Murder on the Change Management Express

by Amr Ismail

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Before you read my notes in this article, please take a look at this timeless read from McKinsey titled: “The psychology of change management” by Emily Lawson and Colin Price. We must be doing something right as many organizations transformed successfully since I first read this article, but we also must be hitting a brick wall in many places as we continue to have great failures. And before we jump on “the gravy train with biscuit wheels” which promises less failures if change management programs are primarily data driven than project based, we need to think what we may be missing first.

So, what is the nature of the problems that continue to bog us down and hamper our efforts to implement change management programs?

We should see change in its bigger and continuous form. To me, change is what I seek; if there was no change, I would invent it, and keep a rapid eye on the next change to come. To many, that can be too much to ask for.

I wouldn’t be able to manage change, if I were not one of the best possible role models of change. Change is a high risk, very curious, disruptive, and rewarding affair. Aside from the control we may exercise over the business process shift to new methodologies, systems, and priorities, we firmly need to understand how to apply the sociodynamics of the organization and psychodynamics of employees when embarking on change management programs, and when attempting to change the hearts and minds of people inside organizations.

The picture is not bleak when we look at change management programs, there are so many successes in past and current programs, and when we take a close look, we can attribute the success to how top management understand people dynamics and company DNA, how they understand market shifts, how they can play a high risk game without being off-balance, and how they manage their relationship with consultants.

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So here are my three main reasons why we may be having problems in many organizations:

  • Having blind faith that the consulting model responsible for planning and arbitrating the program is sound. It’s not always the case, so scrutinize it.
  • Believing that people always resist change, so we base our people strategy on that. That’s not entirely true, people resist insecurity and ambiguity, so we start from there.
  • Having two separate programs, one for process and technology transformation, and one for people development. This may contribute to failure, so stick to one program designed for both. The people side change program must essentially be unique to company culture and to the expected speed of change to the business process which differs from one program to the other depending on company readiness and available capabilities.

No change management success comes before a change in company culture. And no success in changing company culture would come before dealing with seven most common deficiencies:

  • lack of efficient team culture, which unfortunately manifests itself in early schooling.
  • No transparency. People feel vulnerable and insecure when they are asked to be more open and direct.
  • No information sharing. People feel less empowered and dispensable when they are asked to share information and insights.
  • No creativity and ‘Flow’ mindset. Innovation takes a back seat without eliminating the culture of fear of making mistakes or attempting to think outside the box. A change in leadership style and an examination of HR practices are necessary here.
  • No one believes that they are single-handedly able to contribute to significant changes within the organization. This may reflect negatively on leadership development.
  • No good intra-company communication and collaboration. An overhaul of HR practices and putting internal communications left right and center in leadership development strategy is needed.
  • No organization-wide international mindset. If only a handful of people are engaged internationally, and there is a lack of understanding of the dynamics of international markets, it limits the capabilities of the organization.

As I can not be accused of lacking strong opinions, I especially voice my concerns to founders of companies before I do to executive CEO’s. The steering business process that is much more tied to the founding vision of the founders than to the changing economic environment and/or the forces of change in the market, could be the first culprit of why change is crippled. The second culprit would be losing sight of how people inside the organization have changed and evolved. To be sure of the integrity of feedback from employees, we need to examine the level of courage and grit in the organization. Courage in particular is one thing you can not induce from the top, and it is not set by example, but must be found in the company behaviour. No successful change happens without courage, otherwise the spree of slowly assassinating the character of talent will continue.