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(Metaphor derived from the point of contact between automobile tires and pavement).


When it comes to change management, most companies do one of three things: hire change managers, hire consultants, or train their people to manage change. Ostensibly the decision appears to be one of an outsource vs. insource nature but most people tasked with the decision will tell you - it's not that simple. 

The decision to do something about change management is 90% project driven.  Most project owners recognize that training and communications are linked to project success and are convinced that change management can improve the likelihood of successful project outcomes.


Further, the obvious cost of making project mistakes can be significant in terms of dollars, missed opportunities, wasted time and failed deliverables. And because nobody wants to be the owner of a failed project, we see that change management is often regarded as a sound risk mitigation strategy - a convenient way to outsource some accountability for project failure.

And so most companies decide to hire Change Managers or Consultants, and task them with managing the training, communications, and change associated with a particular project. From an 'outsourcing of accountability' perspective the story could end right there. 


But the smart decision makers know that a newly hired Change Manager or Consultant is unlikely to be managing any change at all.  Not within their first few weeks anyways.

Instead, one of the first things that he/she will do is meet with key stakeholders in the business who should actually be responsible for managing change in the first place.  Typically these will include operational management (e.g. IT, HR, Finance) and executive leadership across key business areas like strategy, governance, risk management, culture, learning & development.

What happens next?  This is precisely where the "where to start" decision get complicated.  


First, it depends on your business strategy and must consider the direction in which the business is currently headed. Nimble or agile organizations can course correct and effectively react to internal or external changes that impact the execution of business strategy.  Typically market leaders, start-ups and Lean or Six Sigma type organizations are in this position and they demonstrate operational agility, alignment and accountability for performance results.

Unfortunately we see that most organizations are not in this position.  Instead, business strategy execution and operational agility as key drivers for change are replaced with the "business case for change."  We conducted a survey earlier this year and of the 379 respondents, 90% indicated that their business case for change was project driven[1] .  

That is why for most companies, addressing the “Where to start?” question should begin with careful consideration of the (project) business case for change by asking some fundamental questions:


Why do we need to do something about Change Management?

What to we want to achieve?

When do we want to achieve it?

How do we want to achieve it?


Only then does the "who" question begin to make sense. 


For example, the strategy and business case for a bank facing disruptive FinTech pressures in a fiercely competitive industry will be much different than that of a utility that is embarking on an ERP implementation. The former seeks to protect or improve competitiveness and operational agility while the latter is probably embarking on a transformational journey to standardize business processes - enabled by a common technology platform.  


In any event, if change management has anything to do with advancing the business strategy, supporting the business case for change, growing or protecting competitive advantage – then how can the entire accountability for managing change be placed squarely on the shoulders of full-time or contract Change Managers?  Should such a critical and enabling managerial capability not rest with the existing management team?


More often than not, the decision to hire is misplaced because it is made without due consideration for human capital, business strategy and/or the case for change at all. Think about it.  How many times have you heard about managers that are too busy “keeping the lights on” or buried by “transaction distraction” to take on additional work, like managing change? The preconceived notion that hiring yet another manager or consultant will solve this problem is common yet fallacious because if the change management agenda is to be successful it will ultimately have to be managed by the management team anyways.


To be fair, let’s recognize that for many of us, the 40 hour work week is also a fallacy and effort beyond 40 is the norm.  At the same time we should also acknowledge that at some point, excessive hours become unsustainable.  That’s when it makes sense to hire permanent, contract, or temporarily augment headcount with consultants.


The key objectives for a Change Manager is to build or reinforce an existing change platform that develops and supports the managerial capability and organizational capacity to manage change - not to manage change itself. The most effective Change Managers act as social engineers that meld executive strategy with action across operational management by making powerful connections (strategic enablers) between people, processes and tools that manage change.


Getting to that point is the tricky part.  An effective enterprise change management platform is deliberately designed and requires a delicate and carefully planned mix of internal and/or external resources who may not have the skills or experience that can be taught with Change Management training.

The below Change Management Maturity Model illustrates three different stages of change capability and capacity:

Not every organization needs to be highly mature but we have yet to hear an executive complain about excessive agility or being too operationally nimble.  Most companies fall somewhere in the low-medium category.  And so the “where to start” decision should really begin with some authentic and transparent conversations across executive leadership and operational management about the execution of business strategy and the underlying drivers of the business case for change. Ask the what, when, how and why questions in order to get perspective on the ‘who’ – and what is right for your organization.   

[1] The top 3 project cases for change were: technology implementation or upgrade (228), business process transformation (73) non IT related greenfield projects (40).

Human Capital is like a set of good tires - your performance depends on it
Inukshuk Change Management mountain (left)
Inukshuk Change Management mountain (right)
Inukshuk change management logo (black)
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