Seemingly the only way to make “change management” work

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Feel like change management is a pretty big deal these days. Business models are shifting, we all fear change somewhat, etc. Since businesses love to drown everything in process, successful change management would require a series of check-box change management exercises. You know everyone loves a good “road map.”

So what would a term like “change management exercises” look like at a standard company?

Most places I’ve ever worked or observed, it’d go something like this:

  • Executives would discuss the need for change management for years, but never do anything about it really
  • Then there’d be a few quarters of revenue erosion or an upstart challenger, and they’d begin to care
  • HR would “take the lead” initially
  • Probably HR would flop, or executives wouldn’t really talk to them
  • Then some “change-focused consultants” would come in
  • The senior stakeholders would spend every meeting with these consultants discussing spreadsheets and financials even though business transformations need to inherently be people-driven
  • 18 months into these supposed “change management exercises,” you probably have a bunch of slide decks and presentations but not much actual ROI

Maybe there’s a better path here.

Change management exercises advice from MIT

This is a good article entitled “What makes change harder — or easier?” This type of stuff interests me; I feel like it should interest everyone (change is constant), but maybe I’m naive. Here’s a good section:

This is important. Why? Let’s discuss.

Silos and subcultures

We can sugarcoat and bullshit all we want, but silos are still very pervasive in business. They probably will be for another 20 years, if not more. If you’ve ever worked in an office, you probably know that marketing uses much different language than IT, Operations, Sales, etc. Each silo is, by definition, a sub-culture.

So it would stand to reason that change management exercises — kicking the tires on some new plans, etc. — should be driven by an understanding of these sub-cultures. If that understanding isn’t present, I don’t really think the overall change management plan would work.

Look at those bullets near the top of this post — about how most companies approach change management. I’m definitely a bitter asshole in some respects, but that the common flow at most places. Like most things in a company, people attempt to root everything in process. The problem is that change management exercises involve, well, . Change impacts people. So the whole thing be process-related; it needs to be people-driven. And because people like to define themselves as “I’m a marketing guy!” or “I do IT,” well, it needs to start with the sub-cultures.

What would this look like?

Bring in people from different departments. Ask them questions such as:

  • What are the best/worst parts of your department?
  • How about working here overall?
  • Where do you see pain points?
  • What language/wording/context do you use for your work?
  • Where could you more effectively work with other departments?
  • You have any concept of the values/mission in your day-to-day work, or no?
  • What things do you see as needing to change?

These are heady questions, yes. And most executives wouldn’t want (or care) about the answers to these questions from rank-and-file employees. But look: we spend 10–12 hours/day at work. Shouldn’t we have a stake in the place we are?

So now you’ll have tons of these answers from a series of different silos. Some stuff will pop out, like “Such-and-such process is terrible.” Other stuff will be more nuanced, like “We have values here? OK Wow…”

Since we all supposedly compete on data now, let’s chop this all up and figure out patterns. Then those patterns around what needs to change will drive the change management exercises that need to happen.

OK, one more example

You get feedback that “We have stated values and best practices around communication and email, but sales and marketing are not following them and deeming everything urgent despite lack of context.”

That’s a concrete problem. Now you need some change management exercises as a real solution.

So maybe you explain the “BLUF” model of emailing to sales and marketing. Or maybe you offer them training on providing context to their requests. Perhaps you redo the email and communication best practices.

Point is: you ID the pain points, you understand how the sub-cultures are interacting with the problem, and you solve the problem.

Isn’t that work is supposed to be? Figuring out the issue, planning to solve the issue, and then doing it?

Change management exercises shouldn’t be any different.

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