Tailor-made change management

Catherine Smithson
March 15, 2013

“For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”—HL Mencken (1880–1956)

Although change management didn’t exist when American social critic Henry Mencken wrote this, we should keep his warning in mind when we use change management to manage the people side of change.

As organisations adopt change management in projects and business-as-usual change, I often see two types of ‘simple, neat and wrong’ solutions, which decrease the effectiveness of change management. Both can easily be avoided by using an effective change management strategy.

Guiding strategy

The good news is that change management has arrived in boardrooms around the world. Yes, it’s about 50 years after project management, but better late than never!

CEOs, executives, program managers and project managers no longer think change management is part of information technology or a human resources activity involving group hugs and teddy bears. They recognise it as a key success factor in both business-as-usual and project change. They have seen the studies by Prosci, McKinsey, PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM that demonstrate that change management drives benefit realisation. They are aware that “failure to implement change” is the number one reason why CEOs are fired!

Ten years ago, the most common question that managers asked me was: “Why do we need to invest in change management? We have a project plan which covers communication and training.” Today, the most common question I’m asked is: “How can we build our organisation’s change capabilities? We have good project management but our lack of change management causes delays and reduces our project ROI and overall employee engagement.”

The downside of this rapid rise in awareness of change management is that too many people view change management as a set of simple solutions to the people side of change and there is no overall change management strategy.

In some organisations, change management has become a collection of tactics and tick boxes that are not based on a sound understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities of each change. There are plenty of change management activities underway—emails, intranets, newsletters and briefings—but these activities may not be effective in helping employees and managers transition through the change successfully. It’s a scattergun approach.

One example I saw of this recently was in a large organisation that has a team of change managers and a multitude of change management structures, roles, processes, templates, checklists and activities, but is still experiencing resistance from managers and employees on major strategic projects. What they are missing is a change management strategy for each change to guide the selection of the tactics, to ensure that they are effective as well as efficient.

One size does not fit all

Another welcome change over the last few years has been that organisations are standardising their change management methodologies. Just like the early days of project management, organisations are experimenting with several different change management methodologies – often at all once! One organisation I consulted had all their methodologies in white folders lined up in a bookcase, a ‘Who’s Who’ of change management over the last 20 years. But the organisation had not built capability in any methodology. Project managers and line managers were reeling from all the jargon and conflicting change management approaches.

Author avatar
Catherine Smithson
Catherine Smithson is a leading facilitator, educator and consultant in change and leadership. She has 20 years’ experience as a senior manager and a consultant and has an in-depth understanding of best practices worldwide. She is the managing director of Being Human.
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