Yes, Organizational Change Is Hard, But…

change_managementIn an earlier article, I explored ways of thinking–heuristics and biases that we all experience–from the point of view of an imaginary “Change Target.”

This article is a response from an equally imaginary, but apparently well-informed, Organizational Change Management practitioner.

Yes, organizational change is hard, but with some awareness and probably more effort than we are used to, we can temper the potentially negative or inhibiting aspects of our thinking in ways that benefit ourselves, our teams, and the changes we encounter.

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I am Your Change Target

Get a glimpse into the life and mind of a fictional (but all too real) participant in a change initiative.  Behavioral Economics, an emerging field of research, provides interesting, research-based insights to help us better understand human behavior, especially when it does not conform as predicted by traditional economic models.

Read the full article here.

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Treasure Chest

Borrowed from decades-old sales techniques, Organizational Change Management practices have adopted this chestnut to build desire: Answer the question [for the would-be buyer or adopter of change], “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)?”

In a Prosci checklist, Communication Checklist for Achieving Change Management, the suggestion is:

To gain their support [i.e., those affected by a change initiative], you must provide a compelling case for how they will be better off or what they get out of engaging in the change. Answer WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) early and often in your communications.

As well-meaning as this may be, I have some concerns about this approach.  Here are a few:

  1. It depends upon me coming up with a case that is compelling to you.
  2. It presumes that I know what’s best for you or what you would value.
  3. It presumes that you would agree with my assumptions.
  4. It’s a one-way communication.


I’m about to turn this approach upside down.

Let’s stipulate that we’ve got the following (decimal notations refer to sections in the ACMP Standard for Change Management, the number signs [#] refer to entries in the Prosci Checklist referenced, above):

  • Business case (5.1.1)
  • Change definition (5.1.2)
  • Vision statement (5.1.3)
  • Change objectives and goals (5.1.4)
  • Success criteria and measures (5.1.4)
  • Sponsor identification (5.1.5)
  • Stakeholder analysis (5.1.6)

This information provides a pretty good picture–at a high level–of what’s going on and who is involved (#2). And it is certainly the stuff of potentially effective communication activities using preferred senders (#1), face-to-face communication (#5) and two-way communication (#7).


What if, rather than using face-to-face, two-way communication to tell others what’s good for them, er, I mean, to share my best guess at what’s in it for them and what they might value, how about if we use this time to elicit, discuss, and agree to next steps to realize what is actually of value to them?

This would be a conversation best facilitated by an associate’s immediate supervisor, the people leader closest to those affected by the change.  A small group setting would work well.

Having reviewed the change, reiterating the high-level, strategic points previously communicated by senior leaders (I’m assuming a well-executed communication plan), the facilitator can now have a conversation or brainstorming activity during which participants can explore, discover, identify, and articulate what they think would help them to more fully participate in and robustly support the change initiative, ways in which the enterprise could benefit, and how they could grow personally and professionally. In other words, what they think is in it for them.

Such a conversation is usually deeply revealing, and, for each participant, the insights can provide the beginnining of a personalized change plan and pre-commitment to action. Additionally, the engaged leader now has a much better sense of what each team member values and insight into how best to meet their needs to help ensure success.

Having developed for themselves a sense of “What’s In It For Me” and what would be required to achieve it, each participant likely has greater sense of ownership, personal commitment, and internal motivation.

After all, they told me. I didn’t tell them.

Learn. Do. Teach. Lead.

Treasure chest by Llusia Iborra for the Noun Project.
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Change is Not New; Change is Always New

Sun and Sundial

Maybe it’s time to stop being surprised by change.

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Things change. And the pace is accelerating.

“To every thing there is a season…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Nothing stays the same.  Ever.

“All conditioned things are impermanent…” (Pali Dhammapada 20:277)

Science tells us that…

“The entropy of any isolated system always increases.” (Second Law of Thermodynamics)

A famous scientist told us that…

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” (Albert Einstein)

And a famous poet put it this way:

“The past, — well, it’s just like
our Great-Aunt Laura,
who cannot or will not perceive
that though she is welcome,
and though we adore her,
yet now it is time to leave.” (Piet Hein, “Past PluperfectGrooks)

In our organizations and communities, maybe it time that we drop our:

  • surprise
  • shock
  • disappointment
  • astonishment
  • consternation
  • fear

…because change is not new.

Let us rather adopt a mindset of:

  • expectation
  • curiosity
  • discovery
  • learning
  • wonder
  • fascination
  • openness
  • receptivity
  • creativity
  • novelty

…because change is always new.

For me there is something ineffably new
in every new moment’s arising;
and even the things I habitually do
have qualities new and surprising. (Piet Hein, “Novelty,” Grooks)

Are you ready to stop being surprised by change?  Change is not new.

Are you ready always to be surprised by change?  Change is always new.

Learn. Do. Teach. Lead.


sun by Denis Sazhin from the Noun Project
Sundial by from the Noun Project





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More Change Ends Change Fatigue

Need for Change

AgileDevOps. These are new ways of saying more change, more frequently.

Is this good? How could it be?

Not long ago, simply mentioning “more change” would be enough to set off the change-saturation and change-fatigue alarms.

Probably with good reason. Change had come to mean:

  • Continuous, “house-on-fire” urgency just to stay in business, prompting…
  • Repeated, and sometimes simultaneous, gut-wrenching and highly disruptive changes…
  • To replace tightly coupled, monolithic, home-grown, or highly customized, core IT systems using…
  • A waterfall development framework that felt like you were always at the base of Niagra Falls, executing…
  • Multi-year projects with arbitrary milestones and slipped delivery dates, creating…
  • Large-scale, high-stakes, high-risk deployments requiring…
  • Heroic release efforts causing…
  • User-apparent service disruptions…
  • To deliver (finally!) an outdated solution that…
  • Did not meet the users’ needs and…
  • Had already been surpassed by the competition or technological developments, all within…
  • An organization ill-equipped for change that has become…
  • Less willing to undertake the next one and yet is…
  • More in need of transformation.

Who wouldn’t get tired of that?!

In response to these unacceptable outcomes, IT and business managers alike are creating, exploring, adopting, and evolving Agile and DevOps development frameworks–and mindsets–that deliver smaller changes more frequently.

  • Development cycles are shorter.
  • User-demanded features are deployed when ready and as needed.
  • Lower-risk and more frequent releases encourage rapid learning cycles.

More change of this sort, welcomed as the engine of personal and organizational growth, is the antidote for change fatigue.

Thus, the Change Paradox: More change ends change fatigue.



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Change at DevOps Speed

Speed of Change

Technological advances now enable a growing number of companies to release software product updates with previously unimaginable speed and frequency (see below; source: DataKitchen, 2017).

Release Frequency

For project managers and developers, Waterfall has fallen to Agile/Scrum, which is morphing into DevOps (a mash up of “development” and “operations,” two previously distinct organizational functions almost always in separate business units) and Continuous Deployment.

DevOps’ rapid-release methodology encourages experimentation, benefits from accelerated feedback and learning, achieves speed-to-market, creates competitive advantage, and can reduce costs, all while meeting quality, testing, integration, security, compliance and other critical technical and business requirements.

Such fundamental, transformational trends must give pause to anyone in Organizational Development and the many allied professions and practices: HR, staffing and talent management, coaching, organizational change management, leadership and succession planning, learning and development, innovation, Lean/continuous improvement, and many more.

We must reshape our mindsets, learning, structure, culture, policies, and processes (and so much more) with a speed at least equal to that of today’s inexorable customer, market, and technological forces which, tomorrow, will seem slow.

What has been your response to these driving forces?

Or, if your organization is not yet living at DevOps speed, what do you think you must do to prepare?

Learn. Do. Teach. Lead.


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Two Things You Must Know about Transformation


Transformation sounds better than change for some reason.


Transformation may appeal more because of its implied promise of total newness.

And who doesn’t like a fresh start? A makeover? A new beginning?

Maybe transformation even sounds more noble than mere change because of its grand scope and scale–real or imagined.  It lifts the eyes upward; the heart soars, inspired.

A metamorphosis!  Think butterfly.

But if we can set aside any emotionally driven, Disneyesque view of transformation that we may hold, we can observe two wrenching biological facts (get ready):

  1. During the pupal stage of holometabolous insects, which undergo complete metamorphism, adult structures of the insect are formed while the predecessor, larval structures are broken down.
  2. Within the pupa, under hormonal guidance, adult structures grow from imaginal discs.  These discs are present in the larva and, during pupal transformation, grow rapidly, evert, and become distinct structures in the adult.  In a most profound way, the organism starts with the end in mind.

Wow! That’s enough biology to amaze me.

If we think of organizational transformation, the first metamorphosic fact is daunting enough: most pre-existing structures and processes are broken down and replaced during the transformation.

Very few organizations actually contemplate, undertake, or survive such grand and total change.

The second fact, above, is rarer still within organizations, namely, that the elements of the future organization (the imaginal discs in our analogy) are already present within the dissolving entity and will, with the right leadership and guidance (the evolutionarily refined, DNA-driven hormones in our analogy), form a successful new entity in a mature, adult form.


When undertaking transformational change, the sort that nearly completely destroys the existing organization, what CEO wouldn’t be emboldened and comforted knowing, in advance, that the emergent organization would succeed because the seeds of success lie within awaiting expression?

Yet nothing like the predestinating force of evolutionary development exists for an organization.

Could it be that much of what we call transformation is actually a series of more modest  incremental changes?  Or is organizational transformation actual, but more localized, as when IT systems wholly replace legacy systems, enabling entirely new business processes?

What ever the case, let us say transform when we mean it, and let us understand what it means when do.

chrysalis by parkjisun from the Noun Project





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