Thursday, May 16, 2013

One more time … why does change fail?

Who to blame first ... management or employees?

Argument #1:  It's Management's Fault

I've been a fan of Ron Ashkenas since I learned about him as a co-author of the GE Workout.  He recently wrote a post on HBR's blog called Change Management Needs to Change.    

Here is a relevant quote: [with highlights added]

The content of change management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped.

He goes on to say that managers have outsourced change management to HR specialists and consultants rather than learn to lead change themselves.

The corporate renaissance years for change management were the early 90s.  At that time, the job title internal change management consultant and organizational change manager did not yet exist.  I can't find any solid numbers on this, but I'd bet the trend is more internal HR/change consultants.  Either way, Ashkenas is blaming the change agents, whether they are leaders, HR and/or internal consultants, and external consultants. 

Argument #2:  It's the Employee's Fault

Ashkenas is implying that managers, as agents of change, need to do better.  I can't argue with that.  In fact, managers are one of the groups that comprise change agents.

Change recipients are on the receiving end of these changes. Often, this group is comprised of employees and middle managers.

The Bovey/Hede model best represents the stereotype of resistant employees as the cause of change failure.  It is based on the assumption that resistance is a function of irrational thinking.
Finally, constructive deviance (versus destructive deviance) has been a growing topic as well.  For a nice summary, scan the first few pages of this article.  The Journal of Management just published a recent article on this topic if you have access. Destructive deviance blames the employees, while constructive deviance applauds employees for resisting bad changes. 

Argument #3: Let's Stop Arguing

Dent & Goldberg grew so tired of industry researchers blaming employee resistance to change for CM failures that they suggested that we ... 

Drop the term resistance
from the CM lexicon

I had a similar reaction to the Ashkenas blog post.  Let's suppose his assertion is true … a lack of development of the change competency among managers is to blame.

How does that help me today
as a change leader?

I can't really argue with his advice:

1. Choose common, simple language in a change framework 
2. Integrate change plan into overall plans
3. Hold managers accountable

My filter:
1. Communication
2. Project Management
3. Management Accountability

Million dollar question:
how-to do #3?

Stay tuned for a future post that elaborates on the "how to" for (a) change agent, and (b) change recipient accountability. It is NOT enough just to hold managers accountable ... everyone needs to be accountable.


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