12 (Not 11) Things I Have Learnt About Change Management

I have spent my whole professional career working in what could be called ‘change management’. In recent years the term and it’s practices have been more widely adopted and in some cases has been productised by consultancy providers (ADKAR, KOTTER, Agile). Here is just a few things I have learnt and had reinforced along the way:

  1. Keep management focused on the operational issues. The business has to keep working and the staff will appreciate it (not lose respect) when management doesn’t disappear.
  2. The staff are responsible adults and should be treated that way. Tell them what is going on, inform them about the things that will affect them and the decisions they personally need to make and do it face to face. Give them some structured time to do things if necessary e.g. prepare job applications. If you treat people as irresponsible or as children then do not be surprised if they act that way.
  3. Resistance could be rational. Be prepared to include staff and their suggestions in the planning. Disagreeing and identifying problems does not mean they are resistant to change. They could be telling you something really important.
  4. ‘Group Think’ easily develops in tight, well functioning, collegiate executive teams – a tendency to think in the same way, reinforcing shared beliefs and decisions while rejecting alternative or dissenting opinions and views. Insularity and myopia are just two possible outcomes. Strategic, tactical and operational errors will follow. Think of the Iraqi war. Even apparently well functioning teams need to seriously consider how they will test strategies and ideas.
  5. Change is a normal managment activity. Manage as much of the change process as possible through the normal management structure/channels and not through a special project structure (may still be necessary depending on changes). It will be more transparent, help to manage the politics and in all likelihood be less costly.
  6. Work with your consultant. Don’t allow a ‘consultant’ to become deferred to or inject themselves into management decisions. By all means ask their opinion and listen and then excuse them from the decision making as necessary.
  7. Training is expensive to do, however it also works. It will speed up change, reduce rework and errors and improves confidence and morale.
  8. If you are going to let staff go, cut fat not muscle. This will prove harder than you think. Oh! and show some courage. You will know what this means when the time comes.
  9. Understand the business model and success. If you are managing a merger or takeover then make sure you understand the reasons a business is successful in the first place (as well as it’s challenges) before you mess with it. You can’t do this without getting out into the business. If you don’t then you are guaranteed to destroy value, goodwill and morale.
  10. All change is political. Who gains and losses power and influence (delegations, budget, access etcetera) will be an important consideration. It is best to treat both the winners and losers with dignity though this is very often handled poorly. It leads to unnecessary staff turnover.
  11. Leadership is important however it will be a lot more effective if you have considered some of the above.

Originally I included only 11 items in this article however two things happened. I recalled that people like certain numbers more than others, like 10 or a dozen (12) and not lists with 4 or 13. The second was a discussion with my accountant about change. His company’s head office is embarking on some significant changes and within moments we establish they are not doing some of the things I have suggested above. The accountant is not happy and then I mention the next point regarding the leadership avoiding being patronising. He just about falls out of the chair.

12. Don’t pass around books about Mice and their Cheese. I will not mention the title here and if you don’t know what I am talking about, good, as this point could then seem frivolous or silly! If you have come across this book you will know what I mean. Yes, it makes a few good points however it is patronising and there are many among the team who will not appreciate the symbolism. There are other very productive ways of having the appropriate discussions regarding resistance to change and learning. Do not be patronising – refer to points 2 & 3.

Peter O’Reilly ©

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