“There is nothing permanent except change.”
So goes the popular quote from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. What do you think about the paradoxical nature of this statement?
Change may be a constant, but our reaction to it shouldn’t be—that’s according to Michael Jarrett, PhD. He makes that case in his oft-referenced article, The Seven Myths of Change Management.
He says that fear and survival are often the roots of resistance to change. Such resistance does not occur only in the work environment, but within different areas of the society, "to protect social systems from painful experiences of loss, distress, chaos and the emotions associated with change."
Peter Senge, the author of “The Fifth Discipline,” throws further light on this by stating that, "People don’t resist change. They resist being changed." While change is not easy, it is necessary for growth.
As noted by the former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welsh, in an annual report, "When the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight."
Peter Drucker, one of the most influential management thinkers, supports this with his assertion that, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” This goes to confirm the saying that although change is difficult, not changing is fatal.
According to a 2018 McKinsey & Company survey, only 16 percent of respondents say their organizations’ digital transformations have successfully improved performance and also equipped them to sustain changes in the long term.
To drill down further, Lakecia Carter, PMP, warns that effective change management is not possible without communication and training, but training and communication aren’t possible without change management. This is especially important in the case of acquisitions, mergers and any other basic changes that occur within the organization. There have been numerous accounts of corporate mergers that have unfortunately ended due to ineffective change management.
This might make you wonder: If change is as critical as noted above, why is there such a huge failure rate? Some of the common reasons identified are ineffective top-down communication, lack of space and support, unclear objectives from management, lack of effective performance measures and last but not least, the underestimation of the emotions of those being impacted by the change.
In order to successfully drive organizational change, leaders need to engage individuals at all stages of the change process. This can be implemented using the change equation by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher, among others, that can be written as D x V x F > R, where D = Dissatisfaction, V = Vision, F = First Steps, R = Resistance.
The equation means that in order for change to occur successfully, dissatisfaction with the status quo, a clear vision and first steps toward the vision must be greater than the resistance to change. Some of the popular change management models that can assist with this implementation are the Prosci ADKAR Model, the Kurt Lewin model and the 8-Step Process for Leading Change developed by John Kotter.
In conclusion, although change management is generally encountered throughout the overall corporate environment, it also has a specific application within project management. Within this setting, Carter advises that change management must begin at the project initiation phase—not the execution phase. She adds that change management should continue beyond the project life cycle, to enable the project manager to ensure that unapproved changes do not suddenly resurface as enhancements or requirements.
What have you learned from great thinkers on change management? Please share your experiences below.