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A 700th Blog Post- a Little Change Management History

First the previous change management lists:

600th Enough posts now for lists, series, digging into my approach and more

500th A stroll through the history of Horizontal Change

400th All 400 posts lined up

300th I proffered a tidbit list of more insights, tools to use, things I have seen.

200th was a short list of favorite posts.

100th I gave that many tiny insights.

A rambling view of change management in 700+ words

My own history

When I started consulting (after retail store ownership and fun careers like ski instructing, rafting, flight attendant and Sous chef) things were different. I stepped on the stage in 1997 as a presentation skills consultant. Thanks to my Masters program and the emerging dot-com my role quickly became that of executive coach. It turned out most of those presentations they needed help on were announcements for something big. Some examples: the first release of broadband (remember @home?), major restructures for sales groups, an executive refocus for a popular video firm (that was at a time when we went to the store to get videos), a pharmaceutical drug release and many more.

Change Management before we called it that.

After a rejected proposal to start a function that we would now call change management consulting I went out on my own. It is rare that you start with a stable of clients. I had 5 big firms (firms that are now common names) on my first day. I look back on this time (1997-2003 or so) wistfully.

Wistfully because these firms were quickly growing start-ups.

A fast growing start-up does not yet have much status quo. And they are adding so fast that the status quo changes constantly and quickly. Those types of fast growers also have few, if any, steps between the leaders and the hands. In fact most of the leaders are still using their hands for things. In that environment the three most important things for change are present:

  1. Ownership
  2. Collaborative Communication
  3. Willful Participation

(Yes, I think you can have UNwillful participation).

Then it was a matter of consulting executives into explanations of how they saw the future. Because they were not too distant from those who would do the work they understood, empathized and had some compassion for all the work sessions and loyalty. It was like wanting to make something fancy for company coming over and realizing you had all the necessary ingredients in the cupboard. No wasted trips to stores to fill in the pieces.

Of course there were some influences not on our short list for change. When the external environment is inviting and ready, change is easier than the opposite (austerity, tight-fisted budgets and, let’s face it, gloom). Change really moves quick for an exciting idea or product. Not so much when it is some structural revamp.

Knowing life and work (and beginning to realize change too) is not this easy I made a conscious effort to scale up.

Give me the nasty. Give me the challenging. Give me the HUGE. Engagements.

I asked for them and got them.

Easy they weren’t. Challenging they certainly were.

So a new list. The challenges of change:

  1. Structure
  2. Culture
  3. The Organization’s Strategy Approach
  4. Change Awareness
  5. Internal Politics
  6. OK, I give. People.

Structure is definitely number one. Within the category of structure is process, governance and performance review. Anything else you want to blame failed change on leads right back here. Structure creates the root causes. Everything else is just a symptom. Or in the case of People tons of different, very hard to diagnose, symptoms. Change without a look at structure is almost certain to be only partially successful… if at all.

Culture is an easy scapegoat. But culture is a symptom of other things that came before. The founder has an effect. The building of bureaucracy too. The pattern of adaptability over time (or lack thereof) is another. I have found it makes sense to look forward to the culture you would like at the end state and then work back to see what would need to change to guide to that spot. I don’t think you can change culture, but you can set it up for change.

I hate to say this, but I am not very impressed with the way big organizations (say Fortune 100) deal with strategy. Maybe all the other things on our list just get in the way. The business perspective (usually a short term one at that) completely overpowers the understanding of the talent and the people it takes to implement strategy. I don’t mean this in a touchy-feely sense. People WANT to take part and they want to DO WELL. So rarely are they given the chance.

Maybe that is because Change Management is not only in its infancy but is being taken over in the interest of profit and revenue. It would be nice if at my 1000th post I could say otherwise. We need awareness about high level connection for change. We need awareness about how people are measured and why they choose to participate (its more than the typical list of motivators). We need awareness about what really makes a good change practitioner and leader. Having read just about everything I can get my hands on, and regurgitated that in my own writing I am not impressed with the overall perspective of change and the “management” thereof. Too much chasing symptoms and not enough addressing root causes to get to multiple solutions.

Because any group that grows beyond knowing each others names begins to have internal politics. If you are lucky everyone jumps into the dodge ball game on the playground. If not you can see little groups off in the corners of the blacktop SCHEMING against the others.

All right when I play this all out in words I begin to see that PEOPLE must be one of our numbers. Yes, an individual CAN derail change. Those little groups on the “playground” definitely can do the same. I still think structure, approach and perspective can help keep this from happening.

700 blog posts. It will take many more to figure this whole change thing out. Hopefully throwing my experience into words- freely available- has helped some leader, some practitioner, some change effort (corporate, organizational or personal) to move a little closer to the end state.