role as translators, communicators and leaders of change.

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