I set up a search notification on Google for “change management”.
The results are strange.
The smallest little changes for organizations show up (likely because of press release SEO).
Big changes show up, but the links have nothing to do with how that change will be approached.
If I go straight to Google and type in “change management” I actually get some things that have to do with CM.
(And how cool is this, I make the first page… just):
Change management is appearing in just about every job description now.
My second most popular post is about CM career building. Five to ten people look at it a day, every day. This is, apparently, a career that interests a lot of people. As a senior practitioner I’m not sure if that is wonderful or the opposite. If the next clicks are posts that teach a future oriented perspective and show you must have empathy AND thick skin then the interest is wonderful. If they slide away and hit a few of those other links that show up with the CM search then I am very disillusioned.
Change management is everywhere which is wonderful. Because change management is everywhere often the wrong things and the wrong approaches are being signaled, that is disillusionary. In order to explain anything you have to get people’s attention. So the ubiquity of change management makes me Wonderfully Disillusioned.
No not what is the ROI.
No not what is the best way to measure change management.
Rather, what does success look like?
For the client:
Of course this depends on who the client is. If the client is the owner of the change, success would be getting to a version of an end state that would not have been possible without CM. Maybe things happened faster than predicted. Maybe the change hangs on longer (or permanently) than originally expected. Maybe stakeholders feel more comfortable about the next change. (See the pattern here leaders? CM is as much about the next thing, or righting the last thing as it is this current change thing… when done successfully).
If the client is in middle of the organization then the future is set aside. Success directly correlates to elimination of roadblocks and speed to success measures (forget end states, and the next change and building anything- in the middle it is about now and tomorrow).
For the Consultant:
For that senior owner it may be that the consultant helped build competency or capability for that owners organization.
For the middle client it may be that all those difficult people issues were handled, dealt with and then things got better.
One is strategic and one is tactical. If you plan on being successful as a change management consultant you better be ready and able to do both. (Ironically sometimes at the same time).
Successful change management is end states that arrive better, stronger and faster than they would have without the change management consultant. OR projects simply move smoothly and fast (for those middle of the organization clients).
Yesterday I gave you the Weakness of Internal Change Management, today the strengths of External Consultants.
First a clarification.
Not all external consultants have these strengths. I am right alongside that pessimistic leader who has been burned by a big firm or spent too much time listening to how that boutique firms approach will someday change the world and most certainly change this clients world quickly. (Yes it will, but not for what the client thought).
In the context of this post I am thinking of small firms (10 or fewer employees) and independent consultants who put together teams specifically for an engagement (often including internal resources).
OK now that we have stripped away those firms that are on a constant mission to build revenue and are talking about the firms that only get revenue with clear results we can talk about external strengths.
- The opposite of internal weakness is the number one external strength- the willingness, know how and experience to call things out. Usually those things are the elephants in the room. Sometimes, for the most bold of us, it is structural root causes that are making true change impossible.
- Ask why. This is the subtle form of calling things out. There are so many times on engagements where I ask why and I get, “because that is the way we do things.” OK. Again, “Why?”. Usually I get the exact same answer.
- Cover for internals. No matter how much internals want something to happen and how hard they try to make it possible there are just some things they do not have the leverage for. They RARELY have the ear of senior leaders. Were they to, a PowerPoint slide and recommendations would have to be at the ready. Most senior externals could create that on the fly as part of a conversation. AND they often have the leverage to do without the time-wasting PP session. (Internals, hint, you should be taking advantage of this rather than bemoaning the luxuries of external consulting).
- Mediate. The internal form of mediation carries that aura we used to have hovering over us as kids- you never really know when you are going to say the wrong thing. And when you do you are never really sure why it was wrong. Internals tend to be able to stack up a gazillion internal political things in order to use as measure to decide when to talk, when to jump in and take charge and when to tell someone else it is time to stop talking. ‘Not sure if that is change management or some sort of crowd management. Externals jump in. My family kids me that when something isn’t right or fair there is no way I would remain silent. That is a strength (and believe me a curse too).
- We compliment and reinforce. Because those “performance measurement systems” are just not the same as a human being telling someone, with an example, why they are good at what they do. There is not a lot of kudos-giving in organizations. And when there is it seems a carrot technique to get just a little more effort out of everyone.
So externals, have you gotten to the point in your career where you can, and can get away with, these things?
Internals, these five things you are not going to change. You can try to do them on your own (and risk your job) or you can contract with and/or leverage externals around you to fill in the blanks.
Senior leaders, take note of these five things (and the weakness of internals from yesterday). Use your externals as consultants. Or specifically call out roles as Contracting roles. You might even get a few of the five from the contractors…
Five strengths of externals: they call things out, they ask why, they help cover for internals, they mediate and they give appropriate Kudos.
Some things when stripped of a bigger picture view seem to make sense and be successful.
Internal change management is an example.
Internal CM, either through CM groups or done by someone designated as such do a great job of filling in missing project management pieces.
- They do those communications that would not have been done otherwise.
- They provide those spreadsheets to list the people risks.
- They “assess” the environment to find things that might get in the way (souped up people risk management).
- They are there constantly (unbelievable the hours internal CM’s are willing to be available) accessible to provide a sense that someone is managing those hard to figure out people issues.
They are doing all those things internals see as “best practices”. Which is great. This stuff does need to be done, to some extent. Doing it without real change management can be a lot of time and effort wasted though.
In looking back at all the internal groups and individuals I have worked with (and seeing an ad for six internal change management roles at a previous client that will now sextuplicate its issues) I see one glaring weakness.
The Big Weakness
The inability to call out roadblocks is the Big Weakness.
I can no longer count the number of times I have said to myself, “why is no one calling this out?”.
Or, “why are they talking about this behind closed doors, but never addressing the root cause?”.
There is good reason NOT to call these things out. You will pay for it as an internal. You might pay for it officially in your performance review (not a team player- PS “team player” companies tend to be a little stagnant). Or you may pay for it unofficially with strange changing arrangements- you know that, “did I do something wrong?” scenario.
The higher up the chain you are the more this will cost you.
To be fair, junior consultants, contractors and externals fearful of their revenue stream do the same thing. (In my mind they are very close to being employees anyway- by virtue of their silence and/or the procurement arrangements companies have set up).
I sometimes think this whole change management career is a building of competency, capability and experience in order to learn to call things out, at the root cause, and still be able to return the following Monday to continue the contract. I also know it is the times where we don’t return on Monday that creates the ability to do this with tact (in a way that gets the root causes addressed- not just to keep the revenue stream going).
The biggest weakness of internal change practitioners is their inability to call out roadblocks at the root cause. Thanks to organizational structure and status quo this is really not their fault. And a good reason to look to externals who have boldly and tactfully called those things out in the past.
‘Seeing a new mini trend out there (if you can call it a trend).
Rather than an insistence on tactics, filling “roles” and “what can you do for me now that I do not have time for” like the last three or four years, clients are now asking strategic questions. Strategic questions and inquiries about strategic implementation. AND lots of questions about how others have done this particular change thing.
This is a mini trend because it shows organizations are now shifting from tactics and austerity to strategy and growth.
That was a painful waiting process.
Just recently potential clients, especially in the middle of the organization, were asking, “would you be able to put together decks that I can use to present to our leaders?”.
Now, “what would you be looking for when you review a deck I have created to present to leaders?”.
That is a BIG shift!
When this change thing works right consultants guide and teach. When they need to create in order to illustrate something or speed up the process they do. This change thing does NOT work right when the consultant does the work the client should be doing (both because that is the clients job and because change requires a hands on commitment by internals).
Strategic Implementation Inquiries
Those same mid level clients are very interested in whether or not the consultant has done this exact same change. Thankfully it does not appear to matter what industry or what company (the practice of change management crosses industries easily). A yes answer draws questions about risk, approach, perspective and timing.
Just recently those questions were blatant stealing of expertise and knowledge. I had at least five occasions where potential clients called a meeting with me asked many, many questions and then did the work themselves (right off of my suggestions and I am sure others recommendations). (Funny how austerity can effect ethics…).
Now with this trend toward strategy or at least strategic implementation those questions are genuine.
It appears this mini trend carries with it the understanding that a lot of the change work out there is not working.
Best practices recently meant copying something someone else felt good about (that seems to be where best practices come from). “So and so was very successful over there doing it this way”. (No mention of course about measures of success or who “so and so” is or why they might think this was a “best practice”).
Now best practices is something to bounce off of and do better. In fact in a few conversations clients have told me they would cringe if someone suggested bringing in their own “best practices”.
(My own “best practices” are always a mix of things that have worked before, blended together with my current clients culture, with a dash of a some new added tweak that I think might be a good practice to adopt).
Strategic perspective seems to be coming back for clients as a mini-trend. Strategic consulting engagements should follow.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
I coach soccer.
A parent volunteered to create a website with Shutterfly (quite the smart marketing idea for a photo company to provide this service for free). Looking at the preloaded site I realize most of the things I am keeping track of as a coach are there (the parent loaded what I gave him). But not everything. As the coach I have information that should not be shared (or at least have levels of security)…
For a previous post, “Change Management What to Keep Track of”, I looked at what might go in a CM spreadsheet.
Now I am wondering about the spreadsheet itself.
This is why: My information will always have to be entered twice.
In the soccer scenario when a parent adds vacation time I can choose to also put it in my spreadsheet. If a parent gives me vacation information, and I want that available for the team, it has to be recorded twice.
The same thing happens on engagements. I have had this double entry scenario when making lists of competencies. It is helpful for stakeholders to know who the experts are. That talent recording will always be in my CM spreadsheet.
Reactions to This
- If websites (for organizations usually SharePoint) can sort then what is the point of the separate spreadsheet?
- If the practice was to make most things public then the whole issue of recording to show you have done something goes out the window (and you get others to do the tactical work).
- CM processes will/would have to change if information is really “web based”. Do we store the things we look at but don’t want others to see separately, or just keep that information in our heads? (I always have a file that looks a little like the red, green, yellow process I pick on to keep my own notes on individual and group stakeholder motivation).
- What would be the reason for having a public forum? (In the case of the soccer team it could be as a place to share all of the information that might otherwise fly around in emails. The same could be said for the organizational version).
- If you build it will they come? (hint the answer is not so much).
A portal could replace spreadsheets (or another type of file) or it could be twice the amount of work for the change team. Where is the balance between transparency/information and secure storage/note taking? Thinking this through with soccer as a comparison has me wondering about some assumptions we are making about change management’s engagement process and exchange of data.
If you are a true consultant with the ability to see the impossible-possible, disillusionment can often overpower you.
There is nothing more frustrating than seeing obvious solutions (however gargantuan the effort to get to obvious might be) and knowing there is really no way to get there. Too much relies on others. Organizational structures are built to resist change. It is difficult to get the ear of the change owner and even more troublesome to try to get their voice. This can leave a consultant pretty disillusioned.
But then we sit down together as peers (as I did yesterday with a fresh new acquaintance with a resume very different, but much the same, as mine) and just talk it all out. We moan first, usually, about all of the things (and yes people) that have gotten in the way of solutions with our work. We talk about bad tools, poor governance, crazy overwhelming risk models. We basically throw all the disillusion on the table.
Which, yesterday is a good example, is a great way to get to wonderful!
When the conversation moves to the next step we realize, through hearing our own words and that of peers, that we make a difference. We make a lot of little differences for individuals. I heard myself talk about all the times I have helped junior leaders, informally (nothing in the contract, no extra compensation… maybe there should have been) build their leaderships skills. I use commute time to have conversations with these leaders. Those Bluetooth headset phone calls often turn into coaching programs. Those leaders could not afford to hire me on their own (obviously the organizations they work for choose not to as well). Being able to offer this up at an individual level is wonderful.
My new-found acquaintance talked about her path to building into her first engagement with hired support. Aside: independent consultants with their own firms dream of the day a senior executive contracts with them and asks us to build a team through our firm. She got to this spot by being available for clients, by sticking with one company to build a reputation, by building the kind of relationship I can tell she does well. Her dream of solutions will fall short too. Her story gave me hope that we make a difference at multiple levels.
So consultants on those days when you feel like you are being compensated to run on some treadmill that never really accomplishes anything look around you. Look past the disillusionment. There is probably an individual next to you that you made a difference for. There might be a client that you guided toward one of those solutions (guiding counts, remember they will never get to the end states we see). Some time off in the future something you said, something you created and left with the organization, some leader now promoted, will also make a difference because of you.
Consultants, especially change management consultants, often want to craft and guide clients to perfect end states. That is a quick way to be disillusioned. Look around at the effect your efforts have though. You will see individual wonderful. You might see wonderful on a bigger scale- because of you. We DO make a difference (just not as much as we wish) for that I am Wonderfully Disillusioned.
This is a Monday morning, “Really?”, post.
Read this McKinsey article, “Managing the People Side of Risk”.
Tip: never start with or ignore assumptions. That is how change fails.
The title itself reveals the underlying assumption.
First who am I to take on the bulk and spread that is McKinsey?
Far enough into my career with enough real experience (that partners in those big firms often DO not have what with their percentage time spent hustling business) to have the credibility to be discerning? I hope that is the case…
Having read quite a few of these McKinsey posts I see it is obvious they have created a huge business around mostly catering to clients wants (vs. the kind of needs independent consultants see) and hopped up versions of status quo. This seems strange for a firm that is known for strategy. They tend to reinforce the very things that are getting in the way of their clients change.
To me, from their posts and the trail they have left at a few of my clients, they seem like a TACTICAL firm rather than strategic.
Could it be big firms and big organizations have lost the meaning of strategy?
Start with the title (which was meant to draw people in by catering to their perspective of change). So people are a risk? We are going to automatically assume that? Really?
Not the underlying structure?
Not processes within?
Not the way people are rewarded?
Not how work gets done?
Not how reporting works (both hierarchy and keeping track of things)?
I snicker. They assume two sides to risk. What is the other side? Business? If business gets a side why not structure for the other? Both happen through people.
As I speed read these things (it bugs me too much to slowly read the group think) notes pop into my head. Here is the list from this article:
- Governance is a prevention for this “people risk” thing. Really? And nothing ever gets through prison walls…
- Risks must move UP (?) the chain of command. Oh come on really? Which makes yet another wall that protects senior leaders from accountability.
- The risk culture must be determined and then change is built around that? Really? Create it and they will follow? No mention of understanding what that culture would be so that they can then determine controls, just discussion of what the risk approach should be. See… TACTICS.
I could go on with the discernment (it is always easy when change approaches start with big, false assumptions), but let’s spin to positive.
“The best cultures actively seek information about and insight into risk by making it everyone’s responsibility to flag potential issues.”
quote from the McKinsey article that I am willing to back fully
This quote makes sense. Yes monitoring risk is smart. The more that monitor it the better. We are assuming “everyone” includes the highest leaders, right? (See what I mean? Go with that assumption and your change may be in serious trouble- best to monitor a little).
The authors do acknowledge there can be too much and too little risk management. And they do insert some good examples. Their final paragraph would have been a great start- with a different title.
This McKinsey article while containing some good examples and overall suggestions is itself a good example of how change management can start off on the wrong foot . It is a mirror for the thinking behind some change approaches. Start with an assumption and then mold your model around that. What if the assumption is wrong?
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.