Change Management has increasingly come to the fore in recent years and holds a central place in many organizations. A business must continually improve in order to remain successful, and thus needs people managing these ongoing changes. Or does it?
One of the main problems of Change Management is the pretense that there is one generic methodology which works regardless of content (and context) of the change – i.e. of the current situation and the goal we want to achieve. This of course is complete nonsense– the nature and the usefulness of the change are far more significant for its success than the way it is implemented.
The reality of Change Management
In most organizations today, employees and stakeholders know from past experience that the majority of change initiatives either fail, quietly fizzle out, or deliver results far below expectations. A lot of effort therefore goes into drumming up and maintaining support for (yet another) initiative that most people already feel hesitant about.
The essence of the change is never discussed: (often justified) objections from employees are swept aside or ignored. In this environment where resistance has long become chronic, Change Management has a tough job implementing further changes and must resort to more and more sophisticated methods in order to keep everyone engaged. In other words: The less sense the change makes, the harder it is to implement. This approach is pretty much doomed to fail.
A good idea sells itself
If, on the other hand, the change makes sense to everyone – if all concerned are convinced of its value and proactively support it – all this effort becomes unnecessary. In this scenario, employees’ objections and reservations are seen as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. They are taken seriously and addressed one by one:
- Can we convincingly explain why the issue raised isn’t a problem?
- If it is a problem, what can we do to avoid it or mitigate the risks? What did we overlook? Perhaps our idea wasn’t so great after all?
Of course one of the results of this may well be that the change initiative isn’t implemented after all, because we have discovered a fatal flaw. This is not a failure! On the contrary, we are grateful that someone pointed out the problem before we had to discover it at great cost during implementation.
If, however, our idea passes the test and wins everyone’s support, then putting it into action will be a piece of cake. Change Management’s previously laborious job of persuading everyone is no longer necessary, as all involved agree that the proposed change is a good thing and know what they need to do to reach the desired goal.
In short: Change works well if
- The planned change makes sense – in terms of the effects on business results and win:win:win for all involved – and
- If only one thing is changed at a time.
This second point is very important! Initiating several changes at the same time leads to loss of focus, multitasking, delayed and diluted results, and ultimately to failure and further resistance.
Should we separate… or merge?
The decision which changes are necessary and sensible comes out of the business strategy and its implementation. Top management can (and should) also ensure that only one initiative is run at a time.
Change Management merely has the role of overseeing and guiding the previously determined steps – a job that is now made considerably easier by the fact that all stakeholders actively support the change. The tedious task of keeping everyone engaged despite their misgivings disappears.
Of course this raises the question: do we still need an expert for business strategy, for organizational management and for change management? None of these exist independently of each other. Is there even any point thinking of them as separate? Aren’t they just different perspectives of exactly the same issue? Doesn’t the insistence to perceive – and treat – them separately cause more problems than it solves?