Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

“The Top 3 Common Mistakes made on a change engagement”

This question, posted on LinkedIn, prompted some very interesting debate.  My full response follows. Perhaps, more important than “mistakes”, the dialogue points to great OPPORTUNITIES for leaders and organizations who seek to become masters of change.   

Firstly, there is an important  distinction between ‘change management’ (CM) and Organizational Change Management (OCM).  The question of “mistakes” resonates in both arenas.  For context, we break it down this way:

  • Change Management (CM) as the generic reference to engaging people through change   
  • Organizational Change Management (OCM) as change executed at a macro, organizational, level  – through HR, Org Design, Leadership,  Coaching, Training, Learning & Development and maybe even Operational Effectiveness
  • People Change Management (PCM) as helping people understand and adopt specific change affecting their roles and jobs, typically executed within Projects or Programs (i.e. directly affecting ROI in short term)
  • For completeness, we also define an Holistic Change Approach which encompasses both OCM and PCM,  integrated into the end-to-end planning through implementation process.

 Mistakes in Organizational Change Management (OCM):

1. Inertia or lack of any change, particularly given recession.  Now is the time, due to either threats or opportunities depending on situation, to make change happen.  Whether that is leaner and more focused or broader and more assertive in the market, few organizations should be burying their heads in the sand – ‘hunkering down’, which should be a temporary state, is becoming atrophied.

2. Treating change as an event when it needs to be considered a continuum. Most enterprises function on a quarterly or annual basis – change does not.  The nature of change required to rejuvenate the North American economy, and organizations operating in it, calls for innovation and more meaningful competition.  This demands cohesive multi-year visions and strategies.   While recognizing the strengths of compartmentalizing through ‘annual planning’ and ‘program design’, it is increasingly important to consider resourcing and competency development in the longer view.

3. Fragmented and/or partial ‘change management’, i.e. organizations that practice CM at all seem to have EITHER OCM or PCM, rarely both and rarely integrated.   Competencies around “leading change”, which can be trained and coached, are insufficient alone and likewise techniques approaches around “managing change” alone are insufficient, i.e. excellence in strategic adaptation requires appropriate change competencies throughout the organization that can link and leverage each other seamlessly.  Finding best practices in both is like finding a unicorn.

Mistakes in People (Project) Change Management (PCM):

1. Hiring 1 ‘Change Manager’ for large initiatives, often ERP, too low in the power structure and including everything and the kitchen sink – I believe this fits in with some of Garrett Gitchell’s points, which translate to me as band-aids in the middle of the organization.  This is probably my major concern, “mistake”: “too little, too late”. 

 2. Myopic focus on only ONE or TWO elements of PCM, conducting it too shallowly or statically (eg vision or engagement or readiness or leadership or training or communications or interventions) – planned then executed with nary a backwards glance while the context shifts throughout the implementation.   The more transformational the change is, the more dynamic, complex and often unpredictable, eg. mergers and acquisitions.  These require thorough OCM and PCM.  Adoption will be affected by other events during implementation and, consequently, the plan must include contingencies and the CM process be iterated and adapted during implementation.

3. Assuming the PCM can be delivered by Project Managers. In cases of minor change, e.g. technology hardware implementation, this may be feasible.  However, any case of transitional or transformational change (where people are required to change the way they think about their jobs or the way that they have become good at doing it) requires dedicated attention and specialized competencies that go beyond tools and checklists.

Change is a strategic imperative

The nature of change required to rejuvenate the North American economy, and organizations operating in it, calls for innovation and more meaningful competition.  This demands cohesive multi-year visions and strategies – and the strategic and tactical competencies to optimize these.

Surely, if change is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

Great question Jim.  Thanks for making me think.

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