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Why I hate “Change Management.” And why you should, too.

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

This post will sound different than past ones—a bit more roar than before. Because of my strong feelings about “Change Management.”

Let’s start with a definition.

Change Management is whatever it takes to help people and teams succeed when change occurs within your organization. Such as:

  • You radically change your business processes

  • Your company acquires another company

  • Another company acquires your company

  • A new competitor knocks you from numero uno to numero dos

  • Your customers’ buy products in new ways, using new technologies

  • You buy new technology to run your supply chain floor

There are endless ways companies experience (and navigate through) change.

But here’s the thing that irks me.

“Change Management” is misleading. It infers you can manage change.

Like when a puppy pees on the carpet. You talk to your doggie. Take him to the appointed potty spot. Clean up the mess. Problem solved. Maybe it happens again, maybe not.

Okay, not that simple, but two points many believe about ‘change management’:

  1. It’s a static event. You do something to fix it. You’re ‘done’ until ‘next time’.

  2. It’s something you react to versus anticipate.

There’s too much on the line by believing you can manage change the way you manage Finance, HR, Operations and IT.

For instance, reacting to change…

  • Disrupts the business, people, and processes

  • Causes people to do drastic (vs strategic) things

  • People then respond to the urgent versus the important

Now people are doing activities that don’t increase revenue and profits. While decreasing employee morale. Also…

When reacting, decisions are made for you, rather than by you.

Leaving you in a chase you didn’t choose. This effects leaders, managers, and employees.

  • People feel helpless when change shows up without notice

  • Employees get frustrated with their job

  • They resist change because it’s “happening to them”

  • They leave the company (with their important knowledge)

Poor change management cost loads of $$$ to hire, fire, and re-hire employees while your company’s reputation takes a hit. And certainly, customers sense it too, when processes go unattended or fail.

Bleak, I know.

Which is why I hate ‘Change Management’.

A better term, a better way.

“Change Enablement?” “Change Anticipation?” “Change Leadership?”

Probably not. I doubt I can change the term for all industries, used throughout corporate time.

But do think about change this way:

  • Anticipate change so you can be ready for change, thus lead change—proactively.

  • Work with (not through) employees so they participate in change in healthy ways.

In other words…

  1. Lead actively and visibly (leadership)

  2. Create and use a process that provides feedback to determine everyone’s next best actions (management)

Great leaders provide context.

Context for decisions. Context for goals. Context for how employees can participate.

And… context for why the change is needed.

One way we do this for companies like yours is to use the 20/50/30 rule.

General statistics show:

  • 20% of employees are excited about the change (aka, early adopters)

  • 50% of employees are not sure how they feel about the change (aka, fence-sitters)

  • 30% of employees are inherently opposed to the change (aka, active resistors)

Now… we see most companies focusing on the 30%, to get active resistors to comply with the change. A better way is to influence (versus force) change.

  • Understand why people are resisting the change

  • Educate and inspire early adopters to influence the fence-sitters

  • Get the fence-sitters to influence the active resistors

So then… focus on the 20% and 50% to engage the 30% in creating, adopting, and adapting to the change. It’s important to identify and use feedback to adjust the process of change as you go—as you learn.

So you can get people to be credible messengers.

As a parent, I love it when another parent steps in to give my kid feedback. It just registers differently. The same for adults. Getting and hearing useful feedback from peers helps everyone help themselves.

Which is what great leadership is all about.

‘Enable’ vs ‘manage’ change. ‘Macro’ vs ‘micro’ manage. Make the process ‘people’ vs ‘corporate’ centric. And of course, measure results of change using metrics and KPIs.

More people will stay vs leave. More knowledge will grow vs become lost. More order vs chaos will result. More managers will feel ‘I got this’ than will be overwhelmed and confused.

That’s what happens when you stay in front of change, rather than being dragged by it. And when you make it about your people, rather than about you.

Want to learn how to anticipate, enable, and lead change throughout your organization?

"To manage change is to tell people what to do, but to lead change is to show people how to be." (Weick & Quinn, 1999)
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