The Cardinal Sins of Change

I did my first specific change management course back in 1992. That was back in the day of Total Quality Management (TQM)  and International Best Practice. Big businesses were looking for the secret sauce.  At that time, dedicated Change Manager roles within organisations were almost unheard of. These days, a quick glance at any job seeker web site evidences the demand for precisely this skill.  Why? Because there’s been a realisation that wherever humans are involved, a well thought out schedule with well-defined dependencies and deliverables just isn’t enough to get you your desired benefits.

So, let’s define the role of change management. It’s about increasing the chances of realising the desired benefits, and the speed at which they are realised. It’s not black magic or “fluffy stuff” (oh if I had a dollar for every time….), it’s about getting a timely return on your investment.

Whether you choose to bring in dedicated change skills or not, there are some cardinal sins. Commit these at your peril:

1.   Think about the change approach after the project has started.

The approach to change, whether it be designed by a consultancy, or by gut feel of the management team has to be considered before the project starts. Believe it or not, the project methodology, structure and governance should be considered in light of how you want the change to occur.

2.   End your change management effort when the project finishes.

Don’t. Just don’t. When the product launches or when the new system goes live is not the realisation of benefits. The change effort ends when the desired benefits are realised.

3.   Treat change as an independent stream of your project.

The management of change is an integral part of every aspect of a project. It’s okay to have a person or team responsible for change, but it’s not OK to expect them to operate in isolation. The most effective change resources are those that are close to all the action. If you keep them on the sidelines until there’s a problem – it’s too late.

4.   Delegate the accountability to a change manager.

A good change manager, whether they be that in title or not, creates an environment for change, both within the project, and amongst the stakeholders. The management team, however, is ultimately accountable. Some of the failed projects I have seen were the result of change being figuratively outsourced.

5.   Get caught up in models, matrices, impact assessments and readiness surveys.

TQM came and went. So did International Best Practice. Blind adherence to a strict regime of approved /certified/ trademarked change tools will get you nothing more than a good looking (and expensive) slide deck. The tools play a role, but the key is Purpose and Leadership – but’s that’s for another article.

Article by David Birmingham

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