Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Tupac, Fleetwood Mac, Buddy Miles, and likely others have all composed and performed songs about change. Why? Maybe it’s because that is truly a common thread we all share. The one constant in life is that change is inevitable, personally and professionally. But these artists’ contributions have been over only the last half-century. Change is not a new concept or a new revelation.
Heraclitus of Ephesus was a Greek philosopher born 540 BC. It was Heraclitus who stated, “There is nothing permanent except change,” an often-used quote for those of us involved in change management. About 2,000 years later, Machiavelli offered that “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.” The new order of things mentioned by Machiavelli strongly implies changes.
For the past half a century we have equated the need for change management with the implementation of new technology-based systems. In support of those implementations, a cottage industry of “Change Management” developed and evolved to assist in organization-wide transformations, featuring certified Change Agents. Indeed, technology has been the basis for significant and substantial changes across the planet, but the idea of change management should not be limited only to those changes associated with system implementations. Changes occur with new organization structures, new supervisors, mergers and acquisitions, new processes, economic downturns, and of course, life events.
Change Management is a core component of the netlogx methodologies as well as in our specialties, project management and system implementations. Change Management represents arguably the most important element in the success of any change, particularly those due to system implementations. Without an effective and high-quality Change Management program, the culture will trump a technology event every time, regardless of how good the system is and how well it performs. If proper Change Management is not factored in, the organization will not embrace the changes, and the system will be less effective than otherwise, if not a complete failure.
On the surface, the concept of Change Management seems simple – sell the changes to users, solidify their buy-in, reinforce the changes, and get to the finish line. As is typically the case though, “the devil is in the details.” Much of the change management activities occur well before the cutover or implementation of the system. Ideally, Change Management should begin at the inception of the system or project, and continue through transformation. Each step of managing change must be addressed, and where applicable, executed flawlessly.
An effective Change Management program includes:
- Understanding the stakeholders and stakeholder “communities”
- Stakeholder impact analysis
- Pre-engagement collaboration
- Quality executable communication plan
- Stakeholder roles definition and understanding
- Stakeholder/user outreach
- Education and training
- Clear, consistent, timely, and concise messaging from upper management
- Empathy and understanding of the stakeholder impacts
- Delicate handling of impacted stakeholders
- Cutover and transition plans
- Celebrations of interim wins
- Rewards programs for success (from pizza parties to big bonuses)
- Public recognition and acknowledgment of a “job well done”
- Enthusiastic encouragement and timely reminders of the importance and benefits of the change(s)
It is preferable for stakeholders to engage in the planning and rollout of the change. Upper management can help the stakeholders understand the reasons for change and explain the benefits, which will help stakeholders embrace the change. There are other less desirable approaches, however, such as 1. dictating changes with little to no regard for the stakeholders or 2. implement the change and persistently continue forward regardless of the fallout, simply “wait them out.”
The two methods listed above are not desirable. Metaphorically, they are similar to the plight of the Greek King Sisyphus who exchanged short-term gain for long-term (eternal) punishment. That is not to say that those of us who force changes without practicing proper Change Management principles are suffering from hubris or are as immoral as Sisyphus, but it may suggest that if we exchange short-term goals and sacrifice long-term success, we may suffer the consequences. Likely not for eternity but possibly for the rest of that career. And sometimes managing a project is like pushing a rock up a mountain, which was Sisyphus’s punishment for eternity. Without proper execution of Change Management, that rock will likely roll back down the mountain and we will have to roll it back up, over and over, until we get Change Management right. Just like Sisyphus.
Sisyphus placed his own existence and survival ahead of all others and used intimidation to inflict his will on his realm, much to the displeasure of the mythical gods. It is safe to say Sisyphus did not use proper change management tools and principles, and he paid the price with eternal repetition, i.e., repeatedly pushing a boulder up a mountain only to see it roll back down again. So, let us all endeavor to practice change management and be sensitive to the effect changes have on others. And let us not be doomed to pushing a rock uphill for the next few thousand years. Often Change Management feels like pushing a large boulder up a mountain, but if it is executed properly not only will the boulder stay on top of the mountain, but the stakeholders will help push it up.