Archive for May, 2014

If You Want Water to Boil, Turn up the Heat!

NUGGET : Make sure your investment in change is robust enough to achieve your change goal.

In the last post, I talked about one of two major mistakes that condemn changes to the trash heap of failed projects: failing to say NO to a proposed change that won’t add value. The second mistake is both big and common: failing to allocate enough resources for success. Think about this: a group decides to pursue a new strategy or launch a big change. The change is complex and will change roles and relationships and require a period of learning, experimenting, even trial and error. But the resources allocated to the change process are minimal or (and this is very common) people are told, “Do this AND your job, too… and stay within the current budgets.”

There are many big changes afoot around organizations today. The biggest require significant shifts in culture, mindsets, accountability, and power relationships. Think of what is happening as global supply chains put pressure on functional silos and command/control hierarchies. Think of what is happening to organizations and their people as they adjust to the VUCA (velocity, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) environment that technology and globalization are underwriting.

I’ve been involved in many change projects during the last decades. I put them into three broad categories – each requiring resources and attention beyond the day-to-day running of the business.


Some of the changes (I’ll call them C1 changes) are relatively simple to complete and leave roles intact. But they may require training and additional communication about the rationale for the change. Training and communication may be enough to help people get over the change hump of adopting a new word processing program, for example. But, even though C1 is a simple change, it still requires time, attention, and additional resources.

C2 changes are a bit more complicated and require a greater change management investment. C2 changes rattle the status quo and change relationships. They are changes that are complex but have been implemented elsewhere. There is usually a relatively clear vision of the end game and because something similar exists, uncertainty — while present — is reduced. Examples of a C2 change include the implementation of a new enterprise management system, the opening of an office in a new country, or an organization restructuring that results in downsizing. These require changes of many kinds. These in turn can’t occur unless the management puts skin in the game, spending personal time supporting the changes and funding a good-sized implementation program and a change management budget beyond business as usual.

C3 changes, the most difficult, involve more complex changes that rattle the status quo and require significant innovation in uncertainty. These are changes like those in big South African businesses as apartheid ended, or in manufacturing, banking, telecom, and some branches of government during major context shifts, or in global businesses today that are cobbling together complex networks of suppliers and customers and looking for ways to keep them both aligned and responsive. C3 changes involve experimentation and require significant investments: time, money, people working as change teams.

C3 changes are the equivalent of a state change in physics – a change from solid to liquid, or liquid to gas. Think about what you do when you want to boil water – to change its state from liquid to gas. You turn the heat up to 9 or 10 on the stove – a significant investment of energy. If you only turn it to 1 or 2, all you get is tepid water and slow evaporation that doesn’t power anything. The energy investment has to match the problem you are trying to solve.

As you are thinking about your change investments, be sure to realize that it takes significantly more resources to achieve C2 than C1, and yet more for C3. If you are not willing to put the time, energy, and resources into a change project or goal that it requires, it is probably better not to start.

NUGGET : Make sure your investment in change is robust enough to achieve your change goal.

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Just say “NO!”

NUGGET : Say “NO” to changes that will not add value


We often hear a scary statistic about change: 40, 50, 60, 70% of all changes in organizations are viewed as failures. They don’t achieve desired goals, they fall apart or are abandoned before they are complete, they overrun costs by orders of magnitude, etc.
These failure statistics come from questionnaires administered by various consulting firms, so I don’t really know what the truth is. I do believe, however, that we can do a lot better – that immense amounts of energy, money, and other resources are wasted on changes that have gone awry or are poorly implemented.

After participating for over four decades in many big changes across industry sectors and around public institutions, I can say with certainty that two major mistakes are big culprits in change failures.

The first may surprise you, even though it is pretty obvious: many changes should not be implemented at all: they may replace something, but they don’t add enough value to justify the disruption and investment. I have seen – and I’m sure you have – programs, systems and solutions brought in that merely caused turmoil, resistance, and even dislocation. Maybe the changes were somebody’s attempt to just do something new, to make a mark – the new administration’s or the new boss’s way to shine. Maybe the organization was sold on some fad (“the best companies do this!”) or lured into a simplistic solution for a troubling and complex issue. Even if the impotent change does eventually replace an old way, if it doesn’t improve things, the experience will inoculate the organization to resist future changes with more gusto.

The new but unnecessary program will just make it more difficult to justify important and needed changes in the future. Inoculated people will just say, “Here we go again!” Whatever the reason, a change that doesn’t add value or solve a problem will fail. Say, “No!” Shut it down before it draws off important resources and discredits the validity of change as a vital human and organizational dynamic.

The second mistake is a big and common one: not putting enough resources into the change process. I’ll be writing about it in the next blog!

NUGGET : Say “NO” to changes that will not add value

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I’ll respond! Also, check out my new book, The Shadow Side of Power: Lessons for Leaders.