Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Is Change Management falling short on Enterprise Change?

missed targetAs noted in the previous post, “Enterprise change vs project change”, we are having a vibrant discussion in the Organizational Change Practitioners Group on LinkedIn on whether change management is serving Enterprise change adequately.

The dialogue is being shaped by many experienced practitioners.

Last week Tim Paul and Mike McHugh raised conversation around Lewin’s ‘Unfreeze, Change, Re-freeze’ that has really given me pause to think.  And Charlie Palmgren weighed in with some provocative thinking about the nature of change.

Here’s where it took me.  Where does this line of thinking take you?

Do we ever re-freeze?

It seems to me that employees rarely today experience the Re-freeze.  Often we are already modifying the finish line before many people arrive there.

Thus their experience is that there is never a ‘rest’, never an ‘anchor’.  Now, I acknowledge this may not be true in totality, however where it is even partially true we are not ‘making sense’ of it for people.

Let’s consider an example:

  • Year 1 organization decides that competition is fierce and there is a need to re-tool the sales force so let’s introduce CRM (eg SalesForce) and do a moderate re-org to refocus time away from admin tasks to face-to-face with client.
  • Year 2 we feel like some sales people don’t get it and we do another re-org to move out the resistors and bring in some fresh blood. Maybe we double down on some more training and a bit of process re-engineering.
  • Year 3 (through 5) we are still not really where we want (competition continues to beat us down) so we decide on a more radical move to switch from product focus to solution focus (huge transformational change) and we acknowledge that this is a 3 year journey – we announce the switch, announce new mindsets and behaviours, do some more process re-engineering and deliver some training … You can fill in the dots.

Putting aside the quality of the strategic decisions and even the quality of change management, the effect is that over a 5 year period we are moving the finish line for the whole sales team at least 3 times and probably many of the groups that are connected with them.  This probably goes on indefinitely.

The static nature of project and change management

Meanwhile, how do we manage change?

Mike contributed the following excellent metaphor:

“As I mull this over, another metaphor comes to mind: film… motion pictures… where the on-going film represents tens of thousands of frames, and any one frame is, basically, a still – a snapshot.

This idea, combined with the deterministic nature of both management and project-oriented management (P3M or any of its component levels) suggests that we need something akin to the ‘still’ to work with. You can’t manage in a project-oriented approach with 100% contingency i.e. if the scope of work was constantly moving about. You absolutely have to take a snapshot of the situation in order to nail the scope and define projects clearly. That definitive viewpoint connects with existing (static) structures to determine the who, how, where and when of the change initiative(s); and everything else drops out from there.

I contend that the ubiquitous, environmental change that impacts organizations is somewhat like a movie. But to deal with it, we have to press the ‘pause’ button and use that single, incremental take – that frame – to assess the need for internal change and build appropriate strategies, plans and projects.

The issue is where to pause the movie. Some scenes might spring out as obvious candidates, where the ‘action’ is really happening; and those would be the equivalent to what we consider to be change imperatives.

And a final caveat: if this metaphor fits, then more ‘frames’ will follow. For once, how great it would be to have watched the movie before!”

The realities of “continuous change”

We talk about continuous change and the need for organizations to become agile but I rarely hear of practitioners positioned in organizations with a line of sight or perspective on scenarios like that (of which there are thousands of variations of course).

To the example of the movie, yes, we can and do take snapshots at points in time.  Probably the lead for strategy 1 has a movie with various snapshots, same for strategies 2 and 3.  In fact given that each of the strategies are supported by projects (eg CRM) each lead will be running a movie with snapshots also.  But who is looking at the bigger picture, the longer horizon – at the experience of the very people we are trying to help move through the transitions?  No change agent that I am aware of.

Perhaps we fall back on our old saw that this is the leader’s responsibility even while we complain that leaders rarely understand the full scope and impact of change.

It seems to me that we have systemic issues with our modus operandi between the worlds of the Enterprise (big picture, long view) and the unit of change (this strategy, that project).

The bigger picture – the portfolio of change

I am currently on an engagement where, as a Portfolio Manager, I have line of sight on a division’s strategy and projects, where they come from and where they are going. The role follows the spirit of PMI’s definition:

“Portfolio management is the coordinated management of one or more portfolios to achieve organizational strategies and objectives.  It includes interrelated organizational processes by which an organization evaluates, selects, prioritizes and allocates its limited internal resources to best accomplish organizational strategies consistent with its vision, mission and values. …

Portfolio management balances conflicting demands between programs and projects, allocates resources (e.g. people, funding) based on organizational priorities and capacity, and manages so as to achieve the benefits identified.”

“The Standard for Portfolio Management”, Project Management Institute, Third Edition

As I speak with employees about their experience with the strategy execution, I am gaining a heightened appreciation for the challenges of these ‘dilemmas’, i.e. big picture is concurrently morphing and there is limited line of sight on the changes, no rest (re-freeze).

The nature of change

Charlie Palmgren gave us the following thoughtful and insightful comments:

  • Change and status quo are not opposites. They are varying speeds of motion on the same continuum” and
  • “It is when the participants in the change have a mind that is aware and appreciative of change and are open to continuously and creatively engaging in and with the change that makes the critical difference in making the change”.

These profound for me and I believe we need to find ways to operationalize against this.

I have found that there often a reaction in situations like this for leaders to throw out “change is the new normal” which I think is often misread as “everyone just needs to suck it up and get used to being in a state of constant change”. We really must do better.

Where do we go from here?

What is your experience? Are you immersed in managing change at a Portfolio level? Within a project? How do you think about the aggregate of change raining on the employees in your organization?

Perhaps you would like to join in the conversation?  Look up “Organizational Change Practitioners” in the LinkedIn Groups.  You will have to join to participate and this might take 24 hours or so.  Then look up “Enterprise Change Management vs Project Change Management”.  Looking forward to your thoughts and reactions.

Related Posts:

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