Change Leadership vs. Change Management vs. Communications

Conversations about roles and responsibilities in a change management initiative are completely necessary. I worked on a large-scale change initiative a few years ago where there lots of conversation over the roles of leadership, change management and corporate communications. Three groups of people were jockeying for position and trying to assert themselves. (We also had a few people trying to avoid responsibilities as well!) We eventually got it documented on a single piece of paper.

Although you will probably never have the same exact  discussion, our work to define the roles and responsibilities of  leadership, change management and the communications team might be helpful to you at some point. I have shared our work at this link. I hope it is helpful.

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A Leader With Clear Principles Creates Trust and a Faster Change

The unplanned events in a change management project force leaders to make decisions in uncharted waters. While they make those decisions, the organizational change management (OCM) team is hoping the decision isn’t “ad hoc.” The OCM team knows that if employees perceive an arbitrary or convenient decision, morale will fade and the change will become harder. My advice: at the start of your change management program, document your guiding principles and state publicly to how you will make decisions throughout the initiative.

Yahoo LogoThe recent news about Yahoo cutting work-at-home positions reminded me of an organizational change project where two salesforces were being merged.  The president was clear with a guiding principle that: “Employees offered a position in the new organization must live where the job is.” The company needed to cut travel costs. When it was decided that the new headquarters would be in New York, everybody assumed the New York vice-president was going to get the top job. Surprising everybody, the vice-president from Los Angeles was offered the position. Even more surprising was when he sold his surfboards and moved east. The vice-president knew his relocation would set the standard. It would start to enable the needed cost savings and give him the integrity to lead effectively.

Examples of Guiding Principles on a Change Management Project

It is interesting that Yahoo’s rationale was speed and quality. I encourage executives to be public about their cost, time and quality priorities. If something goes wrong, they can refer back to their guiding principles and say, “At the beginning of this project, we stated that the timeline cannot be sacrificed and as a result, we will spend additional funds to ensure that we….”

I can only wonder if the Yahoo CEO had been public with her guiding principles. Were they a change from the prior CEO’s? She would have been helped greatly if this announcement had been preceded with others stating that “speed and quality are  important to Yahoo’s success.

Here are three more principles for you to consider at the start of your project:

  • You’ll keep people informed about important issues.
  • If you don’t know something, you will tell people when you will know.
  • You’ll do what you can to care for people.

It is simple. When executives act in accordance with their guiding principles, the workforce gains respect and trust. They may not like the result, but they will believe in the leadership’s integrity. When employees trust their leaders they will go to great lengths to accomplish the organization’s goals. 

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So you are new employee communication professional assigned to a change management project. You’d like to write a goal along the lines of, “Create 100% awareness of the benefits of Initiative X.” I think that is a mistake.

Organizational Change Management in a Single Graphic

Generating awareness is only one part of a complete change management program.  The role of employee communications is to broadcast messages. It is management’s job to narrowcast within their area of responsibility, have the communications work in both directions, and create understanding. The two efforts work together. Practically speaking, managers will be picking up “loose ends” that don’t get addressed during your broadcasting. I showed how the concepts worked together in the graphic to the right and explained the graphic in a previous post.

So what is realistic?

  • 70% awareness in employee communications is a good tipping point.
  • 80% begins to become problematic. New hires, vacations, leaves of absence, travel schedules all get in the way of achieving super-high awareness numbers. It won’t be your efforts that are the issue; it will be the changing nature of your audience.You are spending lots of resources for the last few points of awareness. Perfect will become the enemy of good.
  • Go with 75%. It is close enough.

If you need some more convincing, there was an article in The Wall Street Journal a few years ago about the Census Bureau’s planning for the 2010 census. Question number 3 was going to be, “What is this person’s sex? (Mark ONE box).” You would assume that 100% of people should be able to answer this question correctly. This would be a bad assumption. In a field test, .05% of people asked checked both answers. Extrapolated out, 150,000 people in our country of 300 million would answer this question incorrectly. We can assume that some of those folks were confused about their gender identity, but some were confused by the question. 

If you choose to pursue 100% of anything – even the most basic communication goal – you will fail. Having a complete change management program will certainly increase your chance of success.

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Continuous change builds on existing skills, work practices and behavioral norms.  It involves going from A to B to C. Transformational change is different – it goes from A to C without stopping at B.  It’s disruptive and creates ambiguity, confusion and turmoil.

Here is how you can tell the difference: continuous change is something you can manage, and you might have to tell your boss.  If it is transformational change, your boss’s boss is involved. Transformational change stretches beyond the boundaries of what you and your boss can manage and control.  It is transformational change when:

  • A CEO has to tell not only the Board of Directors (his or her boss), but set expectations with the shareholders as well (the boss’s boss).
  • A group reorganizes, changes business processes or implements new systems that impact not only the group’s members, but creates significant disruption in other groups as well.
  • The way forward has myriad obstacles to success.

If you have a change where your boss’s boss is involved, you definitely need an organizational change management (OCM) program to support your effort. Your change initiative will go faster, have less disruption, and achieve its objectives much more quickly with an OCM program. Don’t take my word for it. You already know this is the case. Think back to the last really big change effort you took part in. Was it hard? Can you think of at least three ways it could have gone better? Of course. You needed a better OCM program on that initiative, and you will need a good one on this initiative. Take the time to put together a good change management program now, and you will be thankful later. If you need some ideas how to get that done, contact us at, or pick up a copy of our book, Manager’s Guide to Navigating Change.

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Manager's Guide to Employee EngagementAs a change management consultant, I’m always looking for ways to improve my work. Given that I’m on record as saying that employee participation and engagement is one of the five fundamental strategies in any change initiative, I figured it would be appropriate to pick up Scott Carbonara’s book, Manager’s Guide to Employee EngagementScott’s book is part of the Briefcase Books series where my book, Manager’s Guide to Navigating Change was published.

So far – a great read. He makes a compelling case that there is a great business case for thinking about employee engagement and then brings it all home. Employees don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. He is about to dive into how to:

  • Foster loyalty, trust, and commitment in all your employees
  • Create a culture of positive thinking
  • Empower employees to act as internal entrepreneurs
  • Align employee and organizational values and goals
  • Become “the best boss ever”—without losing sight of business goals

I look forward to the rest of the read!

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One of change management’s core principles is that the effort will go better if managers lead the change. But how do you get managers to lead change if they don’t have organizational change management (OCM) experience? Let me share our approach on a recent project. Here is the situation:

  • Good awareness of the project – an ERP implementation in this case.
  • Little to no understanding of what an ERP implementation entailed, and little understanding of how the implementation would specifically impact teams or people.
  • A corporate culture that didn’t embrace transparency, a recent downsizing, and a need to cut headcount once the system went live.

Our approach was to raise understanding about the project and managers’ change management skills concurrently by using:

  • A kick-off message from the CEO: “We are all in this together.” He also asked for participation in a survey about the ERP initiative.
  • A cascaded delivery model from the Steering Committee down. The Project Sponsor facilitated the Steering Committee through the first session.  Each Steering Committee member then facilitated their teams through a session. Each of these participants then took their teams through a session. The cascade was structured so that you participated in a session, learned how to facilitate a session, and then delivered a session.
  • A series of mandatory 120-minute sessions. The change management team provided an “OCM Meeting in a Box” and support as appropriate. The project team provided business impacts content.
    • Session 1 – 60 minutes on change management / 30 on the project / 30 on facilitating a session
    • Session 2 – 45 minutes on change management / 45 on the project / 30 on facilitating a session
    • Session 3 – 30 minutes on change management / 60 on the project / 30 on facilitating a session
  • An on-line survey to track who was participating and gather input on what people were saying.

Session 1 had some simple objectives. Participants should know that it is okay to talk about change, people will have different reactions to change, and what people think about the current project. We accomplished these objectives by having participants participate in four discussions:

  1. Each participants best or worst personal experience with change.
  2. A short, funny You Tube video that shows people going through change.
  3. A discussion about a simple change curve.
  4. The CEO’s survey results.

After the initial 90 minutes, people learned to facilitate the session for themselves, they learned tips such as “a negative change experience should be countered with a group discussion on what each of us can do so we don’t have a bad experience.” Similarly, “a positive change experience discussion should be encouraged and you should get the group talking about why it was positive. Use this as an opportunity for participants to teach each other what works.”

Subsequent sessions explored things like best practices, communication tips, dealing with rumors, and so on. I’d be happy to discuss if you’d like to talk off-line.

So no doubt you’ll ask, “How did it go?”

The answer, “certainly not perfect.” There was differing levels of support and participation, and timeliness was an issue with some travel schedules. The good news was that it was way better than the alternative. It wasn’t a consultant droning on, another newsletter, or a Sharepoint site with stale information. It was each person’s boss willing to work through change with their team. As the CEO said, “we are all in this together.” They were in the best possible way.

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Organizational change management (OCM) isn’t well understood by some executives. Some might admit that they think that OCM is a fancy term for communications. I’ve used the image below to show that organizational change management is far more than just communications.

Organizational Change Management (OCM) in a Single Graphic

Let’s walk through the graphic by starting in the upper left corner: executives make business decisions. Reading across the top row, those decisions have impacts on groups within their organizations. Using awareness-generating communications is entirely appropriate for those decisions and their impacts on those groups.

But complex changes are like the proverbial onion that needs to get peeled back. Moving down the first column we find that business decisions result in changes to business processes. Executives want their people to do things differently. Moving across the second row, we find that those process changes impact individual people. It isn’t enough to say that a process has changed. Individual people within the process need to know exactly what is expected of them. It is when we get down to individuals that we need to move to two-way communications. Two-way communications enables the impacted person to understand what is expected.

Particularly when we move into the world of system-based changes, those process changes mean a change in specific tasks that are performed. The third row down gets into the world of system security access. It is where we begin to map transaction codes to user roles. Once we operate at that level, we quickly find ourselves in the world of role-based training.

Organizational Change Management is far more than the executives’ world on the top row of the graphic. OCM enables an organization to operationalize those changes in a structured manner. Without OCM’s structured approach, the organization is left to figure out the new direction on its own.

In today’s hyper-competitive world, no organization has time to spare. Simply put, if an executive wants a change to happen, using OCM is the fastest way to bring that change to life.

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The perfect change initiative winds up with the organization’s stars contributing to the change and building a better future. It also winds up with the people on the “C” team quietly leaving on their own. You wind up with better results and sub-par performers don’t slow you down.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfect change initiative. The stars sometimes leave, and the “C” team usually stays. So how do you know if a star is about to leave? An article in this past week’s Business Week provides five tips. My favorite: the person stops complaining about workplace irritations.

My two cents: one-way communications makes people aware of the coming change. Two-way communications helps build understanding. Having people participate in the change ensures they will help the program succeed. Some of those people who are complaining about workplace irritations are just the people you want on your change team. They want change and complaining is how they voice their desire. Keep the complainers close. (Oh – and those that complain about the change – you probably want them close too. We all remember the saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It is a pain, but you’ll be far more successful if you can quickly neutralize negative thinking.)

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Organizational Change Management, or OCM, is a structured approach for moving a group of people from one state to a significantly different state. Its goal is to reduce the disorder typically associated with periods of change and help people resume their pre-change levels of productivity as quickly as possible. Well-run change management efforts empower those affected by the change, giving them a voice in how the change progresses, so that they more easily accept and engage in the desired, future state.

I’ve seen the term “organizational readiness,” or “org readiness,” and “adoption” used to describe the work performed in organizational change management. I prefer the term “org readiness” as it implies a group effort to know, do or feel something new. There are some positive connotations with the concept of “group” and “readiness.” Adoption is certainly okay, but I try to avoid words that might trigger some deeper thought processes.

There is a crying need for change within the change management field. It needs a new name. There are two fields of change management. In the Information Technology world, “change management” is all about the practice of methodically changing pieces of technology. If you used it to change a flat tire, change management would ensure you put all the lug nuts back on the new tire.

Organizational change management isn’t about controlling changes – or even managing them. Organizational change management is about leading people through change and helping them reach a new state as quickly and as easily as possible. It is all about leadership.

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The first step of any structured organizational change management (OCM) effort is assessing the as-is. It is a step that many organizations want to skip. “It is a waste of time. We already know our current situation. Everybody is aligned on what needs to happen.”

I worked with one of these companies, a division of a large conglomerate. The CFO had been aggressively cutting costs and had kicked off a project to implement SAP (an enterprise resource planning system). When we ran the organizational assessment and asked, “Why are you implementing SAP,” most of their top management said, “Our corporate parent wants us to standardize on a common system.” The second answer was, “Finance  needs better reporting to help manage costs.” Both answers sounded right, but both were totally wrong.

This business had already cut its costs and was under no pressure to standardize. The real driver of their  implementation was to create a vertically integrated supply chain to better compete in the market. Their SAP initiative wasn’t about costs, it was about revenue.

Without the assessment results and resulting intervention, the director level would have been working against the wrong assumptions. The company would have wasted precious time and money. The company would have been creating organizational readiness to do the wrong thing. The OCM effort would have failed.

My advice: take the time to perform a thorough assessment. You will be surprised at what you find. Your organizational change management program will be much more effective when it is working on the right issues.

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