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Conversation Starter: What is Good Change Management?

Most people can't put a finger on this one. Typical responses to this question address matters like training strategy, communication efficacy and leading people from a current state to a desired future state as key characteristics of change management accomplishment. ​But what does that really mean?

What is the scorecard for change management and how do we really know when we have done a good job?

Let's begin by answering a question with a question: what is the #1 thing you can do to gain deeper insight and understanding about anything?

The answer of course, is to ask questions. We really like this one: why?

Questions are the key to effective problem definition and to uncovering new ideas as potential solutions. Questions are also vital to innovative thinking. If we never question the challenges or opportunities presented within our current condition, chances are we will forgo the realization our full potential.

If you're thinking about transformational change, you should be asking probing questions and should not be afraid to ask leadership for the right answers. The acceptance of this type of questioning challenges the norm in high performance culture and is not necessarily the norm in many other organizational cultures.

Clearly there are boundaries, established by governing authority but when it comes to fostering an environment that embraces innovative ideas that drive business agility and the management of change - we need to ask the difficult questions.

If you are thinking of building an Enterprise Change Management (ECM) platform, start by asking questions like:

What is our history of managing change?

What is our current organizational capacity to manage change?

What is the capability of our current management team?

Why should we do something about change management?

What do we want to achieve?

When do we want to achieve it?

How do we want to achieve it?

Who will achieve it?

Next, try asking "why" to each response.

It is amazing how many business initiatives ranging from simple weekly meeting routines to major capital projects, are conducted without a clear understanding of what the finish line should look like. Often it's because expectations have not been clearly communicated and people are not comfortable asking "why". The subject of change management is no different.

And so typical responses to the question "What is good change management?" elicit standard responses about managing resistance to change by doing a good job of executing communication and training plans.

Although a reasonable start, if we accept such a response we are not fully answering the question. We are only half-way there because execution of plans in the absence of significant problems (like time or budget) is not an indicator of successful accomplishment. If anything, it's a sign of mediocrity.

In other words, just because you cross the finish line does not mean you ran a good race.

Here again we need to ask "why". For example: why did you run a good race? Why was execution of communication or training plans successful? Why? With enough questioning, the responses will inevitably identify the need for quantifiable results and metrics as Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to substantiate the change activities.

Psychologists and economists will tell you that human beings adjust behavior based on the metrics they’re held against. Anything you measure will impel a person to optimize his score on that metric. What you measure is what you’ll get and therefore if you want good change management, you need to measure it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most organizations do not measure performance outside of traditional metrics like financials. If we never question the challenges or opportunities presented within our current condition, chances are we will forgo the realization our full potential.

For example, measuring performance across an indicator like accounts payable in relation to sales discounts or penalties can reveal important insights to beneficial changes that should be managed within sales and AP that positively impact cash-flow and profitability.

Measuring organizational KPI is an ongoing and iterative process that will change with the needs of the business. We have found that the delta of these changes is the real scorecard for change management activities.

We also know that from a change management perspective, the hallmarks of high performance business are organizational alignment, agility and accountability and that these organizations are more likely to measure improvements that ultimately drive the execution of business strategy.

For example, a company strategy that seeks to improve the customer experience might want to identify data points that can be measured in relation the following questions:, asked from a customer perspective:

  • What would really shake up this industry?

  • Who could put us out of business?

  • What trends should we be watching?

  • What opportunities are we missing?

  • Why aren’t we doing anything about this?

  • What would happen if…. ?

  • Is this the best use of our budget, or is there a better way to allocate our budget?

  • What assumptions about our work should we be challenging or even discarding?

You cannot be an innovative thinker if you are afraid to ask questions. Are you planting the seeds of innovation by asking more and different questions?

If change management, business agility and innovative thinking are at all linked to business performance then they should be measured. The ability to claim good, great, bad or average results lies in data (in God we trust, everyone else bring data). Why? Because people tend to do what gets measured. And so good change management needs to push the needle from a quantitative baseline to some sort of expected result. Otherwise it's change management rhetoric.

Inukshuk Change Management mountain (left)
Inukshuk Change Management mountain (right)
Inukshuk change management logo (black)
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