Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


What is “Change Management”? And, is definition important?

Ask 10 people “what is change management?” and you will get 10 very different answers.  So YES definition is important!

Many Leaders come to the term “Change Management” and intuitively believe they know what it means – and that they are already doing it.  However, behind these innocuous words is a highly specialized discipline that has been evolving over the past 60 years.

Understanding Change Management offers untapped opportunity to drive more value to the bottom line.

The broad definition 

It’s about “managing change”, i.e. taking a strategy and managing the implementation right? Well, yes, in the broadest sense.

My own definition starts from strategic alignment and extends through delivery to seeing the results track in.

Change management encompasses an array of multi-disciplinary capabilities:

  • Leadership and Strategic Planning
  • Project specific capabilities, e.g. Strategic Marketing, Organization Design and Development, Business Process Re-engineering, Technology Implementation
  • People Change Management (PCM), Training and Communications
  • Portfolio / Program / Project Management

Realizing full ROI only happens when ALL of these are INTEGRATED and OPTIMIZED.

Of note, you will see “Change Management” appear on many position descriptions and job postings these days.  This reference typically refers to a general understanding of the nature of change and high level awareness of the process that might be required for straightforward transitional change.

Underneath this broad definition though is a deeper, more powerful, resource – what I term “People Change Management”.  It is increasingly recognized that this so-called “soft stuff” represents the highest risk to transformational change.  It also represents the greatest opportunity for driving value and for competitive advantage.

The deep definition – People Change Management (PCM)

Kurt Lewin got us started and many others have continued the work of understanding how to help people traverse change.  The business notion is that the faster we can get employees to stop doing the old thing and start doing the new thing, the faster the ROI comes in.

Some of the renowned names in the field include: William Bridges, John Kotter, Peter Senge.  Others have gone deeper and applied it to the “hows” of  managing change faster and better:  Linda Ackerman-Anderson, Dean Anderson, Rick Mauer, Jeff Hiatt and our own Daryl Conner.

How do I think of  People Change Management?  It:

  • Reduces people-related risks (eg resistance and misunderstandings) that effect costly delays, re-work, error / waste and turnover
  • Increases and expedites user “adoption, proficiency and ultimate utilization” (Prosci Learning) thereby optimizing business results
  • Encompasses a structured process and tool sets
  • Includes: Leader (Sponsor) support, stakeholder management, change readiness, business impact, communication, training, and change metrics as well as contingency planning and interventions as required
  • Engages users in the change, shares information, improves solutioning and expedites the transition to the ‘new state’ 

How does Conner Partners define “Change Management”?

Change management is the orchestration of change in a way that identifies and addresses the human risks involved in implementing change. This strengthens the individual and organizational ability to handle change well and increases the chances that the change will be put successfully into practice.

Of note, this very tactical and process-driven application of Change Management is deployed within Programs and Projects.  It is substantively different than the generic competency requirement on position descriptions and job posting.

Mastery at this level prepares Leaders and Practitioners to deal with high risk, disruptive change – transformational change.  Mastery often encompasses Organizational Development capabilities associated with: organizational behaviour, organizational design, learning and development, compensation, culture change, etc.

PCM Current Maturity Levels?

Prosci Learning has a neat little Maturity Model here that articulates a development path from novice to mastery.  My experience is that few organizations have reached level 5 – and even fewer have an integrated, end-to-end, execution approach (a PMO is not “it”).

Most organizations are great at some components of change or they would not be around today. However, few (very few) are great at the whole array.

What a great opportunity for developing competitive advantage!  In fact, many Fortune 500 companies are going beyond adding the generic competency onto position descriptions and beyond adding Change Management checklists into project management methodology.  Many are in the process of developing Enterprise capability through Change Management Communities of Practice, Centres of Excellence and even dedicated leadership positions.

Deeper still – specialties within Change Management

In a recent discussion on LinkedIn one of the practitioners I have come to respect, Faith Fuqua-Purvis, proposed the notion of specialists within Change Management (much as within engineering there are Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, etc). I see this as key, for example “Communications” in Change Management is NOT the same as broadcasting information – it is not a PR or MarCom definition – it requires engaging Change Targets in 2-way dialogue. Furthermore, the notion of “risk communication” is also important here – effectively communicating with people who are “in crisis” is very different than day-to-day communications.

The specialities could include:

  • Defining strategic intent at an operational level with a realization focus, e.g. developing Vision and Mission Statements (not as simple as it sounds – I have seen many a project set the wrong trajectory with the wrong vision / mission statement – and this is NOT something that should be a whimsical engagement ploy)
  • Training and coaching sponsors and agents in change leadership/management
  • Enrolling sponsors and targets in this change.  Surfacing and resolving resistance.  Building and sustaining commitment.
  • Developing and deploying communications (informational and conversational, commitment focussed)
  • Anticipating, designing, resourcing and deploying specific types of interventions
  • Risk Management (against proven risk frameworks)
  • Etc

And, by the way, these are not mutually exclusive requirements – to the contrary, they have mutually compounding benefits.

Only when practitioners can clearly delineate

the different specialties and competencies within Change Management,

 describe their benefits and understand their relationships

– only then are they are really prepared to deliver “Change Management” value.

So, while this does not require that our definitions be identical, I ask my colleagues to give more consideration to contextualizing what you do and relating it to what other specialists within the same space do, i.e. don’t sell just your capability. Please consider the breadth and depth of change management and build up the team to meet the client’s best interests.

If you are researching Change Management to deploy within large-scale strategic change, I’d be delighted to share more with you – you can reach me at gail.severini@connerpartners.com .

_ _ _ _

Faith and I both believe that Change Management is a critical component of successful business change.  As such, and along with some others, we are committed to expanding the general understanding of Change Management and will be posting multiple articles on this topic over the next several months.  Some articles will be collaboratively written, others written and posted individually.

We hope you will visit both our sites.  To see Faith’s blog, follow this link.

If you want to know more about who we are, you can find us both on LinkedIn. You can also read more about Faith here and if you want to contact us, you can reach Faith here and me at gail.severini@connerpartners.com.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hello Gail,
Your “Change Management” definition covers in length the most important aspect of a strategic change program, the people! For without the people nothing will happen. The endless diversity in people requires a important focus on the people carrying out the tasks to make successful change. If this doesn’t take place as Kotter states the failure rate can be 70%.
The only things I would add is the beginning and at the end of any strategic change is to know why the change needs to take place through examination of the organizations SWOT. This should be ongoing as in the concept of CANI it develops a learning organization mentality. Last, but not least is the importance of follow-up. This is where the measurables share that a difference was made.
Thaks again,
Maureen Ely

Comment by Maureen Ely

Hi Maureen, thanks so much for your comment. I certainly agree on the importance of SWOT analyses and follow -up. Moreover, I appreciate your reference to “a learning organization mentality”! Gail

Comment by Gail Severini ©




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