Everything we know about change management is wrong

change management

Said Machiavelli, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”  We wonder why things remain the same in organizations.

As a recognized discipline, change management has been in existence for over half a century. Yet despite the huge investment that companies have made in tools, training, and thousands of books (over 83,000 on Amazon), most studies still show a 60-70% failure rate for organizational change projects — a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970′s to the present.

Given this evidence, is it possible that everything we know about change management is wrong and that we need to go back to the drawing board? Should we abandon Kotter’s eight success factors, Blanchard’s moving cheese, and everything else we know about engagement, communication, small wins, building the business case, and all of the other elements of the change management framework?

While it might be plausible to conclude that we should rethink the basics, let me suggest an alternative explanation: The content of change management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped. In fact, instead of strengthening managers’ ability to manage change, we’ve instead allowed managers to outsource change management to HR specialists and consultants instead of taking accountability themselves — an approach that often doesn’t work.

Here’s an example of this pattern: Over the course of several years, a major healthcare company introduced thousands of managers to a particular change management approach, while providing more intensive training in specific tools and techniques to six sigma and HR experts. As a result, managers became familiar with the concepts, but depended on the “experts” to actually put together the plans. Eventually, change management just became one more work-stream for every project, instead of a new way of thinking about how to get something accomplished.

Obviously, not every company lets its managers off the hook in this way. But if your organization (or your piece of it) struggles with effectively implementing change, you might want to ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. Do you have a common framework, language, and set of tools for managing significant change? There are plenty to choose from, and many of them have the same set of ingredients, just explained and parsed differently. The key is to have a common set of definitions, approaches, and simple checklists that everyone is familiar with.
  2. To what extent are your plans for change integrated into your overall project plans, and not put together separately or in parallel? The challenge is to make change management part and parcel of the business plan, and not an add-on that is managed independently.

via Change Management Needs to Change – Ron Ashkenas – Harvard Business Review.

Jim Woods is an employee engagement and leadership expert.

Hire Jim Woods, speakers, leadership, consultant, hr, innovation He is president of InnoThink group and Leadership Matters. To learn more about Jim’s work and to schedule an appointment please click here. Thank you.

President, InnoThink Group Leadership, Growth, & Human Resources Consulting. We focus on helping you make change happen and help your people realize their potential. Consulting | Speaking | Coaching

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Jim Woods is president of The Jim Woods Group. A management consulting firm. Go here to see his work www.jimwoodsgroup.com. He advises and speaks to organizations large and small on how to increase top line growth in times of uncertainty and complexity. Some of his speaking and consulting clients include: U.S. Army, MITRE Corporation, Pitney Bowes, Whirlpool, and 3M. See more at his website www.jimwoodsgroup.com.

Posted in Change Management
2 comments on “Everything we know about change management is wrong
  1. Thanks Jim, great Statement! We work in exactly this direction – developing tool such as “Transformation Canvas”, “Trainer of the Organization”, Transformation Homebase etc.. Please check “Transformation Design” form entwicklungspartner and our blog at http://hlp-entwicklungspartner.de/blog/ Cheers, Clemens Frowein


    • Jim Woods says:

      Thanks for commenting Clemens. Thanks to Google Translator I just read your biography as well as your company background. 🙂 Both are impressive. It is wonderful to see a firm focused on execution. Please stay in touch.


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