This article is published on the  website. David is Executive Director of the MSS Business Transformation Institute.

A person I admire recently explained his view of change management as,

“Taking people who are in a room eating pizza, dragging them by the hair to another room, and forcing them to eat a slightly better pizza.”

This image of violent change for incremental improvement is extreme, but it is representative of many change efforts I have observed and explains simply why so many of them fail. The typical approach to change is top down with a specific intent driven by people who are relatively unaffected by the change. The change is often high risk where failure can have a major impact and success is often determined by achieving the change within a specific time period. As a result, resistance is combated or suppressed. A standard assumption I often hear from change practitioners is that a certain percentage of people will self-select out of the organization because they cannot adjust to the change.

So, if people don’t like the pizza or simply object to the way they are forced fed, they are SOL?

What if someone is allergic to an ingredient?

What if their previous pizza was healthier?

For some organizations, the level of energy and resources required to change in this manner generates a lot of waste, undermines trust, and achieves little for all the pains taken. Moreover, what is considered “success” leaves in its wake unforeseen and unintended circumstances.  I have seen statistics stating that between 60-80% of all change initiatives fail to achieve their objectives, but if we look at how many actually achieve sustainable results, the numbers are likely to be much worse. By professional application of change management methods, these odds can be improved.  That is as long as the organization is not complex.

In a complex environment, challenges are magnified because of diversity, rendering typical change management methods inadequate at best. These methods assume that change occurs linearly through successive efforts and that by building consensus, people will ultimately support the change. Read more

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