Unlike change, which is dynamic, stability is static. Whether in nature or in the different realms of life, be it in our personal lives or within our organizations, there’s a natural process of transformation, progress and innovation. However good or bad, transformation, progress or innovation is referred to as change.
Change can be multifaceted. In the first instance, from the stakeholder's perspective, change can be implicit or forced (notwithstanding participation or a lack of participation). Secondly, in terms of requirement, change may be mandatory (i.e. in a legal context) or contingent (i.e. upon identifying an opportunity). Subsequently, with regards to its approach, change may be voluntary or compulsory (a Top Down decision). Finally, depending on its nature or scope, change can be procedural, regulatory, organisational, cultural, and so on... the various facets of change are endless.
In its numerous manifestations, change offers a non-derivative constant: change always has a purpose; whether obvious or discrete, it always has a target. And as with any target, it’s easy to miss it.
Standard Dynamics of a Project
Imagine a project (regardless of its type) that will result in a transformation (regardless of its classification) from a position α (current status) to a position β (intended target). The Δ between these two positions consists of the actual project. Moreover, the Δ could then be shown in a Cartesian plane: with the time factor plotted on the X axis and the identifying or spatial features on the Y axis. For the time being, everything is progressing well, and this approach even manages to include optimization projects in efficiency, governance and organizational transformation, as well as a review of practices.
In a traditional or typical version, a project manager is appointed to act as a conductor and should any budgetary funds remain once the project is underway, a change management supervisor may be added to focus on strategy and communication materials; the same applies to any training.
Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock... Comfort then sets in, ambition slips away, and the project goes awry.
Over the past two decades, the rate of failure or the limited success of projects using traditional change management practices has been consistently high. Very often, even though these methods have resulted in countless failures, they continue to be repeated over and over, and over again. And BAM!, straight into the wall, again and again and again.
Online resources on the issue are abundant with more than 127 million hits on Google. And the more a concept is fashionable, the higher its rate of failure.
The orchestra conductor is phenomenal, and all the musicians are talented. However, they are unable to play in concert, why is that?
The Key is not in the How, but in the Why
A project is driven by three sets of rationales: (1) strategic decision-making, (2) systematic methodology and (3) operational applications. The strategic decision-making rationale refers to a management decision to bring about change that will be implemented following process X. As for the systematic-methodology rationale, it refers to the optimization of work processes and tools, which is imparted through continuous training. Lastly, the operational-application rationale involves the transformation of roles and responsibilities for the purpose of appropriation.
However, the ready-made version ends here. For then come the distinctive features of each individual microcosm, its particular hue, its unique identity, its distinguishing character. The small but differentiating details that are at stake. Welcome to the human sphere with its threefold risk structure: (1) perception, (2) understanding, and (3) action.
There are three risk factors involved in each of the previously-identified rationales: perception (emotional), understanding (intellectual), and action (behavioural). Nine boxes to check, to strategize; nine boxes where several questions must be answered.
As it pertains to the STRATEGIC DECISION-MAKING RATIONALE, perception encompasses the need for a clearly-defined vision, presenting the involvement of key players, whereas understanding requires a realistic project management structure, and action reveals how the expected benefits and rewards will be worth the invested effort.
As it pertains to the SYSTEMATIC-METHODOLOGY RATIONALE, perception encompasses the need for the initial dysfunctions to be clearly demonstrated, whereas understanding requires that the capacity for execution be established, and action reveals how the new procedures will be based on empirical evidence and subsequently implemented.
As pertains to the OPERATIONAL-APPLICATION RATIONALE, perception encompasses the need for adequate and well-targeted communications that will promote commitment to the project, whereas understanding requires the willingness and availability of the players involved, and action reveals how performance and quality indicators will monitor the goals and sustainability of the results achieved.
Change over Time, in its own Time or ahead of its Time
Change management significantly transcends instructional design and communication. Change management is based on the perception, understanding and action of human capital. Moreover, its foundations must be laid not at the beginning of the project, but from its very first inkling. Change management is not a static achievement, but rather one that is in constant flux as it’s being implemented.
Therefore, throughout the entire duration of a project up to the execution of its delivery, project managers, specialists and change management professionals all work in concert. Resistance to change is a natural defence mechanism, which should not be seen as a resistance to innovation, but rather as a red flag being triggered by an excessive rashness, or an underestimation of potential or proven risks. No change can be fully integrated without the support of as many constituents as possible.
Your resources have derived your greatest successes. What have been your experiences? Share your thoughts!
Luc Lachapelle B.A., M.A., M.B.S.I., C.D.I.A., S.S.C.
Director, Strategic Consulting HCM.