The Insanity of Change Management

March 18, 2010
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I’ve been thinking recently about definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The way we have been approaching change perhaps doesn’t qualify as insane, but it begs the question whether conventional change management methodologies need some serious innovation.

For example, consider the 2008 McKinsey survey of 3199 executives around the world. They found, as John Kotter did in his research revealed in his book, Leading Change (1996), that only 30% of change programs succeed. Yikes! Same results 10+ years later! Now you can see why I’m thinking about Albert Einstein… doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Since Kotter’s book on leading change, thousands of books and articles have been published; courses and certifications dedicated to managing change have been delivered. And, despite prolific output in the change management field, the results remain the same. Only one in three programs succeed…

I’ve been thinking recently about definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The way we have been approaching change perhaps doesn’t qualify as insane, but it begs the question whether conventional change management methodologies need some serious innovation.

For example, consider the 2008 McKinsey survey of 3199 executives around the world. They found, as John Kotter did in his research revealed in his book, Leading Change (1996), that only 30% of change programs succeed. Yikes! Same results 10+ years later! Now you can see why I’m thinking about Albert Einstein… doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Since Kotter’s book on leading change, thousands of books and articles have been published; courses and certifications dedicated to managing change have been delivered. And, despite prolific output in the change management field, the results remain the same. Only one in three programs succeed. Kotter’s work is, and should be, part of the leading change picture. It’s just that leading change requires continuous learning, ongoing innovation, and an openness to gifts and art and creativity of other disciplines. It’s we open the doors.

Alan M. Webber, award-winning, Harvard Business Review managing editor, author, columnist, and founder of Fast Company magazine, wrote a great blog post this last week: Waving or Drowning. He writes of change needed in America and he puts forth four great statements to trigger our thinking. Here they are in bold, with my answers below.

Don’t tell me what you’re against; tell me what you’re for.

I’m for thinking and approaching how to lead change in new and innovative ways. I believe we need that, now more than ever. We need people that can create change that matters. 

Don’t tell me who to blame; tell me what you’re working on.

I just published a book on how to lead change – a toolkit to make ideas happen. It’s all about innovating how we lead change (so as to avoid the insanity noted at the beginning of this post). I’m working on teaching people new and innovative ways to lead change.

Don’t tell me what’s wrong with “them”; tell me what’s going to work.

Leading change requires shaping ideas, shaping change in a way that people can ‘hear’, in a way that people can connect. Leading change requires connection, collaboration, engagement. Leading change is about understanding human behavior, not about filling out templates and assessments. Leading change is about left brain + right brain thinking. We need both.

Tell me the kind of change you’re championing and the commitment you’re ready to make to make it happen.

I’m committed to innovating in the field of change management and more importantly help organizations bring a sense of consciousness, an awareness of how important human-centered design is when leading change.

There you go Alan, sir. I appreciate the great questions you posted that inspired me to write this fine evening. The fisherman plays his guitar and sings in the background. My lab’s nose rests on my feet under my desk. My horse was a superstar today. Damn. Some days are just so good. No insanity friends, just thinkin’ and tryin’ and knowin’ we can do better.

References

The Irrational Side of Change Management. Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller, McKinsey Quaterly, 2008.