Change Management In Practice

An effective change manager will prepare an organisation for change in the early stages of project definition and stakeholder review. This may involve taking managers through a sales process and responding to any apparent resistance.

The process is likely to improve the project definition and buy-in. It will also ensure that it is clear the moment resistance materializes.

It is unrealistic to expect an independent change manager to tackle all forms of resistance but the change director can use his or her intervention as a signal to the organisation – such interventions should be few but telling.

An independent change manager is a cross between a foil and a lightning conductor – the foil ensuring that positive energy is deflected to the right place, the lightening conductor removing negative energy from the organisation.

Resistance is a key element in why change fails so, how can we manage resistance positively and avoid failure?

A recent informal UK survey of 120 government transformation programmes identified that:

  • 15% achieved their objectives
  • A further 20% failed to achieve their objectives but were nevertheless regarded as satisfactory
  • 65% were unsatisfactory.

A subsequent discussion forum identified 7 key reasons why change fails:

  1. The organisation had not been clear about the reasons for the change and the overall objectives. This plays into the hands of any vested interests.
  2. They had failed to move from talking to action quickly enough. This leads to mixed messages and gives resistance a better opportunity to focus.
  3. The leaders had not been prepared for the change of management style required to manage a changed business or one where change is normal. “Change programmes” fail in that they are seen as just that: “programmes”. The mentality of “now we’re going to do change and then we’ll get back to normal” causes the failure. Change as the cliché goes is a constant; so a one-off programme, which presumably has a start and a finish, doesn’t address the long-term change in management style.
  4. They had chosen a change methodology or approach that did not suit the business. Or worse still had piled methodology upon methodology, programme upon programme.
  5. The organisation had not been prepared and the internal culture had ‘pushed back’ against the change.
  6. The business had ‘ram-raided’ certain functions with little regard to the overall business (i.e. they had changed one part of the process and not considered the impact up or downstream) In short they had panicked and were looking for a quick win or to declare victory too soon.
  7. They had set the strategic direction for the change and then the leaders had remained remote from the change (sometimes called ‘Distance Transformation’) leaving the actual change to less motivated people. Success has many parents; failure is an orphan.

Very few organisations will be affected simultaneously by all seven; however, any one in isolation will make the change programme inconsistent and aggravate resistance. Advance planning and stakeholder management will avoid some of these pitfalls. Furthermore, the list is an invaluable diagnostic tool for identifying why (and where) resistance is taking place, giving an opportunity to defuse resistance by correcting mistakes.