Strategy AssociatesChange Management 5 Ways Change Management Models are Incomplete

5 Ways Change Management Models are Incomplete

By Todd VanNest and Frank Voehl

Recently, a major study demonstrated that little has changed-Nearly 70% of all transformation and change initiatives continue to fail. With all that is written and posted on Organizational Change Management, or OCM (i.e., where a Google search yields over 6.3 million hits, and change guidance is a large part of the $345 billion dollar management consulting market), it is time to look at the quality of guidance provided by OCM and its authors/consulting gurus.

Additional research is peeling back the layers of the change management onion to identify critical gaps in OCM. It is important to note that this research is not focused on presenting another “proprietary” model with more (or differently labeled) steps to the change process. In fact, by these measures, even PROSCI as the “industry standard” and a model published by a UK firm touting its TEN steps as the “most comprehensive” fall short.

  1. Even “comprehensive” models fall short.  Nearly all models of OCM (and related consulting) simply repackage the same guidance; and their steps are incomplete.  The most significant sign of incompleteness lies in OCM’s violation of the 80-20 Rule.  Though the 4, 5, 7 (or even 10!) steps these models outline define a front- to back-end process, the vast majority of steps (and certainly the bulk of related consulting, training, and communication guidance) are focused on the steps through implementation.  It is important to recognize that implementation doesn’t deliver “dollar one.”  It is the adoption of new practice that drives new outcomes and achievement of the stated transformation and change objectives.

    The amount of attention relegated to post-implementation steps like “monitoring” and “sustaining the change” is poor at best.  This is, in fact, where the heavy lifting of leading change takes place.  It is true that no project is successful without success in the first stages of change (e.g., planning, implementation), but the 80-20 imbalance of detailed guidance from these models results in a dramatic falling of attention and resources. Consequently, change teams and their sponsors look at the additional investment in managing change and are left wondering why they find themselves continuing to rationalize results or point fingers for change failure.
  2. Communicate, communicate, communicate-Still not enough!  The core focus of any change management offering boils down to structuring communication throughout the change initiative-with the greatest focus on communicating in the early stages of change so that expectations are effectively managed and buy-in is secured.  Focus on communication and training still falls short.  We have found that in failed transformation and change (with the exception of efforts in the readiness and planning phases) the communication continues to be largely 1-way.  The failure to set up mechanisms for, and discipline to respond to, feedback throughout the duration of the initiative results in mismanaging change.
  3. Little evidence of “changing the way we change.”  It is very popular today to position a transformation and change initiative as a way to model new values or bridge the organization to a new culture.  However, we continue to see change teams fail to put any real, objective measures in place to get candid and actionable feedback throughout the duration of the change initiative.  How do they know whether they are effectively modeling those values?Many change teams happily promote their ability to model these values and desired culture, but their conclusions are based on their own self-reporting, loosely tied to select stakeholder comments, or based on narrowly defined surveys-not systematic, disciplined measurement (let alone genuine “listening”).  It is not uncommon, for example, to find change teams which are tone deaf to feedback from their most important stakeholders that the team is making decisions in a way that is inconsistent with stated values (including those in their own Project Charter and Operating Principles), or has created divisions within the business (i.e., in- and out-groups) based on access to change plans, project status, or special training.
  4. The “Human Element” in managing change. Popular change management models focus almost exclusively on employees outside the change team as the “human element” in change. While it is true that the psychology of resistance is helpful in understanding how to engage others and increase adoption of new practices, amazing little attention is similarly paid to the change agent. Fear, courage, leadership dynamics, influence strategies, and decision dynamics draw on a larger percentage of our understanding of human psychology than the hoards of attention paid to re-shaping the hearts and minds of “natural born resistors.” Make no mistake, OCM models and related consulting focus attention on the change leader, but nearly all of that focus is on providing process guidance and tools of influence and project management-things these leaders are taught to aim at others. As a result, the change leader is left like an island and little or no insight to his/her personal experience leading change comes through. It becomes easy for these individuals to leave authentic and engaging leadership behind in favor of influencing solely through the power and authority of a process owner, driving the organization through its paces like “Super Project Administrator.”
  5. There is an over-reliance on “lag” measures.  The disciplines of change and project management, as well as specific practices like Six Sigma, have improved results greatly through a strong focus on metrics.  However, as a lot, the tools provided change leaders to measure success are primarily “lag” measures.  Clearly any observed and measured business performance output is a lag measure-this is the “delta” change leaders seek and promise to deliver in the business cases they utilized in gaining support for their initiatives.  Even “real-time” trending of such outcomes involves a lag (observation) period.  Perhaps the most visible measurement discipline used today are the rigorous progress measures deployed throughout the initiative’s life-cycle.  Even on-time, on-budget indicators and “progress versus the project plan” are lag indicators.  How does one know that these critical, but “lag” outcomes will be realized?Recent research has shown that more successful change initiatives occur where change leaders are tuned into “leading” indicators-particularly indicators of adoption.  Note the critical shift here-measurement of preliminary or leading outcomes, not simply betting on lagging business outcomes based on the presumption that the project plan, perfectly executed, must deliver expected outcomes.  It is better to (a) Include a focus on leading indicators (like changes in roles, goals, and demonstrated accountability) targeted to each phase of the change process; (b) “gate” the company’s way through the phases of change based on these metrics; and (c) include “objective” (e.g., stakeholder-driven) indicators to decrease reliance on self-reporting by the change team.