Incomplete Manifesto for Leading Change

May 26, 2010
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I just logged off a webinar I attended on integrating change and project management (it was the kind of meeting where if you were sitting in a room you’d be thinking, “Can I go now?”). The webinar was filled with graphs and charts that mapped this organization’s change model to the PMI process groups.  They also shared their online change management tool which included a list of lengthy assessments and fancy graphs. Here are just a few of the assessments (none of which had fewer than 20 questions) in the first phase of their change model and an example of one of the fancy graphs that’s supposed to glean insight about how to lead change.

  • Sponsor assessment
  • Organizational readiness assessment
  • Change legacy assessment
  • Change agent assessment
  • Adapter readiness assessment
  • Resistance reasons assessment
  • Communication effectiveness assessment

When I look at the process overhead in this change model (which is no different than many other change models), I begin to understand why change practitioners complain that they’re brought in too late—often at the end of a project. Seriously, how many executives, project managers, and

I just logged off a webinar I attended on integrating change and project management (it was the kind of meeting where if you were sitting in a room you’d be thinking, “Can I go now?”). The webinar was filled with graphs and charts that mapped this organization’s change model to the PMI process groups.  They also shared their online change management tool which included a list of lengthy assessments and fancy graphs. Here are just a few of the assessments (none of which had fewer than 20 questions) in the first phase of their change model and an example of one of the fancy graphs that’s supposed to glean insight about how to lead change.

  • Sponsor assessment
  • Organizational readiness assessment
  • Change legacy assessment
  • Change agent assessment
  • Adapter readiness assessment
  • Resistance reasons assessment
  • Communication effectiveness assessment

When I look at the process overhead in this change model (which is no different than many other change models), I begin to understand why change practitioners complain that they’re brought in too late—often at the end of a project. Seriously, how many executives, project managers, and employees do you know that want this level of overhead? Not once was their mention of tailoring the approach and strategy and actually talking with people to dig deep and understand their hopes, fears, barriers, and concerns. Conduct an assessment or fill out a template was their answer to leading change.

There was no mention of HOW to motivate and connect with people. They viewed the change management team as a separate entity with a different set of responsibilities from the project team—the project team is responsible for design and implementation and the change management management team is responsible for “managing the people side of change.” Foolishness, I say.Our job is to design and implement change that people understand, willingly support, and better yet, believe in. To do so, you have to be close to the design of the change or idea. You have to be willing to make mistakes and iterate. You have to know how to create momentum, build an audience, and create new habits. You don’t do that with an assessment. You learn to do that through practice and learning how to think about change.

I’m finished with my rant now. I’m just puzzled that so many change practitioners fall for the template/assessment approach. Why is that do you think?

As a result of this rant, I decided to articulate statements exemplifying my beliefs, strategies, and motivations for leading change. I’ll call this a manifesto, an incomplete manifesto, for leading change. Why incomplete? Because we learn as we grow. Collectively, they are how I approach every project. I welcome your comments and additions to the manifesto.

  1. Everyone is a Leader.
    Leading change starts when someone, somewhere (no title required), decides a change is needed or has an innovative idea they believe is worth pursuing. Teaching the skills to make ideas happen is why RIVERFORK was created.
  2. Begin Anywhere.
    Leading change doesn’t just start when a decision to change has been made. Leading change can begin anywhere—when there’s a glimmer of hope or an innovative idea in someone’s heart and mind. Start building your audience today.
  3. Go deep.
    The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
  4. Collaborate.
    Bruce Mau tells us that the space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential. His advice: collaborate. Invest in human community. Get out of cubicle nation and learn about one another.
  5. Enough with “Change Management.”
    The industry standard term “change management” stinks. It’s outdated and loaded with baggage. The ideas and practices that should make up “change management” have everything to do with leadership, keen observation, collaboration, judgment, and insight. You “manage” a schedule. You lead change.
  6. Judgment Required.
    No two changes are alike. Judgment required (blanket process is not).
  7. Think With Your Mind.
    Learn how to think about change. Teach people how to think about leading change. You can’t templatize and assess your way through change.
  8. There Will be Waves.
    When you rock the boat, waves will follow. But that doesn’t mean you should act. Knee-jerk reactions will pour in. That’s okay and to be expected. Sometimes you have to move ahead even though a change is unpopular at first. Write your observations down, park them for a few days, and then evaluate their significance with a calm mind.
  9. Expect to Iterate.
    People learn by doing. Launch now. Make mistakes and fix them quickly. Expect to iterate. Your goal is not perfection. Your goal is results and you do that best by getting the change or idea out into the world, monitoring, and iterating. Don’t mistake this approach for skimping on quality—this approach just recognizes that the best way to get there is through iterations.
  10. Demonstrate it.
    Words are second fiddle to actually demonstrating, firsthand, the value.
  11. Own Your Bad News.
    Know up front that things will not go as planned. When something goes wrong, don’t hide it; don’t ignore it; don’t sweep it under the rug. Own your story (even the bad news).
  12. You Need Less Than You Think.
    Do you really need to conduct five assessments  in the beginning phases of your project? Go out and talk to some people instead.
  13. Change Management is Not a Department.
    Accounting is a department. Leading change is something you want everyone in your company doing.
  14. Momentum Fuels Motivation.
    Get in the habit of accomplishing small victories. Celebrate and release good news.
  15. They’re Not Thirteen.
    If you treat people like they’re thirteen, children that “resist change” then resistance will be your culture. Culture is a by-product of behavior and actions. Culture is action, not words.
  16. Do the Hard Work.
    Do the hard work that positive change always demands. You cannot templatize and assess your way through change.
  17. Use a Compass.
    Real innovation and change happens in context. That context is usually some form of process to guide you, to trigger your thinking and actions, to help you understand where you are and where you need to go.
  18. Make Values and Purpose a Part of Your Daily Conversation.
    Keep your eye on the personal, societal, environmental, and cultural problems your change ameliorates. Talk about those. Make people feel something.
  19. Build an audience.
    Speak, write, blog, tweet, wiki, make videos, tell stories, celebrate, be real, own your bad news—whatever. Share information that’s valuable and when you need to make a change, your audience will already be listening.
  20. There’s beauty in imperfection.
    The business world is filled with “professionals” (those who walk and talk to appear perfect). Don’t come off as stiff and boring. People respond to real people. When you become too polished, you lose opportunities to connect.

I know it’s hard to lead change.

Especially with challenges of energy, global climate change, education, health care, social change, financial meltdowns, and global cross-cultural business, e.g. doing business with China for example.

I question whether the field of change management is yielding insights that will help people lead successful change, that will teach people how to think about change rather than apply blanket process and unending assessments. Your thoughts?

Thanks for reading!
Melissa

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