Lliberation - M.C. Escher – 1926

It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, … Niccolo Machiavelli, ~1500AC.

It is not a surprise that the failure rate of large business change management efforts has been high since the 80s. So a whole “change management” industry has grown to propose approaches for help with these issues: I was part of it during the 90s. But the failure rate remains high1. Why? Because these approaches are based on assumptions which just do not apply to large business changes: - “Change management” is a contradiction: resistance to change is too complex and uncertain to be “managed” in a predictable way. - Following the “x steps” cannot be a success guarantee when every misalignment between the change objectives/values and the context (senior management not “walking the talk”, excessive control by management, unaligned people management systems, decision making and meeting practices, “the business culture here!”…) can become a powerful source of resistance. - “Building trust and feedback” activities are an afterthought in these approaches when things turn sour, but then it is too late! - The systemic reality that all complex systems, including business systems, resist change and tend to return to their “status quo” is not addressed by these approaches.

We are basing our implementation approach on a set of very different assumptions: - Pacing the progress on the active participation of progressively larger management groups: focus only on one management group/layer until they:

  1. experience collectively [the value of the changes for them][leverage-points]
  2. use the new practices and
  3. are ready to promote themselves these practices to their teams/groups

An example of implementation approach we have already used successfully has the following overlapping phases, described here in the order of their start: 0. Train the counterpart client team which will progressively take over our activities in phases 3 and 4 below.

  1. Prepare a detailed plan together with the counterpart team and obtain agreement from the top leader and his team for the first steps:
    • phasing the implementation of the [strategies][leverage-points] for the 2 first management layers
    • including “building trust and feedback” activities
    • with permanent assessment of potential context misalignment and potential corrective actions
  2. Use a 2.5 days seminar (no limit on number of participants) to create:
  3. Coach the team during their first 3 or 4 first action and decision meetings to fully transfer these processes to the client team
  4. Propose targeted individual coaching (maximum 3 times 1 hour) for the team members meeting difficulties with evolving roles or action meetings or decision meetings and delegation
  5. Cascade to lower level as soon as a team member is ready to “sell” this approach to his/her direct reports and to coach them

  1. Towers Watson (2013). Only One-Quarter of Employers Are Sustaining Gains From Change Management Initiatives. www.towerswatson.com [return]