Change management is a process, not an event

Change management is a process, not an event

Change management is not an event – Change management is a process!

Many companies have had some tough years with recession, increased competition, changing consumer behavior, rapidly shifting technologies and emerging disruptive business models.

Accepting and then embracing change is a process not an event

Leaders are confronted with an increasing rate of change and complexity and need to find ways to deal with it. Leading your company through change has become different from how it was ten to twenty years ago.

Lately I facilitated a discussion around this question “Why most change management initiatives fail?” – change management is a process, not an event – on LinkedIn. The many responses included rich and varied perspectives and opinions on change management, its meaning and importance.

I include several distinctive views below, illustrated by direct quotes from the LinkedIn discussion thread – unfortunately it was not possible to acknowledge everyone who made helpful contributions.

Keith Brown:

They also fail because those initiating the change fail to engage the vast majority of staff; or do so in a way that makes people feel they cannot influence anything.

David Oakley:

Often change is driven at a faster pace than it should be to follow true change principles.

Andrew Turner:

Many change initiatives fail because too many managers don’t realize that transformation is a process, not an event. It advances through stages that build on each other over years. Often, when managers are pressured to accelerate the process they will skip vital steps and often declare victory too soon. This will almost certainly result in a loss of momentum, reversal of hard won gains and probable devastation of the entire transformation process.

Organizational change - Sustaining change - Think dolphins and not whales

Organizational change – Sustaining change – Think dolphins and not whales

Zack Zuhair Hasan:

There are two types of leaders when cooping with change; reactive and proactive. The reactive leaders or managers wait till the environment force them to change, while the proactive managers have a vision and initiate change. With all the reasons given above, I like to add two more; the perception of change, and the the phase after change. Change is a process as Mr. Turner mentioned and many managers think it is over when change is implemented. But actually, that is the starting point of the performance of the change initiative, so it needs follow up and follow through.

Ger Killeen:

Leaders need to live the change so their people know it’s real. In my experience, mapping how that will look makes a huge difference to change success.

Adrian Hee:

We consistently underestimate the degree of resistance we will face on a change initiative/event, people don’t like to change or be changed (think of you would react). We underestimate because we don’t employ enough empathy (think of how you would feel)

Chris Milliner:

I like the notion of making change part of an organizational culture i.e. make improvement a continuous rather than discrete activity

David Rose:

Leaders need to articulate clearly what change is needed in business and human terms, why, and with what benefit – a vision of a better future. Only then should they begin to talk about what will be involved, what it means for staff and how things will work. In my experience it’s also critical to identify and engage evangelists from the start – the ‘change-adept’ for the new order at all levels in the business, so that change can be led from within, not done /to/ people.

Erini Kallias:

The “middle” to “top” layers are sometimes the more difficult to influence, however the message always needs to include the reasons for change and reinforce the company strategy in order that employees are aligned to the business goals.

Kathy Binns:

I totally agree with making sure they know they why’s behind the change. It needs to be delivered soon enough they have time to digest the changes being made as well. It provides the employees time to reflect and also think of questions to ask. If we don’t include those who actually do the job when we determined the new process something can be missed and we need to be prepared to make adjustments. That is where the biggest mistake happens in my opinion the change has to be executed fast and leaves no room for adjustments.

Dave Ramsey:

In several organizations, I have seen the lower levels of the organization, where things get done, be ready for change – in fact they often originate the ideas and need for change. But, the upper levels of the organization, where the operating decisions are made, are disconnected enough or are rule/procedure bound enough that they see no need for the change. As a result the change intiative gets buried under the “rule following” and/or short sightedness of their upper leadership.

John Schultz:

Any time a work situation is altered, feelings are involved. The issues encountered will be both technical and emotional. Although the current process may be flawed and difficult, stakeholders have figured out how to make it work. The routines they have built provided a sense of comfort and stability. When threatened with disruption the result can be fear and defensive behavior because most of the workforce has learned to operate under existing conditions. The real problem when introducing change or making improvements is not the technical aspects of change, but the human relation issues encountered.

Don’t expect everyone to embrace improvements or changes unconditionally. The acceptance and feedback should be normally distributed. Roughly 15 percent of the workforce will enthusiastically start pushing in the new direction—initiating projects and encouraging others to get involved. The majority, around 70 percent, will respond with optimism, but also need to see meaningful developments and some actual results. In addition, this group will require encouragement, help finding opportunities for involvement, and expect guidance in their efforts toward prevailing goals and objectives. Their involvement, conversion, and loyalty will require orchestration and facilitation. Another 10 percent will respond with skepticism and want reassurance the organization is headed in the right direction. These individuals will play a waiting game and delay approval while watching to see what happens. Lastly there will be a small group, possibly 5 percent, who will never view this idea as the right direction. They are by nature contrary and cautious, will need to be persuaded and converted, or asked to find a more suitable situation elsewhere.

Jacques Lepron:

Change management fails because it is not anymore the way we should do “change management” although we shouldn’t call it anymore “change management”. Can we manage change? That is the question … In today environment where everything changes at a fast pace, it is not a question about managing change, but as well explained in this article, it is a question for any organisation, individual to be ready for change. Change is no longer discrete but a continuous process.

Stephen Harvard Davis:

In my experience a major contribution change failure happens because management “Conditions and rewards” its team to work and behave in a particular manner and punish those that do not. Then when change is required wonder why people find it difficult to adapt.

Another contribution to failure is how the change is communicated. Often it’s based upon “this will be good for the company and by the way also good for you”. The presumption being is that the people affected will believe the management. However, again in my experience, acceptance or rejection of the change is always based upon how previous changes have been introduced by management. If the team feels they have been lied to or misled in the past they may be suspicious of future initiatives. This has much more to do with culture than the change catalysts managerial ability.

Another significant contribution to failure is management’s use of inappropriate change models. Too often a single pathway is chosen which tackles specific aspects of the changes needed but which ignores other areas that need to be considered such as “political system” or “How the organization likes to work”

Raymond Devine:

The best change initiatives I have seen are bottom-up ones. Sadly, and all too often, change starts somewhere else. Sometimes a top-down change is needed, technology changes, business changes, rules and regulations change, your competitor changes the game. In those cases it’s no surprise that the change must come from the executive team and/or board room. Guess what, your employees expect you to change things in these situations. They’ll also support you if they know why they must do it.

Where things often go wrong, and sometimes horribly wrong, is when people that do not understand business/process/people. They come in and tell them what they need to do different. These kinds of engagements are almost 100% of the time greeted with resistance, sabotage, resentment, in-fighting, etc … My advice, don’t do it.

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About The Author

Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement, development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Blog Comments

Although change is a process,it is the product of proactive managers. In so far there are proactive mangers/individuals,nothing goes static;hence change is unstoppable process.Now why does it fail?it is for the sole reason that people fail to go with pace and speed of change.In brief,the people may fail but the demand for change never fails.

I just want to say that I like your posting. In fact I am using your site regularly. Your articles are very effective and i am very thankful to you for sharing this site with knowledgeable content .

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