Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


‘A ha’ moments – Making change produce the results envisioned in the Business Plan
November 7, 2009, 5:04 pm
Filed under: - People Change Management, - Project Management | Tags: , , ,

Inside the world of committed change specialists there exists an angst: ‘How can we make this transformation stick?’.  Not just in the limited sense of getting people to adopt the change rather in the sense of the original intent: ‘producing the results targeted in the Business Case’. 

If this were simple, every implementation would go in on time, on budget and ratchet organizational performance by the forecast.  It is neither simple nor given.  So we continue to research and study.  Every so often in our continuous learning journey we collaborate with other Change Specialists or read publications that generate ‘a ha’ moments. 

This post provides a review of “Change the Way You Lead Change”, David M. Herold and Donald B. Fedor , Stanford Business Books, 2008 that articulates a few of those ‘a ha’s.   

Sometimes an ‘a ha’ is as simple as shining a light on a context that had dimmed into the background and sometimes as complex as linking otherwise disparate ideas together for a different perspective — Professors Herold and Fedor do both in this extrapolation of what change realistically is and how to take it to the next level. 

How refreshing!  The authors put leading and managing change BACK into its rightful place – connecting strategy and execution — sounds obvious, but they remind us of the challenges of these realities. 

In fact, they remind us that what we have come to believe is simple is in fact ‘simplex’ — a combination of relatively simple approaches in a dynamic environment of complexity. They remind us that this is why so many change initiatives fall short of targets in execution – often we under estimate, under resource, under discipline the execution of great strategy.  They challenge us to re-introduce a more comprehensive of thinking about change.

Many organizations have incorporated leading and managing change training into their leadership programs.  They have incorporated Kotter’s 8 guiding principles into their Program / Project delivery.  So these standard best practices ‘ check boxes’ are ticked — and yet still transformational change strategies fall short. Why?  Transformational change is different in magnitude, penetration, duration, impact and stress on the organization.  

Firstly, even the most committed Program teams often fail to customize and deeply apply the basic change management capabilities that are available to them.  It’s the ‘dusty treadmill’ dilemma – too little, too late.

Secondly, organizations underestimate the complexity and the dynamic nature of change.   For example:

  • Identifying optimal organizational strategies (itself a fundamentally complex endeavor) does not mean that the organization has the adaptive capabilities to transform.   Assessing and addressing the gap between current and required adaptive capability should be an elementary first step — yet it is often skipped. 
  • Considering who will lead the change — no, really considering the skills, influence and time commitment required for success.  As an aside, it is often flouted as a weakness that leaders “abdicate” their responsibilities to the Program team.  However, there is viable middle ground here such that leader benefits from qualified resources to support them in leading the change — this support can be “engaged” not “delegated”.  Good change practitioners hold the leader accountable for their role and enable them leader appropriately.
  • Understanding, fully, the internal context — the impacts on structures, systems and processes and the track record of the organization under other similar circumstances.
  • And much more.

Experienced change practitioners see that the discipline is coming full circle — from an intuitive leadership attribute to a well-defined discipline comprised of multiple capabilities.    

In the gap between the two however is a place where organizations have tried to train and systematize it into their people and processes.  Transformational change is not that simple or that static.  It is dynamic and complex — simplex.

Herold and Fedor enlighten us of the comprehensive thinking required to transform effectively – and the sophistication of effort to get it right.


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