In 1989-90, under the direction of Jack Welch, GE launched “Work-Out” – a team based problem-solving and employee empowerment program modeled after the Japanese quality circles model that was in vogue at the time. Work-Out was a huge success and Welch was frustrated by the rate of adoption through the business. Welch, the visionary, realized that GE (and everyone else!) was entering an era of constant change, and that those who adapted to change the fastest would be the survivors. He commissioned a team of consultants (including Steve Kerr, who was to become GE’s first Chief Learning Officer) to scour industry and academia to study the best practices in change management and come back to GE with a tool kit that Welch’s managers could easily implement. The result was the Change Acceleration Process, commonly referred to within GE simply as “CAP.”
The Change Effectiveness Equation
The team studied hundreds of projects and business initiatives. One of their insights was that a high-quality technical strategy solution is insufficient to guarantee success. An astonishingly high percentage of failed projects had excellent technical plans. As an example of such a project, consider a business adopting Siebel Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system enterprise-wide. Typically a great deal of effort is put into the technical strategy – to deploy the hardware and software, train the employees, etc.
The team found that it is lack of attention to the cultural factors that derail the project when there is a failure – not the technical strategy. Failure, for our purposes, is defined as failing to achieve the anticipated benefits of the project (i.e., the benefits that justified the project in the first place).
The team created the Change Effectiveness Equation, QxA=E as a simple way to describe the phenomena. Translated to English, it reads: the Effectiveness (E) of any initiative is equal to the product of the Quality (Q) of the technical strategy and the Acceptance (A) of that strategy. In other words, paying attention to the people side of the equation is as important to success as the technical side . It is interesting to note that they used a multiplicative relationship; if there is a zero for the Acceptance factor, the total effectiveness of the initiative will be zero, regardless of the strength of the technical strategy. I’m sure we can all cite examples from our own experience when this was observed.
The Change Acceleration Process (CAP) Model
1. Leading Change
First and foremost, authentic, committed leadership throughout the duration of the initiative is essential for success. From a project management perspective, there is a significant risk of failure if the organization perceives a lack of leadership commitment to the initiative.
2. Creating A Shared Need
The need for change must outweigh the resistance – the inertia in the organization to maintain the status quo. There must be compelling reasons to change, that resonate not just for the leadership team, but that will appeal to all stakeholders. To paraphrase Peter Senge in his groundbreaking book, The Fifth Discipline, “Although we are all interested in large scale change, we must change one mind at a time.”
3. Shaping a Vision
Leadership must articulate a clear and legitimate vision of the world after the change initiative. Every journey must have a destination otherwise you are just wandering. The vision must be widely understood and shared. The end-state must be described in behavioral terms – i.e., observable, measurable terms. Not business results, but individual behavior. This might be the single most critical factor in a successful change initiative. For a more detailed explanation of why this is so critical, see: CAP Lessons from Front Page News
4. Mobilizing Commitment
Once you have leadership support, compelling logic for change, and a clear vision of the future, you have the necessary ingredients to rollout your initiative. You now begin to execute an influence strategy to build momentum. You leverage the “early adopters,” to pilot the project where you face low resistance and can learn from mistakes with a forgiving partner.
5. Making change last
Steps 2-4 are primarily about accelerating adoption of your changes. Steps 5-7 are about making the changes permanent. You leverage early wins, taking the knowledge gained in your pilots and transfer learning’s and best practices to your broader rollout. You plan for integrating with other existing, potentially competing, initiatives. You assess what is helping and hindering the initiative.
6. Monitoring process
It is important to plan for measuring the progress of your change initiative. Is it real? How will you know? You need to set benchmarks — realize them – and celebrate! Similarly there must be accountability for lack of progress.
7. Changing Systems and Structures
Every business has underlying systems and structures: hiring & staffing, IT systems, training & development, resource allocation, organizational design, SOPs/workflow, etc..) These systems were designed to support the current state of the business. If they are not changed to support the desired, future state of the business they will always push you back to the old way. That’s what they are supposed to do. In order to make change permanent you must systematically identify how these systems influence the behavior you are trying to change, and modify them appropriately. Failure to address these systems and structures is why so many initiatives become the proverbial “flavor of the month.” For further discussion, see the 23 Feb 09 post; “The Results – Activities – Systems and Structures Model.”
 Becker, B., Huselid, M., and Ulrich, D. (2001), The HR Scorecard; Linking People, Strategy, and Performance. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.