Online debate as to whether a change management plan can actually work seems to be a constant.
It isn't unusual to see some people say that the best way to better your change process outcome is not to address it and just see what happens. That sounds a lot like hope as a strategy.
You've heard me and others say it...
So, where does this mindset come from that having an organized change management process isn't a worthwhile endeavor?
Considering this takes me back to my days in the fitness industry. In roles as a Personal Trainer, and in management, it wasn't unusual to have conversations with clients and gym members who had taken the time to set goals. That's a great thing, and is a key ingredient in eventual success.
What became challenges for these gym-goers usually stemmed from a couple different areas.
There isn't anything inherently wrong with taking a do-it-yourself approach to fitness or to change management. And, it's great if you have the discipline to show up each day and put in the work necessary.
However, most gym-goers aren't experts in fitness program design. They know how to pick things up and put them down, or which buttons to press to get going on their favorite piece of cardio equipment.
And, while they can complete a workout, it is outside of their scope of practice to string together a process, and series of workouts, that is going to get them to their desired result.
They might see some progress. They might see no progress. Or, they might get to the finish line by chance.
In some cases, the goal is a fun one. For others, there may be medical motivation. In business, the health in question might be that of the sustainability of your company.
Chance is a tough thing to rely on when achieving the desired result is a necessity.
The other obstacle to health enthusiasts and organizations is in miscalculating a timeline for progress or project completion. Or, having no timeline at all.
Ask 20 people, in a gym, how long it takes to lose 5 pounds of fat, or gain 10 pounds of muscle, and you'll get 20 different answers for each.
Ask business leaders how long it takes to increase revenues, decrease costs, improve employee retention, introduce a new compensation plan, adjust operational processes, or change company culture, by any measure, and the array of answers you'll get are immense.
In either case, fitness or business, most will underestimate the time to achievement based on three things:
In fitness, the first area can be calculated based on what's been discovered in scientific research. It's safe, and realistic, to lose about a pound or two per week. In terms of building muscle, we'd say it's possible to add a pound of muscle per month, on average.
In business, though data sets are immense, it can be tougher to pin down an exact timeline as certain qualitative influences may be at play (think company culture). It isn't unusual that some business change projects can take 18-24+ months. And, if you consider that organizations are setting environmental impact targets that look 50-100 years into the future, these processes are ongoing.
Desired changes don't come about just because you write a goal on a piece of paper or on the wall in the lobby. Those statements must be accompanied by action.
And, the people who are involved are critical, too. It's difficult to achieve lasting change when the recognized leader of the company is absent from the process and behaviors that support it.
In supporting clients in achieving fitness goals, Personal Trainers consider exercise history, medical history, injury history, work and home life, support systems, and the underlying reasons that the change is desired. It isn't uncommon that certain scenarios are familiar.
However, this doesn't mean that cookie-cutter programming can be implemented. What got one person to the desired result might get another person part of the way there, while a third person's participation results in injury. And so, the items that make each person's situation unique must be considered. The steps along the journey of change might remain consistent, yet the specific recommendations or prescriptions are fluid, and fitting of the circumstance.
The same is true of the business environment. The review of financial statements may provide quantitative information that can provide some understanding of the direction to follow. However, much as in the fitness example, two companies with relatively similar financial concerns and end goals may not see the same end result if provided the exact same blueprint to follow.
The steps along the journey may repeat, yet the response of each organization to the items within each step will differ. And where one's perspective can be limited, in being so close to the situation, the guidance of a professional can be instrumental in influencing the outcome.
It's true that creating effective organizational change is difficult.
Even more so when you're going it alone, without the guidance of a professional. (That's why I've got my plumber on speed dial 🙏).
And, where the steps to achieving change project success are well-researched, it makes sense to set yourself up for the best possibility of achievement by learning and following them, rather than to ignore a change management plan roadmap, and instead embrace a strategy of hope where the results are guaranteed to be random.
Your change management plan isn't destined to fail. Don't resign yourself to being part of the 70% of change efforts that don't end well. Your effort and attitude surrounding change are within your control. And, with guidance, you can supercharge your efforts to be, and stay, in the 30%.
This section of the site is an excellent primer for insight on methodologies, tools, and resources that can support successful change efforts.
To continue your learning:
David Bohmiller, MBA, MS (he/him/his)
Founder, CEO and Consulting Executive
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