In previous posts I illustrated change begins when the third person hears of an idea, coined the term “front loading change” and dug into Consulting Commoditization (this is a follow-up post the original, “The Commoditization of Consulting”). That serves as background for the idea of a Change Advisor (had a post for that too, “C-Level Leverage of your Change Management Trusted Advisor”).
Jonathan Baynes has a post at transform.ed that tightens this up to specifics, “Change Advisor or Full Time Change Contractor”.
I see (and sometimes practice in) a middle ground.
Call it “Change Strategist” (or perhaps just an old-fashioned “Management Consultant”). If you are versatile you can provide early advice, create plans after some initial client visioning and implement. Those “contractors” Jonathan mentions USED to be “consultants” who ran with an initiative from start to finish- guiding the client rather than replacing them (or an employee and their work).
Semantics aside (does it seem like CM makes us set aside semantics a lot?) it is the “advice” part that is important. Commoditization, procurement (and the staffing firms that created) and short-term corporate approaches have stripped away the ability to get and give simple advice. The earlier and less attached the external consultant is the more chance for exchange- of knowledge, which equals advice when filtered by the client.
As the advice turns to guidance a consulting arrangement has begun.
The perfect contract has that advice appearing at the right time later, and/or being available on a schedule, but not necessarily present at all times. The always present high level contractor gets leaned on to help (actually make?) decisions, do the work that should be done by an internal and create a dependency relationship that is not healthy.
Two things get in the way: the difficulty for independent consultants to have a large enough book of clients to fill the in between spots AND the focus on distinct deliverables and “ROI” by clients (advice can be valuable, but words are apparently not deliverables). (In fairness it is usually the clients who understand that while procurement and internal systems make the connection of understanding to value almost impossible).
Clients- try to buck your systems a little. Get a senior consultant in early- it will likely save you money. Consultants- do everything you can to work directly with clients (financially and in the consulting relationship).
The getting and giving of advice may be a lost art.
My blog has some white space (black in this case) this summer.
I finally pinpointed what happened.
Looking back over my career I can make a long list of times when power plays affected the ability to get a role, to be successful at a role and to keep a role for the agreed on time.
A few examples:
- Head Hunters
A couple of times I have been contacted by Head Hunters (the real kind not the representatives or staffing firms trying to wear consulting uniforms) and led through cheery “you are the perfect fit” conversations only to be screened out of submission. The power play here is the fact that the person must stay some period of time. Any mention that this is not really an employment role or that it is an internal/external mix situation is a nix. One of those situations has me smiling because the choice they made did not make it through the year, they couldn’t keep the next person and the role is up again (and pushed way down the hierarchy which dooms it to failure).
Don’t even get me started on this one. They do want you in there. They, after all, get paid for parked bodies. They rarely even know who the owner of the engagement is and refuse to admit their job is to make one phone call, fill out a form and move on. That power grab waste of time is what used to be a phone call to the person doing the work, which was one short step from getting the work started. Best story here is the time I finally decided to hold my ground and explain things to the recruiter. That included that fact that their role was really just in the way. (I was irritated because they offered me a rate which was doubled by the next staffing firm- an attempt to power grab what should be MY compensation). They hung up in disgust promising to never talk to me again and to let others know. Take a guess at who made next Monday mornings call for a different role… to me. Yes that very same disgruntled recruiter. With fake happy talk no less!
- Vice Presidents
I have decided this is the most competitive horizontal. Especially if professional services or sales is in the mix. They instinctively push things, especially change, well down the ladder. Half the time they push it so far away they really have NO control. Every time I have an SVP meeting and it is followed by VP looks at my profile I wonder why we didn’t just all sit down for 20 or 30 minutes and talk about their scenario- before any contracting.
- Consulting Firms
This one has actually lightened up a bit (mostly because the consulting firms are having to fight the procurement/staffing firm battle together). For a while there was a ridiculous protection of clients as if they were race horses in a stable. California, thankfully, one of the few non compete states, scoffs at this practice. I have my own firm. I get it. It would frustrate me if someone “stole” my clients. Then I would ask why and improve. And I don’t compete on price anymore so this power play is just kind of comical.
- Middle Management
Are always trying to usurp change- and the messenger. The few who don’t are fantastic to work with. Those are the ones I try to help get promoted so they can move from implementary leader to owner of the change.
- Anyone in any transactional vertical
Every organization has the power grabbers from other verticals- the ones who rarely have change initiatives of their own- procurement, legal, HR, the PMO (this one sometimes does have initiatives for their vertical, which makes them MORE power hungry).
My silence in writing comes from this simple fact- I am an external. I don’t care about power.
I care about solutions and results. I don’t have a title. I chose NOT to have one by being external.
Having to fight so many people I am not interested in fighting is a distraction from accomplishment. And a drain on creative energy.
Replace I with most senior consultants who have somehow managed to work around all these power plays and still stay in business. This isn’t just about “me”.
Head hunters, recruiters, VP’s, consulting firms, middle management and people inside of transactional verticals make for a world of Change With Power Plays.
A vacation (without preloading blog posts) and a more disillusioned than wonderful (Wonderfully Disillusioned Wednesday’s posts reference for new readers) couple of days has created a writer’s block funk.
Being an eternal optimist (admittedly hardened as I get older), roadblocks, setbacks and obstacles take a while to build up enough for numbing “funks”. It happens once in a while though. I have come up with a strategy to get past and overcome this personal version of quicksand. Do something I really like that always works to make me feel better: DREAM.
When I make things up, when I ask why and what if questions about things I always perk up over possibility.
This works for big remodeling projects at home, it works with career development and it works at client sites for change big and small.
The key is to realize you are dreaming. (Few of these big fantasies every become reality).
Dreaming About Change Management
This latest funk has a lot to do with change management as a specialty/industry/practice.
Here is the CM funk list:
- Third parties in the way
- Status quo that is consistent from organization to organization
- Packaged template based, heavily marketed, approaches
- Tactics over strategy
- The Plexiglas ceiling (my new term for the inability for anyone woman or man to rise to executive levels)
- Ridiculous fixation with “resistance” and so resistance-fighting
- Constant homage to guru’s of the past
- Contracting from the middle of the organization
- Invisible or non-existent owners
- Review processes that slow change to a snails crawl
OK I’ll stop (there is a lot more though…).
Because people are people.
Even for dreamers like me it is often easier to just do things the way you always have. When everyone starts to operate that way, one place looks like another. And one person acts like another. And we get “human nature”.
While this frustrates and irritates me I get it. I also get the underlying structure that people-who-become-the-same tend to create.
But what if there was an organization with one person or filled with people who understood the why answer and wanted to do something about it? Just What if…
Let’s make this dream sequence easy (and practical) by matching the previous funk list:
- Consultants especially, contractors probably, would be sourced by internal resources.
Why is it that organizations are so intent on making project management, change management, strategy and planning internal, but are willing to divvy up the acquisition of outside resources? That is arguably the most important role in the process of change. And you outsource it? Direct contracting is in the dream. Practically is has to be cheaper. It certainly ties the organization together tightly with outside influence. Thanks to LinkedIn sourcing is easy these days (those outside recruiters have no secret hiding places for resources).
- This dream organization would work to constantly tweak status quo.
Maybe in the big dream they would actually start from scratch. They would look at their performance management process (and in many ways eliminate it). They would look at the way they communicate (start-up screen comms., a useful well designed portal, a system of one step editing and approval, cascade and direct to stakeholder processes, etc.). Creating this organization from scratch is my own ULTIMATE dream. This is the one I use when I am depressingly “funked”. If I ever get to help create this dream I will be able to say I made it, officially, in this career. Anyone else share this dream?
- Templates would be for recording information not guiding process.
Enough said about that funky and pesky-like-a-mosquito-at-night problem.
- Strategy first.
There are organizations that mostly just do tactics. They say they have a strategy, but it is more strategic implementation. Quarter to quarter to the next quarter with no one realizing four quarters make a year and a couple of years make a strategy. In this dream place high level talk would be about 3-5 years from now. Later conversations would be about what that means for today and tomorrow.
- Actual hierarchy.
I never thought I would say this, since I am not a fan of directive organizations, but companies really need to go back to old-fashioned org charts (that get published, that people can see and use). That status quo, group think thing creates a LOT of buck passing. The nature of business and society here in the US at least over the last 15 years or so is lots to the top few and little to the others. Anyone notice the org charts started disappearing at the point this started happening? Org charts are one way to have accountability. I like my dreams to be free-flowing and open. In this one category my dream would have some rigidity, structure and accountability. And it would have a clear way for people to rise to higher levels.
Resistance is an active force against something. People often hesitate and consider and evaluate change. They often get a little nervous about new things (if they learn to dream the nervousness is the kind you get before a great performance). In my mind (or dream) resistance is sabotage- active, on purpose and meant to hold something back. And of course it doesn’t exist in my dream (or in the real world).
- No reading.
I would like to say this is kidding. You can read my stuff… One of my funk items is that people read one or two things, usually the most available and most heavily marketed (and written at a 7th grade level), and then become change experts by the end of the weekend. It shocks me that so many people just parrot from the past- nothing original from them. And then they suck everyone around them into their guru initiated low-level approach and perspective. In my dream people read with a discerning eye and they act having read A LOT (from every angle). OK maybe in my dream we have to go all the way back to the education system and teach discernment (Note: the new teaching standards, because of the internet and opinion over fact, have this built-in to the new approach-Kudos to whoever pushed that).
- Contractors contracted in the middle.
It makes sense for specialist resources to be contracted in the middle. These are the people who do the work of an employee. They are needed because the organization does not have that capability, because that expertise is only needed for a short period of time and/or because the organization wants to learn that talent. (That is the spot where contractor starts to cross with consultant). In my dream middle of the organization leaders do what they do well-tactical approaches to strategy.
- Visible, existent (and accountable) owners.
In my dream world senior leaders know how to create long-term strategy. They know what those creations mean to them and their peers personally. They care about both the organization and the people (and they are rewarded for that [and rewarded realistically], not personal gain). When they have that mix-we have moved to the dream stage now-they own the results. They are active. They follow through. They actually DO some of the hands on work. Lately my dream has looped in the Board of Directors. Because in the grand dream they were once these dream owners. Now they oversee that process. They OWN accountability and results. Through others yes, but they have the leverage to make it work.
- One stop exchange.
My answer, in my dream and the real world, to the question, “If you could do one thing at every place you assist what would that be?”. The easy answer is reduce decision-making around exchange to one stop (OK maybe two to compromise). In the dream people are good at talking, interacting, keeping up with information inside and outside their organization (you know like consultants). Because they do this, are like this, when it comes to deciding things and interacting they have thought things through. When you think through you do not need quite as much editing and review. (and no the permission process is not “extra” thinking).
So there you go. It took close to 1400 words and my longest post to break the funk. Funk broken though!
The, my, change management dream has: direct contracting in the right place, flexible status quo, templates as data, strategy first, Org Charts, possibility, discernment, active Owners and one stop review. To see even one of these happen would be a dream come true.
Gail Severini’s post today, “the Enlightened Program Manager-Partnering with Change Management” got me thinking.
She says (correctly by my experience):
“The reality in most organizations is that strategy is parsed into Strategic Business Units and/or Divisions and the leader assigns it to a program manager to organize.”.
What if all strategy in organizations was not treated the same?
We have to start with those situations where this really makes sense-transformation.
True transformation- not something that just picked up the label because it is big and/or Enterprise wide. If the organization is really going to be different after this change- process, approach,technology and people (yes it is probably all of the above)- then a different kind of strategy is called for.
This would be a strategy that is orchestrated at the highest levels- CEO and Board of Directors. Everything would connect (and would be communicated as connecting) across the organization. If this is a picture it would be one map as a whole with parts and pieces within. And it would not be the map (I have seen many of these) that is drawn AFTER the parts and pieces have been parsed.
As an aside this parsing process is similar to a present to future perspective for change. It almost eliminates any view of the whole. Contrast that to strategy that is whole focused and high in the organization and an end state focus for change. Both give the whole, provide context and effectively put the “parsing” into perspective.
If all strategy were not treated the same there would always be an element that raises work (which carries lots of internal political baggage with it) to a level that is shared by all.
What if the “Program Manager” was above the units and divisions?
One way to do that would be to elevate those Program Managers Gail mentioned to this higher level-if only for the transformation.
This is done frequently in organizations by naming an SVP as the leader (In my taxonomy this would be the Implementary Leader) of the transformation. The inherent problem with this is that now you have a peer leading a horizontal (the one with the “S” ego’s and reputations). In my pie in the sky vision this Program Manager would be a role that stays after the transformation. In fact it might have been a role that was created early on in the organizations history in preparation for the big change every company goes through eventually.
I see this role as the business version of a very high level change management consultant. (In fact they would partner as right and left/left and right, in a perfect world).
The CEO would still need to be the owner and own the change, but this set up would signal to the organization that there is also an important leader to implement (and in this case the support of a senior change person who will focus on the whole, the context and the people).
What if unit and division tactical strategy scaled up?
You could edge toward this structure by creating more scale up from inside the organization to a holistic strategy.
Most companies would argue they already do this with some version of committees, executive summits, golf games etc. I have been in 70+ companies as a consultant and have yet to see any of these arrangements do anything more than quickly parse work. They all basically scale stuff up and then get parse stuff back in (maybe it is more of a grand permission process than strategy).
All strategy is not the same. Approaching transformation as if it is a program of Divisional/Business Unit work streams is status quo. Change and status quo do not blend well.
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.
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
- Project focus
- 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.
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.
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.
The organization decides to start some big change. Enough people agree on it and it gets far enough into their process that an initiative begins. At the point that it has a name (or could have a name that is another issue) spending has been allocated, the right people have participated and “agreed” and they are good to go.
This is something that I see over and over, and it seems to be getting worse: big process for deciding whether something falls into that initiative title; LOTS of effort to make sure everything is quantified and figured out from a money and business perspective; and spreadsheet lists of needed resources. All well and good. Should work. Makes sense.
Except: most of the expertise, the competencies needed, are not available. They are either not there or are locked in as full FTE’s for other stuff and or operational work.
What does this actually look like?
It looks like those in the project team begging, pleading, bargaining for and coercing to get the resources they need (which comically are in those proposals to leadership).
I honestly do not get this.
(I get how it happens, I get what has to be done as a result, I get that this seems to be a common result of built up Human Nature).
How can you embark on a major, multi- million dollar effort and not MAKE SURE you have the people you need and that they know they will be doing what you are expecting?
An aside: many, if not most, of the models out there are created to facilitate the begging and pleading- all cloaked up in “research” and “best practices”.
This discussion falls squarely in the Prioritization layer for change management (see Change Management Layers for the others).
Most, ok in a way all, organizations have strategy. The same for a project, review and allocation process. All organizations have someone who can “sign” for initiatives. You would assume those signers, or better THAT signer, has the power and influence to illustrate who will be needed where. It seems pretty straight forward: see the need, define the need, place the needs in the proper order and sequence. Simple.
Or it would be if there was not a gap in the whole change process (which is because most organizations do not have a true change process- they have high level project processes).
The gap is the inability to interconnect change initiatives with operations and allocation. The secondary gap is the lack of decision making- call it prioritization like I do (to avoid scapegoating executives for a much bigger problem).
I see solutions. It would be exciting to be in a position to actually address this problem in one organization. It would be its own change initiative though. A big one FULL of needed behavior and structural change, not to mention a whole lot of reflection by senior executives (and likely the board). We can dream though.
My first pick for the reason any change “fails”? Prioritization and Strategy.
Change Management practitioners can easily think of and craft picture perfect end states for clients. They can just as easily convert those end states into phases, tasks and activities it will take to get there. Those perfect end states carry assumptions (like ownership, the right avenues for communication, effective organizational prioritization, etc.). Without those assumptive parts perfection will never be reached. When you have been doing this a while you realize that perfect engagement, that either has or creates the parts and then has a chance to get to that particular end state, will not happen.
Change Management, when done well and smart, is about compromise.
It is about doing as much as possible within the constraints of the organization (or looked at a different way- stretching organizational constraints).
What can you do then after you think you have done all you can do?
Informal Change Management
Step away from the model.
Step away from the template.
Get out of that spreadsheet (that no one really uses but you) and look for the informal connections in the web of the organization.
A typical current organization is a committee structure at different levels for different functional reviews spread throughout the company. This is a set up for “collaborative decision making”, “empowerment”, “checks and balances”. Or it was supposed to be those things…
This is what happens: no one makes an effort to have dialogue over decisions any farther than one vertical away (Director to Senior Director, VP to Senior Director, etc.). Think about that. The only dialogue that occurs is between reports and bosses and the other way around. Not very dialogic. Not very conducive to good decision-making. (my own push to tweak performance management measures is an approach to this from a different direction).
I have begun, in my own practice, a pattern of asking stakeholders where their tentacles of influence have spread through the organization (try to put all those answers in a spreadsheet!). I often find people who were asked to help out far away from our current work. Those previous connections and work effort almost always link right back to expertise (which is the foundation of my own approach to change). Because those stakeholders were reached out to in the context of what they could provide and help out with, a deposit has occurred that can potentially be cashed in.
Call it politics, but in these fully organic (I would say “leaderless” on a bad day- and only be partially pessimistic) organizations it is second and third level connections that help you get things done.
If you can’t get leaders to prioritize and make decisions maybe you can do end-arounds to influence outcome. Every one of those threads of the informal spider web has a quick connection to someone on a committee. The committee, or group, is just the formal version of the informal politics. Which is comical i f you think about it…create a group to ease the need for internal politics, which effectively INCREASES the need to politic.
In this group scenario I find the discussions about how to influence really valuable (albeit frustrating for an external- see perfect end states above). It is our chance as externals to both move this change forward and tweak the structure of the organization. This connection competency is valuable for future change and for some of the little decisions that become big with “too many people in the kitchen”. There is, of course, no organization that has a formal process for doing this because that would force change…
A few caveats: as with most of the practice of change management the later the practitioner is brought in the harder things like this will be to do, even these reach-outs tend to only skip one level (limiting their effectiveness for any structural change) and, finally, even the most evangelical change agent will think twice (or three or four times) about cashing in any of their deposits. Carry tact and compromise with you at all times.
Because many organizations have lost (given up?) their ability to make quick decisions and to effectively prioritize informal activities are necessary for change. Informal change management requires a different set of skills and competency (not to mention calmness and patience).
This isn’t a post about replicable change. That is certainly possible (not to the extent the templates approaches believe) and maybe worth a post of its own. This post is about those things that you see when you have been doing this change thing for a while that appear to be the same from one organization to the next. It turns out, “people are people” and in many ways, “organizations are organizations” (probably because of that Human Nature thing).
Deny this all you want. Puff up the exceptionalism of your organization and your people.Then go to another place and you may say, “oh no, not again!”. (Hopefully you say, “well this is refreshing”).
A list then:
- Leaders will avoid ownership.
Some people say change is scary. I say responsibility and accountability is. Or apparently it is since so few are willing to accept those two things.
- People will point fingers.
This is accountability down to the individual level. It is refreshing to hear someone say, “we are going to have to do something about this” when “we” means that person with some help.
- Technology to support change will be years behind.
I just automatically take my own laptop to client sites now. It has the graphics software I need (no requisition forms there). It has the project and process tools I need. It has links to the outside world that are sometimes against the rules inside the walls (no not what you are thinking- I mean like discussion forums where I can get peers to weigh in on something I am about to do- maybe my own form of committee review). It makes sense that companies do not want to spend any extra money. But lately I am noticing how much externals are providing even tools to help in the change effort (for billion dollar organizations that’s just strange).
- Permission structures will be many layers deep.
The number of “reviews” in organizations is comical to an outsider (and just as comical to an insider that goes inside somewhere else). The only method I have seen that seems to work to “get everyone involved with the slightest connection to this work” is to have a presentation open for a period of time for people to comment on and edit. If those contributors are the ones who would sign off on the final edition it can be a “smooth” process (in quotes because not much that has to do with people is really smooth).
- Strategy will be lacking.
Who has time to plan? Wait long enough, or get buried in austerity mode (like the last 5 years), and you will lose the competencies for planning (at least high level strategic planning). I spend a lot of time teaching clients to put work in context with something bigger, so the things people value make sense. Without strategy there is not much context. And no, mission statements and “vision” do not count. End state descriptions converted to high level plans does.
- People are ready for change.
Caught you off guard ha? I don’t care when you are reading this, the people in your organization are ready for change. They ALWAYS are. Those who say otherwise are almost ALWAYS the ones who actually are NOT ready for any kind of change. (Look at the models that assume the opposite, that people resist, they have templates, steps to follow, eight things that always have to be in order- line it all up, force parameters and then people might go slowly into the change). People are likely ready for change, but the organization is not, because, organizations are organizations.
- The organization is not ready to change.
And it is not because people are people. People change all the time. Not so for organizations. (Yes change is ubiquitous and there is always SOMETHING changing within every organization, but is often a little like moving deck chairs on the Titanic). Changing an organization is tough work. The more change, the broader the change, the more transformational (I am thinking organizations here not necessarily people transforming) the tougher.
There are some things that are consistent from one organization to another: structure, antiquated or missing tools, lack of strategy, finger pointing and leadership-non-ownership. If you, or you client, is hiding behind uniqueness, this list of seven might help you see a bigger picture.