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Change Whisperer on ProjectManagement.com

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This is a blog about Strategy Execution, about implementing change and driving ROI to the bottom line. It is intended for: Leaders and for Program, Project and Change Management practitioners trying to manage the weather systems of change raining inside the organization.

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Enterprise change vs Project change

Insights in Change Management—Interview with Kimberlee Williams, CEO, Ignitem (Part 1 Of 3)

What is leadership’s responsibility for driving and sustaining a nimble organization? Interview with Daryl Conner, Chairman, Conner Partners. Post 2 of 3

The strategic imperative of the "nimble organization" and the mirage. Interview with Daryl Conner

What is the Board’s Role in Strategy and Strategy Execution? Post 3 of 3

What is the Board’s Role in Strategy and Strategy Execution? Post 2 of 3

This post is a continuation of notes from a fantastic panel discussion, “Growth Strategy—the Board’s Role,” run by the Institute of Corporate Directors.

On stage, board members represented major public- and private-sector organizations such as BCE, Bell Canada, Scotiabank, Loblaw, Shoppers Drug Mart, St. Michael’s Hospital, Sun Life Financial, Canadian Pacific Railway, Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, and Imperial Oil. Bios are provided in Post 1. My own comments are indicated in italics.

Question 2: How should the board be engaged in strategy?

Facilitator Ken Smith led in with the observation that the traditional process is for management to present a fait accompli—the board is given the Strategic Plan, allowed to ask a few questions, and then expected to stamp their approval. He noted that boards are not always given much opportunity to weigh in.

Mr. O’Neill was clear: “Strategy should be a part of every conversation.” He further noted that the director doing the onboarding should include briefings on the business and the industry such that directors are informed enough to comment appropriately. He also suggested that the strategy review process should have a cadence such that board members receive information and have time to “soak and deliberate” on it.

He further suggested a series of three meetings where, in the first, management shares “what they are thinking,” while the second is dedicated to risk assessment, mitigation, and discussion and the third is dedicated to making the decision.

Stephen Bear shared his perspective, starting with a re-calibration—he noted that “we used to do 3-5-10-year plans, but now it is more of a process, a journey, than a deterministic point in time.” He concurred on the need to educate the board on the industry and noted the importance of also looking at adjacent industries. He advocated that boards must think about and discuss “Where do we fit in that?” and “What are the risks and challenges?”

He suggested that there are two types of strategic decisions that boards should discern between—both important, but different:

  • Broad decisions, such as “where do we fit in the market,” and
  • Smaller ones, such as “which acquisition should we make?”

He noted one caveat: “Not all board members are born equal,” (i.e., each brings different expertise). He advocated that boards should “leverage your best assets” appropriately. I took this to mean that not all board members have deep expertise in strategic planning and that members should look to each other to determine who can bring the most forward on this topic.

I appreciated the candid question (particularly the contextual tee-up that boards might be expected to rubber stamp strategy) and the momentum of the answers. I would have liked to see each of the speakers take their thinking another step, and I wondered if Stephen Bear would go so far as to suggest that every board should have a member whose expertise was as deep in strategy as a Chartered Accountant’s is in finance; however, time did not permit.

Question 3: How are directors prepared to play an effective role?

Ms. Hoeg stressed that “one must educate oneself” on the organization, the industry, and the proposed strategy. She emphasized that directors really must discern whether management is doing the “right things” and whether the organization is sticking to its core capabilities. I became hopeful hearing her following remarks:

  • “Boards are clamoring for more and more attention on strategy” and
  • “Management is being pressured to manage the operational parts more tightly to allow more board time to be spend on strategy.”
  • “Strategy must be a living, breathing document to ensure that it is the right one.”

Mr. O’Neill also shared that training for directors at Scotiabank is at the board’s request. Such training sets a baseline for the directors’ knowledge bases and every iteration deepens the insight. “Once you have been through a couple of cycles, you can dive deeper.”

Stephen Bear dropped in the following deeply incisive remark: “You are educated as well as management wants you to be. It’s your role to determine if that’s enough.” He noted that it can create some discomfort to pose questions such as, “Is management telling us enough?” and “Do they know enough?”

This was followed by a zinger from Mr. Smith: “Risk oversight is good unless they [board members] believe their role is risk minimization.”

I was relieved to hear that boards get some onboarding (no pun intended) and that they can seek additional general and specific training; however, I had assumed this. I was glad to hear (from Ms. Hoeg) that board members are “clamoring” for more engagement—that seems fitting. 

Question 4: What have you seen around boards balancing growth and risk?

Mr. Bear led this off with two assertions:

  • “One cannot grow without some risk. There is a need for a good discussion on the appetite for risk.” He added: “With misalignment, so many questions, debate, and demand for analytics can happen that you can miss the opportunity.”
  • “It’s important to be very aware of two types of risk: commission and omission.” As an example of commission, Bear noted that in the late 1990s, in an acquisition bid, Bass pressured the board to a “deal/no deal.” The board agreed, but government regulation tied the deal up. “It cost $1B to get out of that.” The point is that the board “committed” that problem. On omission, he noted: “It is important to have processes in place to see the unseen,” particularly in adjacent markets. He also commented that it is very difficult for a successful business that is “pumping out profit” to change even when they see it coming. He referenced Kodak and Blockbuster as examples of failure to act.

Bear further noted that, in a recent McKinsey survey, only 16% of boards felt they have a deep understanding of dynamics in their market and articulated the obvious question: “Is this enough?”

Ms. Hoeg weighed in next, noting that some organizations, such as Sun Life (where she sits on the board), are in the business of risk: “They understand how to drive profit from that.”

Thomas O’Neill picked it up with a reference to “stealth risk” and the need to be aware of unpredictability. He noted, “Who would have thought in 1985 that Toyota would be become the biggest car manufacturer in the world and GM would go bankrupt?” He referenced several recent acquisitions: Bell’s of Astral Media; Loblaw’s of Shoppers. He also referenced BASEL III and the impact this will have.

I heard a consensus that organizations are under pressure, some internally driven by proactive strategy and much externally driven, to accommodate varying degrees of risk. I did not hear much around how boards are coping with this.

Question 5: What is the right timeframe to be thinking about planning? What’s the board’s role for setting appropriate timeframes?

Mr. O’Neill carried the ball here: He noted that the cycles for different industries are different and therefore the answer needs to be calibrated to reflect that. He noted that, in retail, the supply chain cycle drives a lot of the strategic issue, but in oil sands development, like Nexen’s Long Lake, the cycle is entirely different. I lit up when he said, “The board is responsible for ensuring that the strategy can be executed.” He went on to discuss short-term activism (and the pressure to deliver continuously, improving results quarter-over-quarter without respect to the longer-term growth strategy). He advocated against setting quarterly expectations and, instead, recommended giving analysts the data and letting them figure it out.

Ms. Hoeg picked up the issue of “short termism,” noting that strategy must be “put in context” and “one has to get that the strategy is as right as possible and that it will have to flex.” She referenced the example of brand management from her past experience, noting that brands have cycles and as one is declining there must be others in development for mid- and long-term growth. She also referenced the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) saga, noting that this case is an example of the importance of being in touch with shareholders. (For a bit of background, see “Ackman vows to make CP Railway ‘one of the best’ in the world”.)

I didn’t really hear an answer to the question; however, the comments were interesting. Of course, the references to Long Lake and CPR really left me wanting to hear more, much more.

The next question turned, logically, to scenario planning and its role. For this, Mr. Smith turned, obviously, to Stephen Bear to tap his deep experience at McKinsey. More on that in the next, and last, post in this series. Don’t want to miss it? You can subscribe top left.

In the next post, I will share the panel’s responses to the remaining six questions. 

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.  Thanks!

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Posted on: February 01, 2014 03:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

What is the Board’s Role in Strategy and Strategy Execution? Post 1 of 3

SOLD OUT! I signed up for this panel presentation, “Growth Strategy—the Board’s Role,” as soon as the fall season schedule from the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD) came out. Good thing I did—many, it seems, are interested in “practical tips to help boards apply their time and expertise effectively on strategy issues.”

In this series, I will share highlights from the line-up of incredible panelists—representing current board engagements on twelve of the most significant organizations in Canada today, including such newsmakers as: BCE, Bell Canada, Scotiabank, Loblaw, Shoppers Drug Mart, Sun Life Financial, Canadian Pacific Railway, and Imperial Oil. My own observations and comments are indicated by italics.

For readers whose interest originates out of Change Management, allow me to connect the dots: If we accept that helping people transition through change is an essential part of implementing strategy (often under the logistics of Project Management), then Change Management nests within Strategy Execution. More on this in “Change Management Methodology (Strategy Execution Methodology Series, Post 4).”

Please note this discussion moved like whitewater rafting. I have quoted panelists wherever I could capture their words accurately and have paraphrased with as much integrity as possible. Any misinterpretations here are entirely my own. 

Strategy and its Siamese twin, Strategy Execution

For some time, I have been bending the ear of several senior members of my network with the argument that, at a very high level, Strategy Execution must be under the purview of the board.

It’s a pretty simple two-part argument:

1.       What’s the spend on Strategy Execution? What if it’s $5M or $55M? Given that failure rates on strategic initiatives range from 44-70% (see “Time to kill the 70% phantom failure rate”), there is $2.2M - $38.5M directly at risk.

2.       Perhaps even more importantly, does realization of those strategies materially affect the future of the organization?

In combination, surely these are equivalent to any of the board’s other responsibilities.

To be crystal clear, I am not referring to strategy here (I had assumed that this was under the purview of the board), I am referring to the execution of the strategy (i.e., specifically to tracking high-level risks, progress, and benefits realization). Not as crazy as you might first think. Have a look at BMO’s Performance Committee’s mandate: “responsible for driving enterprise results and taking action on initiatives relating to BMO’s strategic priorities.”

No, no, and…maybe

I have had varying reactions:

·         Some give me the standard aloof “brush-off”: “Boards are, of course, responsible for signing off on strategy. Execution, though, is what management is hired for. The board does not mix in with management responsibilities.” (as if this were a written law—it is not).

·         Some will go further: “Boards have many issues on their agendas, such as performance (aka quarterly results), compensation, and risk management. It is all they can do to keep up with this pace. Not to mention the fact that many do not really know the business or business practice very well.” Much of this disturbs me, and I think it should disturb you too. And, I don’t really buy it.

·         I had a wonderful conversation with a gentleman who serves on the boards of several mid-sized organizations and he was intrigued. He acknowledged the rebuttals above as standard thinking and their dismissive tone as common. However, he also acknowledged that he shared a level of concern regarding the ability of management teams to undertake transformational strategy and the board’s culpability in that.

With this context in mind, I was excited to hear what this panel might say.

So, what did they say?

This panel really focused more on the role of the board in determining strategy—and they had some interesting things to say about this. They touched down on Strategy Execution only lightly, but it was, I thought, promising.

Ken Smith did a solid job of constructing a set of seven questions that would draw out the expertise of the panel. Mr. Smith is an ICD.D and a veteran (25 years) strategy consultant. He was chairman of SECOR consulting and is the author of “Twenty Questions Directors Should Ask About Strategy,” published by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

The rock stars of the morning were:

·         Thomas C. O'Neill, F.ICD, chair of BCE and Bell Canada, Director of Scotia Bank, Loblaw, Adecco, and chair of St. Michael’s Hospital

·         Krystyna Hoeg, Director at Shoppers Drug Mart, Sun Life Financial, Canadian Pacific Railway, Imperial Oil Ltd., and Samuel Son; vice chair of Toronto East General Hospital

·         Stephen Bear, director emeritus of McKinsey and Company, former member of McKinsey’s Global Board, chair of Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation

Question 1: Why is growth important?

Thomas O’Neill hit the pressure point with, “if you can’t grow you will lose your growth multiple” and “once Canadian companies reach a certain size they must go outside” with the caveat that the risk increases exponentially. He referenced the recent acquisition of Canada Safeway by Sobeys and the related competitive acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart by Loblaw as examples of organizations making a move in the rising current economic cycle to create some growth momentum.

Stephen Bear addressed the question by focusing on two important issues:

-          “Quality of growth”: He recommended that organizations be selective in their growth and to focus on geographies or products or other dimensions that will optimize growth. He noted that, at McKinsey, they had to come to terms with the reality that they could not grow more than 10-11% annually due to investments required to inculcate values, mentor, and provide stretch experiences.

-          Shrink to grow: He gave the example of a conventional oil and gas company that looked at the strategic horizon and the beginning of new technology to access shale gas. Company leaders realized that “they would be pushed to the outer edge of price” if they did not make a move. They made the difficult decision to shift technologies. This required them to shed conventional assets and to use that to buy shale land. This took considerable time and they had to be resilient to the pressures in the market for short-term results. 

Krystyna Hoeg led into her comment with the caveat that all strategy must start with “understanding what shareholders want” and, more specifically, with “not all growth is good,” (i.e., discrimination is warranted). She noted that “organic growth is usually acceptable and encouraged” and that “the capacity of the organization within the whole picture of what it is being undertaken” is important. 

This last point, in particular, resonated with me. As consultants, we often see strategy snowball in the execution cycle and see organizations hitting very real capacity issues. 

 

In the next post, I will share the panel’s responses to the remaining six questions. 

Thoughts? Reactions? Please share in the Comments section.

Related Posts:

·         Is Strategy Execution the new black?

·         Breakthroughs in strategy

Posted on: January 18, 2014 10:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Will "change management" become extinct? The evolution of change management. Post 3 of 3

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”—James Belasco and Ralph Stayer, Flight of the Buffalo (1994)

Holding on to the pastIn the last two posts, Jennifer Frahm and I considered the costs of the old “change the people or change the people” mindset, and then we looked at the environment of continuous chaos and thought leadership in developing nimble organizations.

This begs the question, “If we ever move in the direction of nimble organizations, will Change Management, as we know it today, become extinct?

Will “Change Management” become extinct?

Is this radical? Are any organizations really thinking about becoming nimble? It seems to us that many are. We see an increase in the reference to “People” and “Culture” in titles at the VP and CXO level, as well as an increase in initiatives that address organizational culture.

Organizations are also increasingly, if perhaps a little slowly, dipping their toes into enterprise collaborative platforms that encourage symmetrical interactions and reduce hierarchy. Technology tools like social media and gamification are unlocking this power by providing platforms that scale and enable dialogue.

This tentative tapping and experimentation with the speed of information sharing, clarification, engagement, and momentum is both exhilarating and threatening to many. As we all become more comfortable with the transparency and learn how to ride the vast waves of information that come to shore on employees desktops, we are evolving new cultures and new social contracts with each other.

Those in hierarchical positions of power have much to lose in the contractual redefinition. Could it be more palatable to “change the organization” via muscled-through change than face a redefined social contract that redistributes status? Jennifer did a great post on this: “A collaborative workplace culture? Six questions to ask first.”

Early signs?

We see an increase in the tension around questions such as, “Is change management a competency or a process?” “Where should change management live in an organization?”, (e.g., in HR or in the PMO), and “Is change management tactical or strategic?” Like in the example of Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace” referenced in Post 2, the trend is to integrate change management, as in the development of change capabilities within line managers and individual employees.

Is it possible that some organizations will no longer require discrete change management approaches and methodologies as we know them today? Surely this makes sense. If change management is part of the organizational DNA then we do not need to be shown how to do it. Breathing is instinctive to humans; does change also become more instinctive in organizations?

Surely we need to move from reactive, tactical, and prescriptive change management approaches past even OD-rich notions of employee “buy-in” to rolling, integrated, iterative, and engaged change where:

  • Employees observe and participate appropriately in real-time strategy development, planning, and execution
  • The organization is co-constructed in response to external stimulus and internal impetus—a hyper-connected organization
  • An organization’s effectiveness is defined by its dialogic competence and its ability to have conversations of change that address the quest of relevance

We can take a lesson from Zach Brown, Executive Director, West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. In a blog post on the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness blog, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly first,” he speaks to the need to evolve their approaches to ending homelessness:

“Now, let’s be clear that I am not advocating that we run off half-cocked, trying random things at every turn—plus, we already know many best practices that should drive our strategies. What I am advocating for is a thoughtful venture into the sometimes scary lands of progress that challenge our conventions, linear thought, safety nets, and our fear of failure.”

Time and timing

It is possible that, if this current economic cycle can continue long enough without another catastrophic pothole, we could see some real traction on advancing and evolving the ability of organizations to adapt. It’s that catastrophic pothole that provides the legitimacy to senior executives to move back into well-rehearsed and understood routines of command and control, change the person, change the organization.

Meanwhile, as we meet organizations where they are in their own journeys, we may find ourselves bringing the best of what we currently know about leading and managing change. We may actually need to “change the person,” just not the “person” who is usually changed. Irony huh? Or perhaps we nudge our leaders and sponsors and follow the evolution of the organization into a brave new modus operandi; one could call it a changed organization.

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Jennifer Frahm for joining forces on this series.  It is always a benefit to have a “thinking partner” to expand, challenge, and refine ideas, and although we are in different countries (hemispheres, even) and have never met, it has been amazing for us to collaborate. You can find more from Jennifer on her blog at“Conversations of Change.”

Well, where do you land? How long will we be implementing Change Management in structured Project Management models? Can old industrial cultures ever convert to more fluid, dynamic organizations?

Related Posts:

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Change Whisperer by www.gailseverini.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Posted on: December 12, 2013 08:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Change the organization or change the organization. The evolution of change management. Post 2 of 3

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”—David Lloyd George

Gumby change the organizationIn the last post, we looked at the costs of muscling change through with a “change the people or change the people” attitude. In this post, I have teamed again with Jennifer Frahm, and we look at the alternative.

What if our organizations became more adaptable? Would this mean more and better change management? Or would it be evolved into the competencies and culture, into the DNA, of the organization?

What does that mean—“change the organization”?

It used to be that old-school, industrial-age organizations could accommodate stepped change. For purposes of this article we will consider the mechanical approach to forcing change through (described in Post 1) to be Change Management 1.0.

However, with the rate of innovation and competition accelerating, pressure is on organizations to change far more rapidly. Consider organizations such as Kodak,Nokia, or, more recently, Research in Motion, who seem to be failing to keep up. Consider the external environmental pressures such as:

  • Legislation such as the Affordable Care Act in the US, which is prompting an unprecedented “land grab” in healthcare insurance
  • The lightning speed, and indiscriminating democratization, of information through social media, which makes issues like healthy eating a much higher priority for organizations such as McDonalds and Burger King, or GMO seeds and public perception of chemicals an issue for Monsanto, or access and quality of water an issue for Nestlé
  • The challenge of meeting multi-generational consumer bases within the same product/service strategy (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and Silent Generation), each with such distinctly different preferences for both marketing and products
  • The uncertainty of shifts in global weather conditions affecting production of raw materials and transport

There is increasing pressure on organizations to be agile, adaptable, and nimble to respond to emergent and continuous change, both proactive and reactive. Step change is difficult to scale. It is typically sequential and takes too long. More change comes into the pipeline before the last change is completed. The “re-freeze” state is vanishing.

Change Management 2.0

Many organizations are answering this call by building Change Management capability:

  • They have invested in Change Management tools, training, frameworks and methodologies. Many have even customized or built their own methodologies.
  • They have created roles either in HR/OD/Talent Management or in Program Teams. Change Managers usually work under the Project Manager on the “Change Management Work Stream.”  There are assessments, plans, and interventions designed to increase the speed and depth of adoption and proficiency of the new thing.
  • Many organizations have further created Change Management Centers of Expertise/Excellence and Communities of Practice.
  • Some organizations even invest in Change Leadership—building awareness and capability in leaders. This further raises the game. Leaders become vested in the change and participate (own it) through completion.

However, this is still pursued as a predominantly sequential and structured process.  What happens when an organization is facing a lot of change? Ten, a hundred, or a thousand initiatives? It is impossible to deploy Change Management resources to each.

Sometimes the organization offers more training and expects Project Managers to pick up those tasks. Sometimes Change Management resources spread themselves like peanut butter across multiple initiatives. Sometimes only the most important initiatives get support.

And what about that insidious notion that there is no longer a stable state between changes?

It sure seems like the appetite within organizations is growing. Is the answer to grow the Change Management complement?

Change 3.0—a look into the future

What is the answer? Do we need to move past Lewin’s (1951) popular “unfreeze-change-refreeze”? This framework was repurposed for contemporary organizations by Weick and Quinn’s (1999) review “Organizational Change and Development,” in the journal Annual Review of Psychology to reflect “freeze-rebalance-unfreeze” as a way of making sense of organizations that are constantly changing.

We simply don’t have the time to re-freeze a stable state. Yet, many of our tools and methodologies are based on a three-step approach that assumes benefits are realized after the organization has institutionalized the change and moved in to a Business As Usual. For many of us, the next change starts before we have moved our stakeholders up the change curve to buy-in. We have just begun to re-freeze, and we destabilize the group again. We need tools and frameworks that reflect a constant state of flux.

For 20+ years many thought leaders have promoted the “nimble” organization as a preferred structural imperative for continuously changing organizations. Some examples:

To push the example a bit further, earlier this year, Dan Pontefract took “Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization” on the road. Dan makes compelling arguments as to why employee engagement and heterarchy are so critical for organizational success today. These include immediate benefits, such as lower employee turnover, lower reportable accidents, higher productivity and corresponding increases in sales, operating margins, and operating income. He also maps some of the approach and techniques used at TELUS (a Canadian telecommunications company).

It is also entirely intuitive to us that these very same approaches are critical for creating an adaptive organization. Imagine a workplace with a high level of understanding of the current state (business as usual) and of the desired future (strategy), where employees are committed (not “present to,” but rather “acting in support of” and “having a voice in”)  the success of the organization.

The idea is not without precedent. In 1993, Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace” details how he used increased principles of openness, transparency, and industrial democracy to manage the wild fluctuations of the Brazilian economy. Employees were upskilled in business acumen in order to make financial decisions and given the option to use company assets in entrepreneurial spin-offs. They were engaged.

These are the key ingredients to rapid and iterative change. There are many more, of course, but the point is that the dominant thinking around hierarchical, command-and-control structures just doesn’t scale to rapid change. Considering the current rate of change, which is still accelerating, and the damage to employee well-being and performance, surely we do need to change the organization.

Or is the question more about why, after 30 years of evidence and thought leadership, don’t we apply this more? What is SO STICKY about command-and-control, forced change?

Next up: where does this lead us? Will Change Management, as we practice it today, become obsolete? More on this in the next post. Don’t want to miss it? You can subscribe top left.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related posts:

Creative Commons License
Change Whisperer by www.gailseverini.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Posted on: December 12, 2013 08:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Change the organization or change the organization. The evolution of change management. Post 2 of 3

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”—David Lloyd George

Gumby change the organizationIn the last post, we looked at the costs of muscling change through with a “change the people or change the people” attitude. In this post, I have teamed again with Jennifer Frahm, and we look at the alternative.

What if our organizations became more adaptable? Would this mean more and better change management? Or would it be evolved into the competencies and culture, into the DNA, of the organization?

What does that mean—“change the organization”?

It used to be that old-school, industrial-age organizations could accommodate stepped change. For purposes of this article we will consider the mechanical approach to forcing change through (described in Post 1) to be Change Management 1.0.

However, with the rate of innovation and competition accelerating, pressure is on organizations to change far more rapidly. Consider organizations such as Kodak,Nokia, or, more recently, Research in Motion, who seem to be failing to keep up. Consider the external environmental pressures such as:

  • Legislation such as the Affordable Care Act in the US, which is prompting an unprecedented “land grab” in healthcare insurance
  • The lightning speed, and indiscriminating democratization, of information through social media, which makes issues like healthy eating a much higher priority for organizations such as McDonalds and Burger King, or GMO seeds and public perception of chemicals an issue for Monsanto, or access and quality of water an issue for Nestlé
  • The challenge of meeting multi-generational consumer bases within the same product/service strategy (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and Silent Generation), each with such distinctly different preferences for both marketing and products
  • The uncertainty of shifts in global weather conditions affecting production of raw materials and transport

There is increasing pressure on organizations to be agile, adaptable, and nimble to respond to emergent and continuous change, both proactive and reactive. Step change is difficult to scale. It is typically sequential and takes too long. More change comes into the pipeline before the last change is completed. The “re-freeze” state is vanishing.

Change Management 2.0

Many organizations are answering this call by building Change Management capability:

  • They have invested in Change Management tools, training, frameworks and methodologies. Many have even customized or built their own methodologies.
  • They have created roles either in HR/OD/Talent Management or in Program Teams. Change Managers usually work under the Project Manager on the “Change Management Work Stream.”  There are assessments, plans, and interventions designed to increase the speed and depth of adoption and proficiency of the new thing.
  • Many organizations have further created Change Management Centers of Expertise/Excellence and Communities of Practice.
  • Some organizations even invest in Change Leadership—building awareness and capability in leaders. This further raises the game. Leaders become vested in the change and participate (own it) through completion.

However, this is still pursued as a predominantly sequential and structured process.  What happens when an organization is facing a lot of change? Ten, a hundred, or a thousand initiatives? It is impossible to deploy Change Management resources to each.

Sometimes the organization offers more training and expects Project Managers to pick up those tasks. Sometimes Change Management resources spread themselves like peanut butter across multiple initiatives. Sometimes only the most important initiatives get support.

And what about that insidious notion that there is no longer a stable state between changes?

It sure seems like the appetite within organizations is growing. Is the answer to grow the Change Management complement?

Change 3.0—a look into the future

What is the answer? Do we need to move past Lewin’s (1951) popular “unfreeze-change-refreeze”? This framework was repurposed for contemporary organizations by Weick and Quinn’s (1999) review “Organizational Change and Development,” in the journal Annual Review of Psychology to reflect “freeze-rebalance-unfreeze” as a way of making sense of organizations that are constantly changing.

We simply don’t have the time to re-freeze a stable state. Yet, many of our tools and methodologies are based on a three-step approach that assumes benefits are realized after the organization has institutionalized the change and moved in to a Business As Usual. For many of us, the next change starts before we have moved our stakeholders up the change curve to buy-in. We have just begun to re-freeze, and we destabilize the group again. We need tools and frameworks that reflect a constant state of flux.

For 20+ years many thought leaders have promoted the “nimble” organization as a preferred structural imperative for continuously changing organizations. Some examples:

To push the example a bit further, earlier this year, Dan Pontefract took “Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization” on the road. Dan makes compelling arguments as to why employee engagement and heterarchy are so critical for organizational success today. These include immediate benefits, such as lower employee turnover, lower reportable accidents, higher productivity and corresponding increases in sales, operating margins, and operating income. He also maps some of the approach and techniques used at TELUS (a Canadian telecommunications company).

It is also entirely intuitive to us that these very same approaches are critical for creating an adaptive organization. Imagine a workplace with a high level of understanding of the current state (business as usual) and of the desired future (strategy), where employees are committed (not “present to,” but rather “acting in support of” and “having a voice in”)  the success of the organization.

The idea is not without precedent. In 1993, Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace” details how he used increased principles of openness, transparency, and industrial democracy to manage the wild fluctuations of the Brazilian economy. Employees were upskilled in business acumen in order to make financial decisions and given the option to use company assets in entrepreneurial spin-offs. They were engaged.

These are the key ingredients to rapid and iterative change. There are many more, of course, but the point is that the dominant thinking around hierarchical, command-and-control structures just doesn’t scale to rapid change. Considering the current rate of change, which is still accelerating, and the damage to employee well-being and performance, surely we do need to change the organization.

Or is the question more about why, after 30 years of evidence and thought leadership, don’t we apply this more? What is SO STICKY about command-and-control, forced change?

Next up: where does this lead us? Will Change Management, as we practice it today, become obsolete? More on this in the next post. Don’t want to miss it? You can subscribe top left.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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Change Whisperer by www.gailseverini.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Posted on: December 12, 2013 08:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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