Tag Archives: change management

How to Become a Successful Change Leader

For this month’s Influential Voices Roundtable, the American Society for Quality (ASQ) asks: “In today’s current climate, transformation is a common term and transformative efforts are a regular occurrence. Although these efforts are common, according to Harvard Business Review two-thirds of large-scale transformation efforts fail. Research has proven that effective leadership is crucial for a change initiative to be successful.  How can an individual become a successful Change Leader?

Change is hard only because maintaining status quo is easy. Doing things even a little differently requires cognitive energy! Because most people are pretty busy, there has to be a clear payoff to invest that extra energy in changing, even if the change is simple.

Becoming a successful change leader means helping people find the reasons to invest that energy on their own. First, find the source of resistance (if there is one) and do what you can to remove it. Second, try co-creation instead of feedback to build solutions. Here’s what I mean.

Find Sources of Resistance

In 1983, information systems researcher M. Lynne Markus wanted to figure out why certain software implementations, “designed at great cost of time and money, are abandoned or excessively overhauled because they were unenthusiastically received by their intended users.” Nearly 40 years later, enterprises still occasionally run into the same issue, even though Software as a Service (SaaS) models can (to some extent) reduce this risk.

Before her research started, she found these themes associated with resistance (they will probably feel familiar to you even today):

By studying failed software implementations in finance, she uncovered three main sources for the resistance. So as a change leader, start out by figuring out if they resonate, and then apply one of the remedies on the right:

As you might imagine, this third category (the “political version of interaction theory”) is the most difficult to solve. If a new process or system threatens someone’s power or position, they are unlikely to admit it, it may be difficult to detect, and it will take some deep counseling to get to the root cause and solve it.

Co-Creation Over Feedback

Imagine this: a process in your organization is about to change, and someone comes to you with a step-by-step outline of the new proposed process. “I’d like to get your feedback on this,” he says.

That’s nice, right? Isn’t that exactly what’s needed to ensure smooth management of change? You’ll give your feedback, and then when it’s time to adopt the process, it will go great – right?

In short, NO.

For change to be smooth and effective, people have to feel like they’re part of the process of developing the solution. Although people might feel slightly more comfortable if they’re asked for their thoughts on a proposal, the resultant solution is not theirs — in fact, their feedback might not even be incorporated into it. There’s no “skin in the game.”

In contrast, think about a scenario where you get an email or an invitation to a meeting. “We need to create a new process to decide which of our leads we’ll follow up on, and evaluate whether we made the right decision. We’d like it to achieve [the following goals]. We have to deal with [X, Y and Z] boundary conditions, which we can’t change due to [some factors that are well articulated and understandable].”

You go to the meeting, and two hours later all the stakeholders in the room have co-created a solution. What’s going to happen when it’s time for that process to be implemented? That’s right — little or no resistance. Why would anyone resist a change that they thought up themselves?

Satisficing

Find the resistance, cast it out, and co-create solutions. But don’t forget the most important step: recognizing that perfection is not always perfect. (For quality professionals, this one can be kind of tough to accept at times.)

What this means is: in situations where change is needed, sometimes it’s better to adopt processes or practices that are easier or more accessible for the people who do them. Processes that are less efficient can sometimes be better than processes that are more efficient, if the difference has to do with ease of learning or ease of execution. Following these tips will help you help others take some of the pain out of change.


Markus, M. L. (1983). Power, politics, and MIS implementation.  Communications of the ACM, 26(6), 430-444. Available from http://130.18.86.27/faculty/warkentin/papers/Markus1983_CACM266_PowerPoliticsMIS.pdf

Change vs. Transformation: What’s the Difference?

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Transformation involves changing your frame of reference. Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Last week, on the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group, Gaurav Navula (CEO of Perky Pat India) asked us to reflect on the difference between change and transformation. Change management was a major thrust in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but you don’t hear as much about it anymore. Today, the tools of change management (making the business case, aligning strategy with tactics, engaging stakeholders, instituting goal-directed training and education programs, etc.) have faded into the everyday landscape of management. Leaders seem to be focused more on “surviving and thriving” in the midst of rapid and disruptive innovation, which enhances the importance of transformation.

But what’s the difference? Just a couple months ago, Ron Ashkenas (on the Harvard Business Review blog) asserted that we don’t know the difference: “We really do know how to execute discrete changes. What we know much less about is how to engineer a transformation.”

But I think we do know how to engineer a transformation, and we can use this recipe. I’ll explain more towards the end of this post, but it acknowledges the relationship between larger-scale changes and transformation: that change is required for transformation, and all transformation involves change, but not all change is transformational. This is based on the idea that all observable changes come with “shifts in state” – from the quality management perspective, you can think of these as observed changes in system performance (cost savings, more efficient or effective use of time, increasing throughput, enhancing return on investment).

transformation

What this says is: transformation is what you get when you adjust the frame of reference that you observe the world with, and then add to that new perspective the product of all the shifts in state that have occurred as a result of incremental changes. I say “when you adjust the reference frame,” but that’s somewhat misleading. Usually there is some sort of transformational experience… an “a-ha” moment or event… where the scales fall from your eyes and you see the world in a completely different way. The shift in reference frame always involves relationships: either your relationship to other people or other groups, or your relationship to yourself and how you see yourself, or maybe both. 

“My sense is that there’s an underlying semantic problem, stemming from confusion between what constitutes “change” versus “transformation.” Many managers don’t realize that the two are not the same. And while we’ve actually come a long way in learning how to manage change, we continue to struggle with transformation.” — Ron Ashkenas, HBR blog

Here are some of the qualitative descriptions that have been offered to further articulate the differences between change and transformation. Notice that they do not conflict with the expression for transformation above.

Change:

  • Finite initiatives which may or may not be cross-cutting (HBR)
  • Desire to improve the past directs what we do (Mohanty)
  • Makes the system better (Mohanty)
  • Any time an organization asks its people or systems to stop, start, or execute in a new way a process, behavior or location of performanc (Holtz)
  • Making setups in different format within the given system to achieve improvements in performance (Bob Matthew)
  • Incremental (Anand)

Transformation:

  • A portfolio of open-ended initiatives which are necessarily cross-cutting (HBR)
  • The future directs your actions and only the limits of imagination and courage constrain possibilities (Mohanty)
  • Makes a better system (Mohanty)
  • The base of transformational is the word “formation” – the stuff things are made of or the structure – that needs to change for the change to be transformational. (du Plessis)
  • Encompasses bigger, more radical shifts (Holtz)
  • Makes a total change of system, procedure and a total mindset to get a better transparency and communication within the process owners including the customers. (Bob Matthew)
  • Should be informed by strategy (Kshirsagar)
  • Transformation is not a preference; it’s a necessity as a result of resistance to change. (Aydin)
  • Major; result of many changes (Anand)

Think about the last time you experienced a transformative change, perhaps even in your personal life. For example, think of a time when you were able to truly and completely forgive someone for some way they had wronged you. There were certainly a collection of changes in state that occurred — prior to, during, and after the forgiveness experience. But as a result, didn’t you also come to see the world in a completely different way? Your frame of reference with respect to that person… and probably, other people you have relationships with… also shifted.

When Your Ideas are Met With Resistance

bm-survivalHas anyone ever opposed your ideas? Punctuated your plans? (This could be something you’ve experienced at work, or just in the regular course of life.)

Has anyone encouraged you (subtly or not so subtly) to remain entrenched in the status quo? To not “rock the boat”?

Yeah, me too.

Usually, when people question my ideas, plans, or approach – I’ll step back. I don’t want to be perceived as pushy, or aggressive, or anything other than basically nice and considerate of other peoples’ positions and feelings. I like to work in the shadowy background, producing what is meaningful to me, while others focus on what is meaningful to them – never the two paths to meet. If I’m working on projects or products for clients or customers, I defer to them entirely – using my experience or expertise only to guide or inform the process of discovery. I don’t like conflict, but when I do, I’d rather it’s between two OTHER people or organizations – and I’m just in the middle as the broker, attempting to fuse the two positions into a cohesive and mutually agreeable vision.

Sometimes, though, you can’t avoid being one of the parties in conflict – and as a result, today I discovered the blessing of opposition.

In the Summer 2004 issue of Journal for Quality and Participation, Thomas Berstene discussed “The Inexorable Link Between Conflict and Change” — explaining how conflict can facilitate transformation, that is, “the passing from one place, state, form, or phase to another.” He notes how every organization has examples of how constructive conflict can lead to positive transformation, if that conflict is honored for its potential value. Most significantly, he describes the cultivation of power as a means to resolve conflict, by “achieving self-interests without inflicting force on others.”

Cultivating power requires four things:

  • Authenticity. Being totally, completely, unabashedly true to your own needs, desires, and aspirations.
  • Synergy. Cultivating relationships so that you can work in harmony with (most, if not all) others.
  • Inner Strength. A sense of calm, and a higher level of peace and resourcefulness – you know you can come to a positive conclusion!
  • Quality of Being. The “experience of joy, ease, and serenity that derive from identification with one’s authentic Self” which renders these individuals “able to focus their attention on the current situation without dragging in history or resisting what might happen.”

I just got back from Burning Man (more on that later – MUCH more, in fact) so I’m nestled firmly in the womb of my power. All of the cobwebs that have clouded my mind and psyche for the past five years have been whisked away. I’m calm. I trust.

I’m unwilling to be anything other than true to myself right now. There’s just not enough time in this life to be otherwise.

And from this vantage point, I’ve discovered the blessing of opposition!

Today, it became pretty clear that some projects that are important to me are experiencing some resistance from others. That’s OK – maybe they don’t understand why my projects are so important to me. Maybe I can explain it to them. Maybe I’ll never be able to.

But instead of stepping back, this opposition unexpectedly, unashamedly rebirthed the dragon in me.

The opposition to my approach quickly – and with tsunamis of emotion – clarified, for me, what I believe in – the essence of what I think is really important.

And now I know what I believe. I think I knew it before, but now my gut knows it, and my body is ready to live it. I’m committed to what I believe. I’m willing to give up everything to follow what I believe.

And that’s what makes today starkly different — and entirely more colorful — than the potentials I embodied yesterday.

Pain Based Change Management

Andrew Grove’s political commentary today in the Washington Post (“Mr. President, Time to Rein in the Chaos”) was interesting to me not because of the opinions presented, but because of his unorthodox suggestion: successful change management can emerge when leaders deliberately allow pain, then rescue the masses once the pain has become too unbearable:

I have found that to succeed, an organization must travel through two phases: first, a period of chaotic experimentation in which intense discussion is allowed, even encouraged, by those in charge. In time, when the chaos becomes unbearable, the leadership reins in chaos with a firm hand. The first phase serves to expose the needs and options, the potential and pitfalls. The organization and its leaders learn a lot going through this phase. But frustration also builds, and eventually the cry is heard: Make a decision — any decision — but make it now. The time comes for the leadership to end the chaos and commit to a path.

We have gone through months of chaos experimenting with ways to introduce stability in our financial system. The goals were to allow the financial institutions to do their jobs and to develop confidence in them. I believe by now, the people are eager for the administration to rein in chaos. But this is not happening.

Would you, as a manager, take this kind of approach if you knew it would effect the change you wanted?

The ethical implications of this strategy are remarkable to me. First, put yourself in the frame of mind where you’re thinking about organizational change management – adopting a new software package, or reorganizing the hierarchy. Change like this is tough, and often results in mental and emotional pain as people adjust to the new state of the workplace – not physical pain, but definitely pain in the sense of its official definition. But is it appropriate to allow this pain in order to achieve benefits – both for those who have “suffered” and the organization as a whole?

I have no answers to offer – but think that this dilemma might be illuminated further by understanding the ethical standards for pain management and research that have already been explored by the medical community.

Reading This Will Change Your Brain

From dailygalaxy.com

The title above comes from a Newsweek article published on October 14, 2008. The moral of the story is that recent research in neuroscience indicates that use of modern technology – in particular Web searching – actually exercises the decision making and complex reasoning parts of the brain. The end result is that younger people who are more attuned to life in cyberspace have more finely developed skills in these areas, whereas those who are not as steeped in the web are better at social skills and reading emotions from facial expressions.

“The more time you devote to a specific activity, the stronger the neural pathways responsible for executing that activity become.”

Gary Small, who leads a research team at UCLA, recently published an article in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry that explains these finding in depth, and suggests that a “simple task like searching the web appears to enhance brain circuitry in older adults.” What does this news have to do with managing your organization? It helps you understand how to manage change by pointing out that certain activities can be strategically applied to develop specific parts of the brain.

These phenomena are comprehensively explained in the 400+ pages of Schwartz & Begley (2002). By studying obsessive-compulsive disorder, Schwartz learned about how the brain rewires itself to deal with problems and heal from wounds and uncovered much of the theory that’s being refined and developed by researchers like Small.

One of the lessons from this tome is that “practice really does make perfect”. You should give your employees time to build their capabilities and continually refine their skills – try not to rush them. “We have the ability to bring will and thus attention to bear on a single nascent possibility struggling to be born in the brain, and thus to turn that possibility into actuality and action.” There is a biological basis underlying the idea that people need the time to focus to turn an idea into action.


Schwartz, J.M & Begley, S. (2002). The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force New York: Harper Perennial.