Wednesday, 30 September 2015 15:47

The Catch-22 of Organizational Change Management

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"Kotter, ADKAR, or CAP which methodology should we be using to build our approach to improving project adoption?" I hear this question repeatedly from people trying to implement an organizational change management (OCM) program. The problem is that is the wrong question. Take a perfunctory peek at any of the models and you will see that in the quest for an answer people have mistakenly jumped over the first few steps and they head down the road of failure. It is a Catch-22; unless you already have an OCM process in place, you will most likely fail at implementing it. Putting one in place, however, is a change—one of the most difficult cultural transformations your company will undertake. As a result, people jump to the solution stage, which is well down the change management process path (which, they did not know, ironically, since there was no procedure in place).

Why This is Important

Why would you concern yourself with such an arcane topic as adoption? Because it is a the heart of creating value out of your project. You can run the best project in the world maintaining scope, schedule, and budget, but if people fail to adopt the change the project was a failure. Many project managers, lots of managers, and even a few executives disagree with this statement. They do because they see the building of the process capability and the adoption of it as two separate projects. I disagree. Without a comprehensive, unified view of success, we are wasting corporate resources. Tasks encouraging OCM start long before the "build project" begins.

What You Do Need To Know

What you need to know about OCM, and adoption in general, is that all of the processes have the same general flow. To whom they are directed and their commensurate level of detail is different.

The critical point to understand is the first step in any change is sense of urgency (or more mildly put, "awareness"). That means if you are not the CEO of the company who is going to sponsor this project (the project of implementing a new process) and be accountable for its success you are likely wasting your time. Without active engagement in the form of unrelenting sponsorship from the top, your success will be limited and your project will be troubled, at best. The reason is started above—this change is at the core of the corporate culture. It requires changing the emotional drive and beliefs of people away from what they see as familiar toward something new and frightening. To make matters worse and in today's business world change is never ending. Whole teams of people are experiencing change fatigue.

Because of this, start your quest by devouring as much of John Kotter's work as you can. Mr. Kotter thinks and writes like an executive. I recommend starting with Heart of Change or picking up HBR's 10 Must Reads on Change Management (or, buying it for your boss, if you not the executive sponsor). If either of these books make your CEO or you squeamish, rethink what you are trying to do.

Create The Sense Of Urgency

CEOs have two primary tasks in any cultural change:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency around the change.
  2. Making sure the right people are in place to support the change.

The desire to dive right into the implementation is overwhelming and most executives want to skip building the urgency or getting the team with the right skill. They may even pick up a book on Prosci's ADKAR, which bores them to tears (as the detail is not what they need), and mistakenly given the project to an "implementer" to be in the driver's seat. Doing this is the death knell for the change management initiative.

Executives stymied by the fact that they are wasting too much money on poorly adopted initiatives that never realize their anticipated value, are missing that they—the CEOs—are central to this issue. The CEO has never committed their time to do the hard work of the change—creating the sense of urgency and getting the right people.

Middle Management Thwarts Change

Middle management, not the end user, is a big part of this problem. Why? Because middle management has the most to lose. Weak leaders, micromanagers, power hungry bosses, and insecure supervisors who have built empires see this (or any) change as a major threat to their position in the company. Initiatives change processes and the organization (dare I point out the obvious that the "O" in OCM is organization). Any organizational change affects middle managers' power structure. In addition, their skillset needs to change and this generally older crowd is slower and hesitant to pick up a new set of tools for doing their job. Top management and the CEO must focus on this problem to ensure middle managers buy-in and do not sabotage the project. If your any of your initiatives are going to succeed, this will most likely take training in leadership and change. Without this, any change management process will stall as it languishes without the proper leadership support.

Buy-in Is More Import Than The Process Details

Honestly too many people starting change management initiative are hung up on the details. Here are some guidelines:

  1. If you are an executive, do not start with learning ADKAR or even sending your employees to Prosci's classes. Instead, read John Kotter's Heart of Change. This is a great executive-level book defining what you need to do (which, by the way, is a lot more than you are doing now). He highlights the problem most executives gloss over as they try to get straight to a solution (which they hand off to an implementer) and forget to build urgency and getting the right team—in that order. Only after completing that, the company, as a whole, can walk through the latter six steps Kotter's proposed process, which continues by building a vision. Just like the advice from Jim Collins, Tom Peters, and Peter Senge, the vision comes after the right people are in place.
  2. Organization Change Management is poorly understood. There are two areas of confusion:
    1. Change: The line between OCM and scope control is very blurry for many people. Recently we undertook the task of interviewing 150 organizations on the processes they use around adoption. In nearly every interview, the challenge we had was maintaining the interviewee's focus on organizational change and rather than scope change. They would continually use examples of how changes were passed through change boards and how the project manager had to control this process. This is project scope control, not change management related to adoption. We simply have trouble understanding the difference between the two as we have not spent enough time understanding adoption.
    2. Organization and individual change: The world of change management took a huge leap forward with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' 1969 work On Death and Dying. This groundbreaking research is arguably the genesis of all change management theory. Its only problem is that its focus is the individual. You have probably heard people refer to the 5 phases of individual change: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It was not until later that people like John Kotter (again, building on Collins, Peters, and Senge) solidified the concept of organization change management. Unfortunately, Kubler-Ross' theories are taught in universities as part of the required sociology credits, while latter is rarely part of the curriculum, even in today's business schools.
  3. Create a change management team. In the process of getting the right people, create an OCM Team that is chaired by your CEO. This does not mean the CEO is the subject matter expert on change. The people on the team will hold that responsibility, but the CEO needs to set the vision, drive the direction, offer the accolades, and persist with the pressure. He or she cannot do that from the back of the bus. They will fail if they try. The CEO needs to be leading this change. This non-bureaucratic team of visionaries, influencers, and end-users builds the change model, assesses its impact, and thwarts the resistance by making small, persistent wins. It is comprised of proponents and resisters who will consider all the factors in implementing a change process and ensure its adoption by the company.
  4. Think small. Do not boil the ocean. Look for the areas of least resistance and start there. Small wins are better than any failure.

The Longest Journey Starts With a Single Step

This is only the start in building a corporate culture of change. Completing these few steps puts you in the position to map the vision for the future. Some pieces most likely exist; however, you will need to mold them to fit your precise needs. Adapting your culture to include a change mentality is difficult, but when executives live and breathe lf, the new culture is not a fad and it will have a good chance at avoiding the demise of most of the other changes in today's corporate world—failure.

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