Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Advances in Strategy Execution – certifications

There have been three important developments in the last six months that we should all take note of:

NOTE: “The Standard” is currently open for review (to members and non-members) via the link above and the DEADLINE is March 3 2013.

I have shared my letter to the Board in an Appendix below – it is explicitly offered to you to cut and paste all or parts or to ignore completely.  Email addresses for the Board are also provided. I strongly encourage everyone: make your voice heard either through the review tool or by writing to the Board (no deadline for the latter).  

Update: March 4th as noted on the original post I have cut the title of this post from “Monday DEADLINE on Change Management “Standard” and other Advances in Strategy Execution” to reflect the more enduring content. Also, I need to thank Jason Little for the chefs / cooks metaphor which I found again in re-reading one of the discussions.  

Many rich discussions are underway in various groups including some that I follow and participate on LinkedIn. I am influenced by the generous and thoughtful conversations there.

First, appreciation

All of these initiatives are attempts to do something actually very difficult – to describe Change Management and to establish practice standards.  I say difficult because this is pioneering. It has never been done before. 

Yes, of course there are dozens, probably hundreds of books, courses, programs, etc out there.  However, each represents a school of thought, an orientation or perspective towards change usually spearheaded by an individual / organization.  And each is somewhat unique.  Examples would be: Warren Bennis, Senge, Schein, John Kotter, Prosci, Daryl Conner.

All of the documents above are an attempt to create meta-standards – above the existing proprietary content.  All advance our thinking and understanding. 

All have been carefully developed by some very smart, talented and experienced practitioners.  I deeply appreciate and respect the effort and the outputs. 

Fragmented disciplines and  approaches

One of the first things you might notice is that there are three independent initiatives from at least two perspectives: Project Management and Change Management.  And, indeed, even the two Change Management perspectives are very different.  The CMI approach comes at it through competencies and the ACMP approach through process. 

In fact there are more probably than these three.  I have also heard that the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) is working on something and I am sure there are others.

This is symptomatic of the current state of the field – each existing discipline is working independently. 

What do we really need?

If we were really putting the needs of organizations first what would that look like?  Surely we would aim for, and measure against, improving the effectiveness of change. 

If we did that we would collaborate to develop integrated solutions focused on improving business results. 

Many are concerned that Associations lose sight of this larger objective and instead fixate on members and on driving revenue through certifications, training and conferences. 

We have a long way to go on these fronts.

This is progress

Having said that, this is what progress looks like.  The great work of volunteers from all of these organizations is giving us a new plateau from which to think about and understand what we do. 

Kudos and gratitude to all. I hope that we can continue to progress and debate and learn from each other.

What do you make of this?

Thoughts? Reactions? Please share in the Comments section.

Getting something out of this? Please do share with your network by forwarding this post over email or over social media using the buttons below. Thanks!

Related Posts:

APPENDIX: Letter to the Board of ACMP regarding the “Standard for Change Management”

This is the content of the full letter I emails to the ACMP Board on Feb 28 2014 (excerpts were published in discussion groups same day).

It is explicitly offered to you to cut and paste all or parts or to ignore completely.  I strongly encourage everyone: make your voice heard either through the review tool or by writing to the Board (no deadline for the latter).

The email distribution list is as follows:;;;;;;;;;;

From: Gail Severini []

Sent: Friday, February 28, 2014 9:35 PM
To: ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’
Subject: Issues regards the Standard – letter to the ACMP Board

This email is addressed to the Board and to the general email of the Standards committee. 

Firstly I want to genuinely appreciate the hard work of the Standards Working Group.  I know many of you and absolutely appreciate that developing the first global standard for Change Management is a broad and complex task.  The team has moved us from a standing position, through many animated debates I am sure, to an intelligent articulation of the process of Change Management.  It is good work to-date. 

Having said that, in my opinion, it is not ready to take to market.  There are significant unresolved issues that I strongly advocate for taking time to resolve.  I cannot stress enough how important I believe it will be to demonstrate that ACMP has heard the Change Management community and is committed to launching strong.  You may be aware that there have been at least two discussions on LinkedIn – in the ACMP Group here and in the Organizational Change Practitioners Group here (you have to be a member of the group for the link to work).  A shorter version of this email has also been posted there.

As I see it there are 7 issues:

1. Certification without evaluating effectiveness is a non-starter.

I am extremely disturbed that there is consideration of giving certification (at any level) without evaluating effectiveness.  I am referring to Annex A which states that ACMP will “not certify the relative effectiveness of a “person” as a change manager or change agent”.

The Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct says explicitly “ACMP fills an equally important but complementary role, providing practitioners a professional association devoted to helping them to advance the discipline and increase change effectiveness around the world”. 

Granted later in Annex A there is a qualifying statement that “The net result of this distinction between certifying a person as an “effective change manager” versus certifying in the practice of change management is that some knowledge and skill areas of an effective change manager will be out of scope for ACMP’s certification and standards process, at least for the initial development of Level 1 and Level 2 certifications”.  This is unacceptable – any certification implies a level of effectiveness.  This cannot be deferred to a later date.

There are many ways to evaluate effectiveness, for example many Associations get there by requiring summaries of case work executed by the practitioner, signed off by managers / clients.

Furthermore, it is astounding to me that Annex A is the last 2 pages – it has caused some in my network to ask if it was deliberately buried.  This definition of scope of ACMP and scope of the “Standard” should be up front in the Introduction.

2. The content is good but insufficient.

Training and certifying practitioners on process alone will create cooks not chefs.  It is a disservice to the complexity of change that organizations face today to think that a process alone, no matter how good, is sufficient to prepare a practitioner to facilitate change.  One of the practitioners whom I have come to respect has been known to say “A fool with a tool is still a fool”.   The “Standard” as it current sits is a good instruction manual – would you ask a surgeon to operate after reading a manual?  I doubt it.

It may be worth noting that this scope is the easiest for PMI and others to replicate and it is NOT the scope that differentiates great Change Management practitioners.  It is not the scope that offers the most compelling reason for ACMP to charter Change Management as a discipline or profession.

Process is maybe a half of the capability build that is required.  It takes also takes competencies to deliver that process effectively.  I strongly advocate that ACMP either develops content or re-commits to working with CMI to combine approaches and focus on serving the greater good of the profession. 

3. Have we lost the thread of “realization of intended business results”?  

The first statement of our Mission includes “support the success of individual and organizational change for the realization of intended business results.”  This was something I could really get behind.  It puts our work directly in service to driving business results.

I see that as in conflict with the second statement of our Mission as written “Advance the discipline of change management through globally accepted and adopted standards, ethics and professional credentials.”.  No one should be misled into thinking that we can deliver realization only through standards, ethics and credentials. Without competencies and experience this approach is IMPOTENT. 

4. The Case for Certification is missing.

Perhaps I have missed a communication and even so I do believe the case for certification should be embedded with the document. It is impossible to evaluate whether “the Standard”, as currently written, meets the Association’s requirements without a documented raison d’etre.  If we were clear on how certification, and therefore testing against “the Standard”, would contribute to the “realization of intended business results” we could get crystal clear on what should be in it.

We have not answered questions like: How does certification “advance the profession”? How does it contribute to realization of business results? Why should a practitioner become certified? What is the value to organizations of investing in certification for their internal practitioners? Why should they prefer certified practitioners in their contracting / consulting?

Without a tie to directly to business benefits we fall directly into the accusations of the cynical who are quick to suggest that ACMP is just another Association money grab.

This could be added in the Introduction section or at least on the website.

5. We are painting ourselves into a homogenized, low level corner

Three points here:

  1. As presently written, “the Standard” will serve a segment of the market who need a tactical process for linear change.  Project Managers will probably love it.  CM Managers and Analysts will be satisfied.  However, in many ways it misses the larger strategic and leadership issues of transformational change.  It takes a clinical and mechanistic approach to something that it inherently dynamic and human.  It lacks heart, compassion and passion.
  2. If we don’t acknowledge and draw in our Organizational Development colleagues we will be missing critical lifeblood.  Many OD practitioners are disenfranchised and confused by Change Management’s rise.  They bring vital and important perspectives on Change Management. There is opportunity here.
  3. If the Mission is indeed “realization of intended business results” we should be thinking of funding research that could further the effectiveness of Change Management in the future.   I see no signs of bigger picture thinking here.

6. How is it possible to write “the Standard” without reference to, and citation of, preceding thought leadership?

I appreciate the challenges of figuring out whose intellectual property to reference and of getting permission to use it however the alternative is ridiculous.  The Standards Working Group, no matter how genius, did not manufacture this good piece of work inside the working walls of the committee.  Even PMBOK references a few.

Surely there are a handful of models that every practitioner should be expected to know.

One additional small step would be to open a list of “Useful Publications” in the Appendix.

7. Credibility of ACMP is at risk

The issues above have not gone unnoticed by the Change Management community.

The fact that there was no way to print a whole version of the Standard for off-line reading (which most members in my network spent a couple of hours finding a workaround for) and no way to provide general comments such as this, implies an intention to ram this version through – that members’ comments may not really be valued.  I will also note that I wrote to the general email on Feb 5th asking for a printable version and never did receive a response.

There is a growing view that ACMP is “just another money grabbing certification ploy, a fad that will die the way that others have before it”. I hear this objection from my network and you can read it yourself in LinkedIn Discussions.

I ask that you acknowledge the voices of the community and do a re-set.

The only thing worse than not publishing a final document this year would be publishing one whose scope is too small, shallow or narrow.  Please re-consider.

If any of you would be interested in discussing the above I will make myself available.  It is my fervent desire to see ACMP succeed at supporting “the success of individual and organizational change for the realization of intended business results”.


Gail Severini

Senior Consultant and Managing Director

Symphini Change Management Inc.

8 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Love the “cooks, not chefs” comment with respect to your 2nd point. The sheer fact that the ACMP thinks they can derive a “standard” for something as ambiguous as how to manage change is dangerous. Not only do I think it’s dangerous, I think it shows a lack of understanding about the people-side of change. I think I understand their intent, which is to improve the profession. The cynic in me says part of reasoning behind “the standard” is “well, we better do it before someone else does…”

I think this standard is about 10 years too late. Maybe big fortune 500 companies will buy into it, but the global economy and pace of change has increased dramatically over the last decade. The next generation of leaders will have grown up knowing how to deal with this pace, because that’s all they know.

Comment by jasonlittle (@jasonlittle)

Thanks Jason. The “cooks not chefs” come from something I read recently – wish I could remember what it was but it certainly resonated on this.

The notion of “next generation of leaders will have grown up knowing how to deal with this pace, because that’s all they know” is interesting and it keeps coming up. I have not seen any research on it yet. It goes against the thinking that humans, as biologic creatures, are wired for change in particular ways and yet I think there is something to the argument that our career lives seem to be in perpetual change (no refreeze).

I also agree that convention tactics viewing change as static are falling behind. I am still hopeful that attempts to create some standards might begin to give us some footing from which to improve.

I hope you will address your comments to the Board as well.

Comment by Gail Severini

Your efforts to raise awareness, encourage practitioner debate and inter-disciplinary dialogue and the need for much broader collaboration are all on the mark!

These 7 points resonate with me, in particular, the sense of a rush to standards, and, the low level “mechanical” approach to Change Management have a project management flavour but do not reflect what it takes to drive strategic transformational change!

Applaud your efforts to engage dialogue between professional communities and encourage collaborative contributions.

Jan Archibald

Comment by Jan Archibald

Thanks Jan. I hope you will also make your opinions known to the Board. The more voices the better. Let’s catch up soon. Gail

Comment by Gail Severini

thank you for your thoughts and concerns, many of them resonate with me, in particular the “cooks vs. chefs” bit. As you pointed out, assessing practitioner ‘effectiveness’ with a focus on improving organizational outcomes are key for any impending professional recognition. As has been said directly or indirectly in multiple discussion venues, off-the-shelf ‘methods’ and processes deny the complexity of human minds gathered together to accomplish real work. It might be helpful for persons putting forth this material to engage other professional organizations that work at ‘depth’, i.e. not just at the level of off-the-shelf ‘method’.

I feel that PMI has made a good ‘move’ in that they have posited a caveat on page 14 / 133 of their Guide …

“In order to get the most from this practice guide, it is important to understand what it does not cover.
– This practice guide does not advise organizations on how to develop or craft strategy.
– This practice guide does not cover the individual and organizational psychology of change – that is the professional domain of the organizational psychologist and organizational development specialist.”

I feel PMI’s Guide is, overall, ‘good’ in that it officially integrates ‘people’ into projects and programs and the associated foundational documents and it implicitly says PMI expects to work with psych and OD types to cover the required needs that arise during ‘change’.

I have found more ‘holes’ than not in the ACMP ‘Standard’ material … and no acknowledgement re: psych and OD types.

I have not perused CMI’s material, so cannot comment, although, as you pointed out, there seem to be a ‘ton’ of organizations vying to fill this niche.

There is a great wealth of expertise and material ‘out there’ among many of the current senior practitioners. It would make sense to engage this ‘wealth’ but ‘who’ would do that engaging is where the difficulties begin.

Thanks again for your contributions to this start .


Robert D. Bryan – MA / OD, PMP

Using behavioral science and management expertise to realize sought-after mindsets, behaviors and measureable organizational outcomes

Comment by Robert Bryan

Hi Robert. Thanks so much for sharing your comments here! I had not taken note of the PMI caveat – I like it and I would like it better in big, bold print – with some explanation as to when a PM should reach out 🙂

I hope you will be just as vocal to the various associations building CM capability – it will take all of our voices, at the highest levels, to make any change in the current direction. Please write to the various representatives and lobby friends and colleagues to do the same.

Warm regards. Gail

Comment by Gail Severini

Kudos Gail for championing this cause. I applaud your efforts to focus the harsh light of reality on what is an important step in the development (or evolution?) of the Change profession. All 7 points resonate with me as well, but in particular I’m disturbed by the apparent lack of change management in introducing this change. As you mention, the lack of a compelling case for this approach and a murky-at-best vision has contributed to the sense that this has more to do with revenue opportunities than supporting the interests of those within the profession. I agree, this should have been subject to a few more revisions, with perhaps the benefit of targeted focus groups including critics and thought leaders before such broad distribution. I am hopeful that the Board will acknowledge and act on your insights.
Thanks again, Cindy Smith

Comment by Cindy Smith

Thanks Cindy. Our wonderful conversations also inform this thinking. It’s early days yet in shaping this as a profession. Much reason to be optimistic.

Comment by Gail Severini

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