“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start… ”
– Oscar Hammerstein II
What is change management?
Prosci defines Change Management as “… a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.”
© Copyright Prosci 2010
I would add that it is an art form more than a science, and that it is leadership more than management. But the part of the definition about the “…leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome” is dead-on. There must be some desired outcome we want to achieve, and we need people to do things differently in order to achieve it.
The Bridges “Transitions” Model
The goal for any Org Change leader is to get the impacted population through the transition from the current state to the desired future state as quickly and painlessly as possible. This was first described in 1947 by Kurt Lewin as the “Unfreeze – Change – Freeze” process, and more recently described by William Bridges as the “Letting Go – Neutral Zone – New Beginning” process (shown in Fig 1 below).
The Bridges model makes an important improvement over the Lewin model. It shows how some people may very quickly “let go” of the old way move quickly through the Neutral Zone and get to the New Beginning (green arrow), while others may never let go (red arrow). Most people fall in-between, they do let go but spend a long time struggling in the Neutral Zone (blue arrow). These “blue arrow” folks are where change leaders earn their pay. Let’s take a deeper look at this…
The “Denial-Resistance-Exploration-Commitment” Model
The model shown in Figure 2 below is a popular four-step change model demonstrated famously by the characters in “Who Moved My Cheese?” This model easily relates back to the Bridges model. The Denial phase requires acknowledging that change is necessary and that it is happening in order to Let Go. Then the Resistance-Exploration phases while in the Neutral Zone, and finally the breakthrough to the New Beginning and a Commitment to the new desired future state.
Figure 2 – Four Phases of Change
The important concept here is that an individual in the Neutral Zone may go through several iterations of resistance – exploration – resistance – exploration before breaking out. I attempted to indicate this by the squiggles in the blue arrow in Figure 1. There is also the possibility that they may “give-up” and return to “the old way” if that option exists.
So we understand what people go through when we ask them to change. How then does this manifest itself in the workplace in on-the-job performance? Fortunately this is well-understood as well.
The “Performance Dip”
When significant change is introduced into a workplace, we expect those impacted by the change to experience the Kubler-Ross Change Cycle (Shock-Denial-Anger-Despair-Understanding-Acceptance-Moving on). This manifests itself as a drop-off in business performance, as shown in Figure 3. Eventually the business performance returns. It is simple to map this back to the Denial-Resistance-Exploration-Commitment model as well. When we introduce changes intending to improve business processes, we hope to see that business performance is eventually improved at the end of that cycle. But if you are reading this, you probably know all too well that there is no guarantee of that. Something like 65% of change initiatives fail to achieve their intended outcomes.
What does an Org Change Leader Do?
In a nutshell, there are three things we try to do:
- Decrease the depth of the performance dip
- Shorten the duration of the performance dip
- Sustain the gains in performance after the initiative is complete
We help avoid the cost of “Re-”
…As in re-design, re-deploy, re-work, re-launch, resign.
When a change initiative encounters significant resistance, and the impacted population has the option/power to pursue alternatives to the change, the stage is set for a failed initiative. This is how projects wind-up being re-designed, and re-launched, with the subsequent cost overruns, opportunity costs, reputation and morale damage, and collateral damage to other projects. There is big money involved in all of these.
This is why we need org change management. This is where an org change leader earns their pay. I will be addressing specific recommendations and some case studies in future postings very soon.