Recently at the CMI Queensland Q&A evening. I was asked a question which went something a long the lines of “is there anything you no longer do, that you used to”. It was relatively easy answer for me – “I won’t sell change”, If you demonstrate the value of change management, people will buy from you though. And of course that is a pithy response… I thought it was worth a longer exploration. Because, I think there is a distinction between demonstrating the value of change (which leads to people “buying”) and “selling change”. Selling change makes me cringe.
The ability of the change practitioner to demonstrate value of change management is conditional on where the change practitioner is at – their experience, their background, their style and their clients. And if the question is being asked, it suggests that the change practitioner (or change community) is not particularly successful at the activity.
It’s almost like we need to do a gap analysis to understand where the change community is currently and where we want to get to. In order to bridge that gap my proposition is there are a number of hurdles to get over if a community of change managers have any hope of demonstrating the value of change.
This post deals with the barriers to demonstrating the value of change and some initial thoughts on clearing them.
1) Fragmentation of disciplinary background.
Change managers come from a broad range of disciplines (psychology, project management, training, communications, management). This diversity of background means that we each define “value of change management” in different ways. More disturbingly, it is not uncommon to describe another change manager as “not a real change manager”. This professional sniping and “othering” means that we often send mixed messages to our stakeholders.
How do we progress?
When we appreciate how we differ, then we can present a consistent message on the value of what we offer as a profession. Within the community, we need to start speaking up for each other – talking up the benefits of people who have different backgrounds to ourselves.
It also raises the issue of accreditation. Accreditation of change managers is a topic that I have shifted over the years on, My greatest concern concern is that it caters for the lowest common denominator (LCD), and encourages a cookie-cutter approach to change managers. But I have come to appreciate, that there are many new to the field who are doing very little work in developing knowledge and skills and are just taking the ‘easy money’. Now when I hire early career practitioners, I would prefer they have an accreditation.
Accreditation provide our stakeholders with a legitimacy that is currently missing. It is our best proxy for identifying is this person investing in their professional development? Our stakeholders hold accreditations and trust in the process. Whether you like the idea or not, it may a necessary step to demonstrating value.
And while the catering for the LCD does not enthrall me – a consistent baseline is better than none. It provides a basis for which to improve.
Heterophily is a concept popularised by innovation researcher Everett Rogers, and refers to the degree to which two individuals differ. A highly heterophilious organisation can be beneficial in that it the differences encourage creative friction and innovation.
However, for change managers this can be challenging as we differ from our stakeholders. They don’t understand us. We’re not like them. Two tribes may not go to war, but they certainly don’t have a shared understanding of what value is!
How do we progress?
At the risk of being heretical, I say “throw out your change management jargon”. What is the problem that the stakeholder is wanting to solve? Recast your tactics, strategies, diagnostics and artefacts in the language of your significant other. Focus on translation, then education.
Often as change managers we fly in capes a-blowin, do our superhero magic and fly out again.
Ground yourself – when you do great work let your stakeholders know what you have done, and then introduce your language. It is easier to understand the value of change management after it has occurred.
The next two barriers both relate to the competing tension of change management. Competing tensions are hard. They are hard because neither side is the right one, they are always two aspects of organisation that require careful balance. And a little too much emphasis on one, means we go belly up!
3) The competing tension between BAU and Transformation
Business as usual (BAU) has very different requirements of a change manager than transformation programs do. By BAU change I am talking about continuous improvement, six sigma, lean, and innovation programs. Transformative change is that which is large scale, ambitious and makes a substantive change to the culture, structure, or business model of the organisation. The tools, style and role of the change manager is distinctly different. It therefore follows that value of change management differs. And we need to be distinct in articulating this difference.
How do we progress?
Getting over this hurdle starts with recognising the difference and being clear on role and responsibilities. Hire those that are fit for purpose. Educate the business stakeholders on how the two change goals differ.
4) The competing tension between organisational values
The last hurdle to cover is the competing values within our organisations. Our organisations want to be innovative but also follow “proper process”. Agility clashes with governance, competitiveness fights with safety. These competing values frustrate us and confuse us with how we are meant to work.
How do we progress?
Focus on the bridging values. Bridging values are ones that have some connection with the two competing values. So if, for instance, you are working in an organisation that wishes to embrace agility (speed, reactive) and safety (slow, proactive) focus on a value that can align with each, for example ‘quality’. Quality and agility do not compete, nor does quality and safety. Use a bridging quality to define your change management activities.
Over to you. Have you experienced any or all of these barriers? What have you found particularly successful in demonstrating the value of change?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.