Are you ready for the new world order of continual transformation?

People working like gearsI recently participated in a Harvard Business webinar with Rita McGrath on her new book: The End of Competitive Advantage. The premise is that business leaders need to take on a more agile and fast acting strategy approach.  The thinking is competitive advantage today is very short lived – more transient in nature.

Your use of strategic initiative management practices and delivery will need to reflect this major shift.  If not there is a very high chance you may get left behind as a player in the demanding and high expectant customer environment.

Here is a rundown of what she had to say:

In a global and fast shifting environment we are seeing industries and businesses die or become disengaged from the economy sooner and more often than ever before.  Look around at which businesses still exist and what industries are no longer relevant.  Using the experience of businesses that have won and failed in the past few years we can quickly see not only why but what they acted on or missed by a long shot. 

Businesses need to work from a foundation of transient (continuous) transformations that be built quickly to see if they work and abandoned just as fast if necessary.  Instead of using traditional business tools and approaches she advises us to contemplate a different playbook to keep strategies moving as fast as the world around us. Executives can make the shift through six key departures in how to run their strategy and its execution.  These include analysis, tools, experimentation and a refocused leadership mindset.

If you are like most executives you well know that issues such as the digital revolution, big data and analytics weren’t even on anyone’s strategy radar until just recently.  In fact, how many businesses and careers did not exist even as little as two years ago?

And when it comes to executing key initiatives businesses continue to fail, linger way too long on challenged projects or even resist stopping projects that will never properly deliver on business benefits.  This may all be taking way too long and meanwhile other businesses are moving at the speed of light and lapping their competitors.

Here are three ways you can start to take charge in making a shift to utilizing a transient advantage strategy.

1. Continuous Transformation.

We need to move away from periods of innovation and change interspersed with stabilization to a continuous transformation state.

  • Develop a proactive strategy approach that eliminates the rigour of the ‘annual’ strategic retreat and formality of idea generation.
  • Create a culture where failure is okay and change resilience is understood and supported
  • Balance the need for stability as well as energy and drive to move quickly.
  • Stability can be found in strong leadership, networks, and building out talent and customer relationships.  We urge our clients to include customers on your transformation teams, for example.
  • Energy and drive will come from the way resources are assigned and managed, individual job assignments (shake it up) and decision making practices (like pushing it down the organization).

2. Shed Initiatives Fast.

Don’t be afraid to stop projects that aren’t working or no longer make sense. In encouraging a sense of urgency and continuous change you can’t be afraid to let go just as quickly.  Holding on is not the way to go anymore.  Having a strong portfolio management process with an equally strong governance process will allow senior leadership to stop initiatives that won’t deliver expected results in a changed marketplace or shift in the competitive landscape.

For example, you were planning the introduction of major new service that will drive more customers to you than your competitors.  Suddenly the competitor acquires a business that leap frogs your service.  Are you still determined to implement the new service or shift to where the market will now move in the coming months? Don’t get eclipsed!  Roll with the punches and have other strategies in your back pocket.

3. Deploy High Value Resources Effectively.

The need to be much more precise in how we use often limited resources is essential in a transient advantage environment.  Knowing who are the high value resources (today and in the near term future) is critical to assign them to your most high value/new business direction work.  We naturally want to hoard resources on what we individually see as important rather than what may be best for the organization as a whole.

  • Have a committed resource management and capacity planning mechanism – typically part of an effective portfolio management system.
  • Encourage visibility and transparency into what initiatives are underway and what resources are available.
  • Have a good understanding of skills, capacity (to do the work) and how/when to use outside resources.  Create a skills matrix that shows more than just the standard competencies and skills.  What will you need in terms of capability in a continuous transformation world.
  • Conduct regular ‘what if’ scenarios to know how to deploy best and skilled resources.

The webinar (Rita McGrath on her new book: The End of Competitive Advantage) concludes that executives who recognize that competitive advantage is no longer long lived and adopt a new playbook with different practices will be those who thrive in an uncertain environment.  Adaptive decision making will be what makes the difference.  While it won’t always be exact or ‘right’ it will create agility and a better chance to capture those fast moving, transient opportunities.

Make sure you are ready for the new world order of continuous transformation.




5 Golden Rules for a Large Transformational Systems Implementation

At a recent CIO leadership summit held in Toronto on May 30, 2013, I had the good fortune to hear a presentation by Maple Leaf Foods about their implementation of SAP and their business transformation.  Like many large organizations, they realized that software was an enabler to standardizing business process, harmonizing those standards and ‘leapfrogging’ the way the business would operate in a future state.  Code named ‘Leapfrog’, their program was conducted over three years, from 2009-2013, with over 65 deployments and approximately 90 projects within the portfolio.

This was a tricky systems implementation.

Even the best program managers, project managers, consultants, IT managers and business leaders will struggle with a systems implementation at some point in their career. Despite careful consideration and planning, it’s more than an “install.” And it often comes down to three core drivers:

  • Speed of proficiency
  • Adoption rate
  • Sustained improvements

Maple Leaf Food stuck to 5 golden rules which they credit as core to the success they achieved:

  1. Don’t make changes to the software
  2. Adapt processes to meet SAP best practices
  3. SAP is real time integrated so only put in clean data:  ‘Do it NOW and do it RIGHT’
  4. Governance is critical
  5. Don’t underestimate culture and the change effort

These golden rules really resonated with me and the team at SPM Group.  The challenges we often face when working with clients on transformational change come down to keeping it simple, recognizing the importance of the data (it really won’t work otherwise), and getting the right shift in culture and adoption rates.

Focusing on their adoption and sustainment strategy (aka change management) Maple Leaf’s approach and lessons shared with the audience are the ones that echo our own approach.  While they may seem a bit motherhood and ‘common sense’ to maintain discipline and execute using a common set of processes is always challenging.

Here are the five top lessons I took away as important factors to apply in any organization:

  1. A disciplined process integrated with program/project management, change management and governance is essential.  They don’t work well in isolation.
  2. Strong, proactive engagement of key stakeholders with active champions will make a huge difference in adoption and sustaining the new way of doing things around here.
  3. Ensure you are managing the change impact internally and externally – don’t forget your customers they have adjustments to make too.
  4. Blended learning solutions based on role, environment and situation will accelerate the ramping up the knowledge and skills and ensure the right rate of speed to proficiency.  This is vital to making the shift.
  5. Endless communications – did you hear me?  Endless communications!

Common sense? You bet, but the real test is actually how to implement them with panache, grace and assurance they will be consistently applied.   This is where both high engagement from leadership and well-honed change management expertise comes into the frame.

By consciously considering the three core results you are trying to make:  speed of proficiency, adoption and sustaining the new way of doing things, the right fit application will naturally follow.  Taking a ‘leapfrog’ approach to implementing business transformation is bold, fresh and as demonstrated by the Maple Leaf Foods experience can work.

If you are ready for this kind of experience, talk with us about how you can develop and implement a comprehensive change management strategy.

Achieve Your Business Goals by Rethinking How You Use Resources

There has not been one company I have spoken to in the last six months that has not voiced their concerns about too much work and not enough people to do it. We are all trying to do too much with too little. Now is the time for executives to rethink how to best use their people and capabilities. We could all free up valuable time and energy if we reduced the amount of negotiating, hoarding and hall way discussions occurring in your organization over scarce resources.

Today’s struggle with resource management leads me to believe we need to go back to some form of dedicated project resources with strong subject matter expertise well suited for initiative execution.

A look back at dedicated resource management.

When I first started out as a project manager early in my career I had the luxury of dedicated resources assigned to my initiatives.  And gasp, we were often even co-located!  Not so today and with good reason.

  • Initiatives today are much more complex, require resources across many functions, geographies, and even different organizations.  – Many resources aren’t required for the full duration – some even for brief moments or interspersed through the life of the initiative.  The use of a matrix organizational structure has become part of the norm.

The diagram shows the difference between running the business and changing the business (through programs and projects) and the need for different structures and application of resources to each.

Source: Ross Garland article on capital project governance

The matrix approach is making us less efficient.

  • Project delivery is taking longer, costing more, and resource conflict is high.  The pressures of competition and time to market means we need to use our high valued resources on the highest valued work.

In a matrix environment resources are shared for both the day to day running of ‘business as usual’ operations and the world of initiatives, programs and projects.  Many resources are expected to multi-task doing operations and project work.  This means doing some of this work off the side of their desk.  And invariably one or the other assigned work suffers.  Typically it’s project work as operational work of ‘keeping the lights on’ will almost always take precedence.  And the loyalties of people will fall within the functional, corporate structure where their boss lives and performance is generally measured.

Not everyone is meant for program and project work

Operational work must remain a core of the organization’s functioning and many people are excellent at that work and want to do it. Sure any initiative will need some shared resources the question is how many and when?

Finding, keeping and developing the right fit resources for initiative work isn’t easy.  They need to be capable of thinking and acting more strategically. Focused on future oriented activity where you may not see the results immediately makes it even more challenging.  The intensity is high as it is much more driven by specific objectives, new, never been done before type work and often time constrained.  It also is shaping change in how the organization may function or look in the future – project work is indeed an agent of change by definition. The skills, adaptability, and capability of key project resources are critical success factors.

Often organizations are contracting for external resources who can be dedicated to the initiative.  There are a number of downsides with this approach – knowing and understanding the business is limited, knowledge transfer to staff generally doesn’t happen and core expertise within your own organization is overlooked.  While using select internal resources exclusively for initiative has limitations as well the expertise is a key component of value to a project.

By dedicating project resources with high value capability and rotating them in and out of the functional side of the business it provides a focused group operating within a project structure without the chattels of functional operations.  Committed project teams are more likely to execute with minimal disruption, increased concentration and a higher chance of meeting objectives, time constraints and within cost.

Effective and efficient use of resources for both operational and change work is essential in a world of trying to do more with less.  People resources in particular drive both sides of the business.  Being more deliberate on how we use their expertise, increase their capability and deliver value is vital. 

Get a Grip on Resource Demand and Capacity

In my last blog, Managing without Growth, I suggested one key way to better survive in a no to low growth economy is to manage resources in a more efficient way. This means two things – one is managing the demand for resources and and the second is how to ensure we have the right capacity and capability through best and right fit resources for the work of executing strategy.

Visibility into Resource Management Leads to High Value Return on the Investments

When I meet with executives, their top concerns invariably turn to resources – lack of, contention amongst the team, improperly utilized or whether they have the right capacity to meet demand. And they want to gain a better understanding on ways to maximize resources, minimize lost productivity and more effectively realize the benefits and results they seek.

A recent ground breaking study, 2013 Resource Management and Capacity Planning Benchmark Study, conducted by Appleseed Partners and OpenSky Research, commissioned by Planview considered the state of resource management and capacity planning.

The study surveyed more than 600 global executives and managers responsible for the planning and utilization of human resources. While the study examined results and factors against the maturity of organizations, there are key issues to address no matter what your maturity is. There is absolutely no question that increasing maturity in an organization’s effective application in project, program and project management has been proven to make a long and lasting impact. It should definitely not be ignored.

The study highlighted many of the common pain points, causes and business risks. Personally working with a few clients recently, these completely resonate with their own experiences.

Human Resources Demand and Capacity Pain Points:

These were the key areas of pain that topped the chart:

  1. Constant change in availability and assignment
  2. Ineffective demand prioritization and governance process
  3. Not enough visibility into demand

Causes of Human Resources Pain Points:

While causes were quite varied, these three causes really highlight the need for practices and standards in human resources management, particularly at the project level.

  1. Lack of process maturity – ill-defined, ill-used
  2. Challenges estimating in projects
  3. Incorrect granularity of information on resources

Business Risks of Ineffective Resources Management:

The risks of ineffective resource management and capacity planning are pretty clear:

  1. Lost productivity
  2. Wasting high value resources on low value projects
  3. Delayed time to market

These powerful insights would make any executive want to get on with improving resource demand and capacity to deliver. The first reaction may well be to immediately acquire portfolio management software. The benefits of implementing the right portfolio management software include:

  • Better prioritization discipline,
  • Ensuring the right amount of granularity in reporting on resource information, and
  • Being able to play out what-if scenarios.

From our SIM perspective, we always encourage organizations to get the People and Process parts of the equation well-established and in active use prior to introducing technology. Deliberately – people, process and technology in that order. And the report supports this approach. In fact, some of the benefits we often attribute to software can be achieved even before its installation.

Getting Resource Management Right Needed to Succeed in Challenging Global Market

Getting resource management visible, actively managed and using the information to make smart portfolio decisions will increase the capabilities to navigate the choices required in a global and challenging market.

Keeping it simple, developing right fit practices and processes is a clear first step. Wading into the swamp means doing it in bite size steps – ankles first, then waist deep and finally swimming with the alligators.

Managing without Growth

As the economy continues to languish, the way we think, manage and act must change dramatically. Paradigms have shifted enough that growth once widely thought of as the panacea for all major economic ills, will not be the way out this time. Even Stephen Harper stated in the fall of 2012 that little or no growth and a level of uncertainty is what we should expect as the new normal.

The book titled, Managing without Growth:  Slower by Design, Not Disaster, by Dr  Peter Victor is a fresh view on the challenges our world faces. Published in 2008 the timing of its release was serendipitous. The power of the argument and case put forward is palatable and tests fundamental assumptions and beliefs about the market, pricing, free trade, growth, prosperity and happiness.

The premise of the book says we must change and overcome our addiction with economic growth – ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ may not be the way. If we slow down deliberately (i.e. by design not disaster) then we have a much better chance of getting what we all seek – quality of life and an economy that is sustainable worldwide.

Victor presents with depth and thought foundational issues such as how we view progress, economics, measurement of growth and what it really means.  He also provides some compelling arguments and models that verify the possibility of low to no growth.

And the book is aimed at all of us as a whole and certainly shakes up conventional thinking.  How does it fit within the context of individual organizations facing survival and competitive challenges right now?  What if anything from his concepts can be applied at ground level?  These are valid questions deserving of consideration and potential action.

Based on a low/no growth approach as suggested by Victor it will be those who embrace needed change and innovate who will likely make the leap to a new paradigm with grace and agility.  Most organizations have done all the cutting of costs they can do without harming survival.  It makes sense to look for directions that are by design (pausing to figure it out) rather than by default (letting it happen to you).

Typically we look to the past to see what will work.  If we cut a slice across the box and check out the view it affords, can we see other views we hadn’t seen before?  If so, how can we use them to our advantage?

As a management consulting firm focused on helping organizations effectively execute their strategy and realize the benefits that drive competitive advantage we see five core ways to manage within this new framework:

  1. Effective Execution is the new religion. Keeping the lights on generally takes care of itself.  Getting to the next place is supremely more difficult.  It must be done with rigour and tenacity.  Look at what others have undertaken in different industries to draw advantage.
  2. Trial and Error – Be willing to test or try new ideas/concepts. Know the organization’s risk tolerance and push the edge.  At the same time be brave (and smart enough) to stop quickly if it isn’t working.
  3. Change pressures will implode organizations and its people – we can maximize people value by empowering them while ensuring accountability.
  4. Resource management and capacity planning are not being done well with competing priorities. Effective use of people will be critical when we are asking so much of so few. By slowing down and executing with excellence we have a greater chance of success and getting where we want to go faster.
  5. Track, measure and adjust. What is written down is real.  And what gets measured will get done. Share that with everyone – opening the ‘books’ so to speak keeps everyone engaged and vested in the future.

What are you doing to build core capabilities for a business world with little or no growth?


Are you ready for Change?

Seldom are the conditions optimal for implementing Change, even when it is strategic and opportunistic in nature. Organizational dynamics (as well as the Change initiative itself) are too complex for the timing to ever be “just right”. That said, an evaluation of an organization’s relative readiness for Change is a necessary first step to mitigating controllable issues and risks before financial, material or human resources have been committed.

Assessing Organizational Readiness need not be onerous, and the effort it requires may prove invaluable. At minimum, there are five initial readiness checks that Change Sponsors will want to examine before giving the green light on an Organizational Change initiative:

1. Rationale for Change

Why are we doing this?  While the answer to this fundamental question should long be known to Sponsors, the impetus for Change will impact Stakeholder receptivity differently.  For example, Change that is perceived as being strategic will instill greater confidence and buy-in than reactionary Change even when the same positive benefits are anticipated.  As such, how the Change is introduced will be a key lever to engagement. Consider that greater concerted thought and strategic communication will be required if the Change is externally motivated (e.g., your competition is doing it) than if you are attempting to lead a trend. In contrast, legislative change will require no spin at all.  Instead, the consequences of inaction must be clearly articulated and reinforced to induce a universal, fear-based “must-do or else” response.

2. Business Cycles

Timing is everything. Whenever possible, avoid implementing Organizational Change during peak business periods. Failure to do so will not only adversely impact business performance; but will exacerbate Stakeholders, compromising all aspects of their commitment.

This is an obvious precaution; but well worth mentioning since the odds are against being able to circumvent your organization’s busiest times of year. Consider that Organizational Change is typically large-scale or enterprise-wide, requiring months, maybe even years to implement.  Time-sensitive Change may compete with business priorities, requiring that they be superseded by the Change, or at the very least, work in tandem. Lastly, legislated Change will offer the least control and may even dictate the deployment schedule.

As such, employee communications must clearly convey how business operations will be choreographed in relation to Change obligations, as well as articulate realistic (i.e., achievable) performance expectations over this period.

3. Employee Perceptions

When was the last time Change was implemented within your organization?  Did it go according to plan?  Was it deemed successful?  By whom?

Poll employees’ experiences with and resulting opinions of Organizational Change.  If your research reveals that past (or worse, recent) Change efforts have left an unforgettable, bitter taste with those who will be directly impacted by the newly proposed Change, you’ll be launching your initiative from a shaky foundation.

Leverage Stakeholder feedback (echoing their comments verbatim where possible) as well as lessons learned to craft a meaningful engagement strategy. Underpin it with targeted communications that ideally, are delivered by trusted leaders who can clearly demonstrate how this time will be different.  This ounce of prevention will be well worth the investment, even if it comes at the smaller cost of a delayed launch.

Left unaddressed, the ghosts of past Change will unfairly bias even the best executed, well-intentioned initiative.

4. Change Fatigue

Given the myriad of business opportunities that your organization plans to exploit (or threats that it must nimbly divert) and the pace with which these must take place, it’s more than likely that multiple instances of Change will be in play or planned throughout a given year.  It’s also probable that the full suite of Change initiatives is not well known by all who should know, much less their timing, their interdependencies, their common points of Stakeholder impact or the excessive toll they will take on those resources charged with implementing them.

Absent of a strong PMO or CMO (Change Management Office) or a well-managed portfolio Change Management tool, the risk of Change collisions, fatigue and backlash among employees (as well as multiple instances of Change failure) will run high.

5. Corporate Culture

Last but not least, when was the last time you checked how your employees are feeling in general?  What do your most recent pulse surveys tell you about morale, work culture or job satisfaction?  Given the opportunity to work elsewhere over the next year, what would your employees say?   More importantly, what would your Star employees say? Assuming that you know the answers to these questions, what actions have been taken to address and visibly correct them?

No matter how strategic, bleeding-edge, positive or well-intentioned the Change purports to be, if the overall health of your corporate culture is in question, so too will your efforts to implement the planned Change successfully.

The bottom line:  look before you leap, ask countless questions, fix what you can, and communicate frequently and honestly, particularly when Organizational Readiness is less than ideal (and it will be).

For additional insights on Organizational Readiness, see one of my recent posts: 

Good Luck! I welcome your thoughts below.

Do you speak Change Management?

Having grown up in an “I Love Lucy” household, English was spoken with great care, since the slightest turn of phrase or colloquialism was unlikely to be understood. Given my lifetime of conscious communication I was taken aback by the recent realization that much of my work-speak may be foreign to those who need to understand it the most – my clients.  Perhaps of greater surprise was that not one of them has ever admitted to this language divide.

Consider the jargon:  current state, end state, stakeholder, end user, readiness, reinforcement, alignment, resistance, mitigation, engagement, adoption, sustainment . . . !  Left unchecked, might Change Management-speak unwittingly compromise communications, comprehension or worse, decision-making with key audiences?

Not unlike other professions such as Medicine or Law, it’s incumbent upon Change Management practitioners to translate their equivalent of drug scripts and legal contracts into lay terms. If not, we risk the inadvertent alienation of those we serve as well as perpetuating the notion that Change Management lacks value. It’s hard to value what we don’t “get”.

Given that the Change Management discipline is, at large, misunderstood, simplicity of communication with the subtle intent of education must underscore every spoken and written word. Consider the following Change Managementese:  Engagement activities will be delivered to impacted Stakeholders to mitigate resistance and optimize adoption at end-state. Translation:  Employees will be invited to orientation sessions to learn about the Change and how it will affect their work in the future

To me, the original phrasing isn’t at all incomprehensible; but would my Significant Other or, better, my child agree? As a former Mentor and respected Business Leader used to say, “Talk to me like I’m five.”  For him, the simpler the message, the easier it was to assimilate and act on.

The responsibility is ours entirely to ensure that the why, what, when, where and how of our important work is understood. Only then can it be viewed as relevant.

To that end, we would be well advised to relinquish Change Management-speak altogether, in favour of learning the language of business.  In most cases this will mean a conscious translation of our Change Management goals and actions into operational and quantitative (if not financial) terms.  If nothing else, you will immediately capture the Sponsor’s attention, and hopefully begin to build a common language on which to effectively communicate.

For those of us that live and breathe Change Management-speak, transitioning from our “Mother Tongue” to the foreign language of our clients is tantamount to undertaking a Change initiative of our own. Ah, the irony (and the empathy).

To ease this transition, here are four straightforward actions you can employ to become better understood and in turn, raise the profile of your good and meaningful work:

1. Consciously avoid the term Change Management altogether.  While not to disparage our profession, there are many reasons to sidestep the term. In my experience, Sponsors no longer respond to Change Management, either because of desensitization (through overuse) or disdain (the unfortunate and unfair association of the discipline with Change failure).  Lastly, what we practitioners mean by Change Management may not be what the Sponsor means.  As most of you know, Change Management can also equate to Business Process Change and IT Service Management.

What are the alternatives?  In my first blog, I refer to and favour Human Risk Management.  It clearly defines the intent of the work and resonates with (i.e., scares) business professionals who regularly evaluate risk. That said any euphemism is likely to suffer the same fate as Change Management over time. Perhaps the easiest solution is to simply describe what’s changing.  For example, Company XYZ will introduce automated procurement allowing all employees the convenience to make corporate purchases from their desktops.

2. Learn the language of Business.

This is truly a best practice for any Management Consultant; but easily missed when project priorities require stealth and speed of execution. Depending on the industry vertical and business function(s) being impacted, you may be in a recurring cycle of having to learn a new business language. No matter how difficult, it will be worth the effort.

Consider that once you can convincingly speak the language of your Client, not only is a more intimate level of communication and understanding possible; but you will quickly become embedded in your Client’s culture. With a new level of trust established, you will have made yourself virtually indispensable.

3. Accentuate the positive.

In New Age business writings the Chinese symbol for Change is presented as a combination of the symbols for challenge and opportunity.  Given the Age of Change in which we all live, it’s interesting to see how with a shift of perception, what was negative can be positive.

While risks need to be mitigated and resistance diffused, an optimistic view of the planned Change will pique interest.  Reinforce the business rationale for the Change and all of the benefits that are anticipated. Even when the Change is shrouded in doubt and skepticism, a positive voice will be heard and internalized over and above negative language.

4. Have a “non-Change Management” person review your work.

I once had a date ask me if I “always spoke this way”.  Needless to say, we didn’t go out again; but he innocently left me thinking about how others perceive me. I’m not claiming that I never use Consultant-speak or Change Management jargon. I am, however, more cognizant of how I communicate, and whether I’m being understood.

By way of a personal test, take your best sample of business writing and share it with those who do not know your occupation. Ask them if they can make sense of what they’re reading. If they can’t, tell them (as though they were five) what you were trying to convey. It may take a few attempts; but eventually, you’ll realize that in order to be understood universally (and in turn, achieve your intended goals), you must simplify your language.

For those that struggle with Change Management jargon, either because you don’t speak it, or you do and don’t know how to speak anything else (!) tune into ACMP Global where we will continue this discussion. Until then, I’ve included a short Change Management Translation Guide for your reference.

The parties hereto acknowledge and agree to reconvene to discuss the matters hereinabove set forth sine die.  Translation:   We’ll talk about this again later.

4 Reasons Why You Might Need a Change Management Consultant

The dynamics of organizational change are far more complex than one would first imagine. We have discussed this in previous posts.  That said, unless one has had extensive experience with it, it’s easy to assume that organizational change can be implemented in the absence of external support.  For example, it’s a common misconception that human resources will facilitate Change efforts.  Moreover, given the Age of Change in which we all now exist, it’s tempting to believe that employees have honed highly adaptive skills.

Assumptions are dangerous, if not costly, and given the overwhelming statistics associated with organizational change failure, business leaders are strongly encouraged to retain external expertise to optimize employees’ interest, readiness and adoption of planned change.

Here are four reasons you should consider hiring a change management consultant:

1. Success Rates – Prior Change Efforts Have Failed

The old adage of “once bitten, twice shy” applies here.  For those embarking on organizational change in the wake of past failure, sponsors are urged to engage the support of an Organizational Change Management expert who will:

  • Evaluate what went wrong from a people perspective and ensure that the conditions that prevailed are carefully mitigated going forward.  This knowledge will also be leveraged strategically to mitigate employees’ bias toward Change by demonstrating why and how this Change will be different (i.e., successful).
  • Utilize a formal methodology and toolkit for transitioning those who will be impacted by the change.  While these methodologies and tools can (and should) be taught to internal resources,  even the most proficient student is not going to be able to immediately apply what they have learned, much less customize the application of OCM tools to the unique requirements of diverse stakeholder groups.
  • Anticipate and navigate hidden mine fields.  By this I mean the myriad of potential issues, nay risks that may not be obvious; but left undetected and hence, un-managed, will limit employee adoption or worse, sabotage the change effort entirely.  On this point, one might argue that internal resources will have the advantage of insider knowledge. It’s true that an external OCM expert may not know initially the nuances of an organization’s culture or politics; but it’s incumbent upon them to ask the right questions and get up to speed quickly.  Suffice it to say what the consultant doesn’t know immediately will be quickly superseded by what they do with that knowledge once acquired.

2. Objectivity – You Need an Unbiased Lens

Organizational change is often shrouded by emotional sensitivities and political agendas – the position of those who perceive that they have more to lose than gain by the proposed change.  Unlike internal resources who themselves may have formulated a biased opinion of the planned change (and therefore be conflicted in their role as Change Facilitators), an external OCM expert can remain detached and objective.

3. Organizational Change Management (OCM) Competencies – HR Won’t Likely Have Them

By no means is this comment intended to disparage the HR profession or the abilities of those in it.  As a former HR Practitioner, I know well the critical role that HR plays in business.  That said HR, in all likelihood, will not have the required OCM competencies, nor will they have the time.  Most Change initiatives are supplementary to daily business operations and unless the organization has an abundance of Change programs and projects to warrant the hire of additional, OCM-trained staff, Organizational Change Management should not be added to HR’s already robust list of responsibilities.

Note:  this is not to say that HR should not be actively involved with the Change effort.  Quite the contrary, HR is a valued partner who is needed to advocate and coach their Client Groups on the Change as well as manage those elements that impact job design and organization structure.

4. Organizational Readiness – You Lack Organizational Change Management (OCM) Maturity

Most organizations who are contemplating Organizational Change will vary in their internal OCM capabilities – from none at all to wide-spread organizational competence.  According to a 2004 Prosci study of 160 organizations who were implementing Change, the vast majority had limited to no OCM experience, applying it as a last resort (i.e., when employee resistance has jeopardized Change success) or in parts, as an after-thought.

In the absence of OCM expertise, we can safely wager on how well these Change initiatives have fared.

There are many more reasons to solicit external OCM support; however, this blog would quickly morph into an essay, which is not its intent. For those that remain unconvinced, consider that it’s better (and easier) to start out with an OCM expert who can lay the foundation of Change best practice than to engage someone after a Change failure has been experienced.  In the latter case, the OCM expert will spend as much or more time overcoming associated biases as  implementing activities that promote Change success.

Before you take on a Change initiative, first consider where your organization stands from an OCM Maturity standpoint. Can you really afford to embark on Organizational Change in the absence of expert OCM support?

Get this Organizational Change Management Maturity Ranking tool to better understand your readiness for change and how an Organizational Change Management consultant can help you.

The Mask of Change Resistance

Much has been written about the adverse impact of Change resistance and the need to overcome it. Unmanaged, it has the power to spread like a virulent germ, potentially exposing an organization to greater risks than might have been realized by the Change effort alone.

That said resistance is rarely obvious or well understood by those charged with resolving it.

The reason:  resistance is often multi-layered and embroiled in ancillary issues, unrelated to the Change. By the time it becomes known by those who need to know, the Change effort is in its 11th hour, with little chance for course correction.

The fact is that resistance is a leading contributor to Change failure and while the literature is profuse with “How To” tactics for managing it, few talk about it as a mask for greater organizational issues or what I call “Projected Resistance”. Ironically, the impetus for change may have been inspired by these very issues; but it alone cannot resolve them. It’s a little like having a baby to save a troubled marriage.

To avoid or minimize the potential for Projected Resistance, the environment into which the Organizational Change is planned must first be conducive to that change. This requires an extensive health check of an organization, specifically, its readiness for change. Those responsible for Organizational Change Management will want to conduct in-depth analyses of the organization’s recent history, its current state, its corporate culture and politics, its immediate business priorities, concurrent and planned change initiatives, industry trends, competitive threats, etc., etc., etc. All must be evaluated in terms of their individual risk and resistance potential as well as to the proposed Change. Only then can the potential for projected or change-based resistance be fully anticipated and proactively mitigated.

In the absence of such plans and with the slightest whiff of dissension, those accountable are encouraged to carry out the following steps. At first glance, you may think Motherhood; but the power of respectful, relationship management should not be underestimated (and at this point, you likely have few options):

  1. Deal with Resistors “Head On”
    As soon as possible, (and armed with Intel) meet with resistors. Create an open forum for candid discussion and demonstrate deference. No matter how disruptive or provocative resistors’ behaviours have been, express your willingness to understand their concerns and support their requirements where possible. Set expectations. Your primary goal is to understand the depth and breadth of their discontent in order to gather the appropriate resources who can best address their issues. Remember that Projected Resistance goes well beyond the planned Change.  Ensure that the full spectrum of issues has been tabled.
  2. Acknowledge Resistors’ Contribution
    Assuming resistors’ allegations are not frivolous; but rather passionate pleas to do right by the organization (all unorthodox tactics aside); Change Leaders are encouraged to re-frame their perceptions of the resistance as valuable feedback. While resistant behaviours should not be condoned, their good intentions and often, significant insights should be acknowledged, where appropriate.
  3. Set an Action Plan
    Facilitate a meeting with resistors and appropriate representatives of the organization to clarify points of resistance, set priorities and ideally, establish a realistic action plan inclusive of resistors’ involvement. Again, reinforce expectations: agree that that the issues may not be immediately or ever resolved; but that all parties will examine them constructively and that solution efforts will be collaborative. All in attendance should know the next steps that have been planned and their respective roles in executing them. At the very least, resistant employees should now feel heard, and hopefully, empowered through participation.
  4. Damage Control
    With opinions heard and a plan of action in place, resistant employees must formally commit to good conduct. This really means that they agree not to further disparage or sabotage the Change initiative that is underway. As a rule, their active involvement will evolve into genuine support for the Change, enabling them to both internalize and actively promote its merits.

In truth, there will never be an organization that is so healthy or functional that it can completely circumvent resistant behaviour; however, regular checks of organizational readiness, as well as well-executed stakeholder management and engagement plans (and possibly the support of a staff Psychologist!) will optimize your chances. Good Luck!


Your latest initiative didn’t realize the benefits: What’s the big deal?

Throughout my professional career in managing initiatives, I continue to be puzzled by the seeming inability of organizations to actually benefit from the sizable investments they make. Often the only time benefits play a role is in crafting a business case. Once the dollars are approved, however, only a disappointing number of organizations actually examine whether they reached their goals. And even then well after the initiative has drawn to a close and we can no longer influence the outcome – simply measure it. Oh well, onto the next hot project.

Wait – isn’t realizing benefits the reason for investing in change?

So why is it not happening for every initiative?

Based on my experience, there are a multitude of reasons why benefits are not routinely realized. Key challenges include:

  • There are no consequences of not achieving target benefits
  • Objectives are stated in broad terms – without specifics; there is no plan to back-up the original business case; optimism abounds and the benefit plan if there is one is not deep enough
  • Non-financial (soft) benefits are harder to measure
  • Most often, the benefits do not start to accrue till the project is over; the benefit realization cycle is very long – and interest wanes
  • “A cart before the horse” mentality, where benefits are documented after a solution has been determined,
  • Forcible extraction of benefits, removing claimed benefits from budgets and headcount before they have genuinely been realised – making the temporary ‘success’ un-sustainable

The result? Poor return on investment and stakeholder dissatisfaction.

The good news is there are a great many pundits worrying about answering exactly this issue. There is a wealth of literature with guidance, teachings and “how to’s” related to Benefits Realization/Benefits management (aka Outcomes Driven approach).  A whole practice is emerging in support of Benefits Realization.

A project management approach to realizing benefits?

Here’s my somewhat simplistic take on it. Benefit Realization from my perspective is the outcome of a pro-active, diligent process of Benefit Management. Run Benefit Management effort for each initiative much like a project (is my bias as a project management professional showing?). I am not afraid to ‘beg, borrow or steal’ a good idea from anywhere if it works. Using a Project Management Life Cycle here’s how Benefit Management activities can increase the success rate of benefit realization.

1.     Initiation:

  • Define a shared vision (clear, measurable, aligned to strategy)
  • Create strategy map of objectives with benefits as a core underpinning
  • Choose between alternative solutions to support benefit realization
  • Develop an accountability model and governance plan for benefit management
  • Engage stakeholders throughout (ideas, buy-in, commitment and ownership)

2.     Planning:

Create a Benefits Management Plan to clearly show what will happen; where and when the benefits will occur and details around who will be responsible for their delivery

  • Map a path to achieve predicted benefits; link to project/program deliverables
  • Design measures and define how progress will be monitored
  • Create communication plans, schedule of activities and specific risk management plans tied specifically to management of benefits

3.     Execution, Monitoring and Control:

  • Undertake specific benefit management activities
  • Track against the realization plan
  • Constantly monitor issues, risks and changes to supporting projects/programs; assess impact to benefits, adjust targets, take corrective action
  • Report status based on the governance model

4.     Closeout:

  • Assess performance against  planned targets
  • Do a lessons learned on the benefit management effort

Backed by experience and knowing that benefits management makes the difference any proactive planned approach will increase your chance of success.

We must and can do a better job at realizing benefits.

To find out how you can achieve the benefits, download the SIM framework.