Why Change Management?

By Jessica R Thomas, Principal Consultant with Navigator Management Partners

When I ask clients what percent of their change initiatives’ desired outcomes are based on people changing their behavior, more often than not, their automatic answer is 100%.  While that may not be entirely accurate, achieving business outcomes is largely based on people doing something differently. Whether it’s using new software, stepping into a new role or simplifying a process, there are expected organizational benefits of the change.  When I ask the same clients about the level of resources they are dedicating to supporting their employees doing things differently, unfortunately more often than not, their automatic answer is little to none.  So why the disconnect?

Daryl Connor, a well-known author and distinguished change management researcher, calls this “The Leader’s Challenge: Installation or Realization”.[1]  He says many organizations confuse putting a dramatic change in place with actually gaining the intended benefits.  It feels a little like Field of Dreams, just build it and they will come.  Building the baseball field is rather straightforward, but how do you ensure people will come play ball?  Connor writes “organizations that do no more than install major change almost never create the support and acceptance needed to produce the hoped for results. Realization of the full intent of critical change is the only way dramatic leaps in return on investment (ROI) can truly be accomplished”

Prosci®, a global leader in change management research, illustrates Connor’s concept this way[2]:

Technical and People Side of Change

The technical side of change is designing, developing and delivering the change, much like designing and building a baseball field.  Nobody wants an empty baseball field so the people side of change are playing ball.  They are embracing, adopting and using the baseball field.

I love new technology and couldn’t wait to get a new iPhone.  In my case the phone represents the technical side of change and I represent the people side by adopting and using my iPhone.  Apple gets an initial result when a phone sells, but they don’t truly realize outcomes until people keep coming back.  Change ROI is achieved when people embrace the change.  Sounds simple, but there are only a few times where I personally have embraced change.  And while I may have embraced it, it was still challenging. 

I embraced my new phone but I have to admit it is a hassle setting all my preferences.  I get frustrated that it takes so long and I get grumpy.  What would happen if setting up my preferences was so hard that I abandoned my phone?  Organizations also confuse the slower productivity that change causes with outright resistance.  Companies decide to change to solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity.  Either way, there are typically sound reasons behind it.  Therefore, in my experience, outright resistance isn’t typical.  People have to practice changing before they get proficient. Similar to the feelings towards my phone, slower productivity causes frustration, which can be mistaken as bad attitudes. 

Let’s review from a CEO perspective. CEOs approve budgets, but aren’t deeply involved in the details of the employees’ transition to the new desired behaviors.  Here is an example from my change management work.  Employees in “Gray Company”, a $300,000 million company, had to print and retain purchase orders (POs) for three years.  They asked for scanning software many times to save time and the cost of physical storage space.  As the solution, the IT department installed scanning software on everyone’s desktops.  The printing and storing of POs continued and the CEO was upset that employees were ‘refusing’ to use the software.

A large part of my work as a change management professional is coaching executives.  I asked the CEO of the Gray Company what percentage of the success of installing the scanning software, improving PO management processes and saving PO storage costs depended upon employees changing their behavior. The CEO, now understanding the importance of supporting both technical and people sides of change, updated the budget to support realization of the scanning solution’s outcomes.  As before, the budget covered the cost of the software and software related costs; however, the new one also covered costs of communications, training, coaching and lost productivity.  The printing and storing of POs began to decline and in about a month stopped altogether.  Gray Company realized the expected cost savings within a month of changing their approach to installing the scanning software.

All of those things Gray Company eventually did to support the people side of change is known as change management.  Without it, they would not have realized their desired outcomes of lower cost PO management.  Change Management looks and feels different across companies and types of changes.  What did it look like for me and my iPhone?  The Genius Bar!  Personalized service where the resident genius loaded all my preferences for me and showed me all the phone’s new bells and whistles.  That is one of Apple’s change management methods.  I imagine for the Field of Dreams it was ‘word of mouth’ communications, which is also a form of change management.

Ultimately, change management is how a company supports employee’s desired behavior changes.  It is the resources and methods used to drive the different behaviors necessary for the success of the change.  It ensures the realization of the expected ROI for the change.

Jessica R Thomas is a Principal Consultant with Navigator Management Partners.  She has over 25 years of business leadership experience in multibillion dollar for-profit and non-profit companies.  She is a leading expert in organizational change management, leadership development, and communications with specific expertise in leading organizations through large-scale transformational change.
[1] The Leader’s Challenge: Installation or Realization, © 2004, Conner Partners.
[2] Stop Talking About What You Do and Start Talking About What You Deliver, Prosci Webinar, © 2016, Prosci.