Professional Change Management

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Working with an amazing group of Change Agents last week, so committed to making change happen in their organisation. Led us into lots of discussions about how to manage high volumes of change.

We debated what I refer to as “enterprise level change” which is the informal mobilisation of lots of teams to deliver multiple changes. Once again this brings up the problem of too little capacity for too many ideas.

I drew my usual diagram of Run the business/Change the business” and it led us to conclude that we are getting to the point in Change Management where we need to “professionalise”.

“Run the business” ie. business as usual is supported by a whole range of clearly defined processes, standards, policies and metrics.

However, “change the business” is still an informal network of ideas and practices carried out on a best efforts basis. It is humbling to realise that so much organisational transformation relies upon the extra effort people affected put in to creating new ways of working. It is almost as if we are stuck with the perspective that change is not as important as “business as usual” so it doesn’t need to be properly planned or resourced. We hope that change is successful rather than creating mechanisms to ensure that it is.

With so many sources of disruption and so many drivers for change, perhaps it is time to be clear: successful organisations are those that balance “run the business” with “change the business” and that this balance includes mechanisms for how to conduct both.

Mechanisms for success

1. Capacity

We have to get serious about resourcing change initiatives. This requires difficult decisions because everyone is already over committed. I have been running an informal survey for the last year in the UK and the results are generally the same whichever profession or industry I am talking to – people are committing 135% of their contracted hours, to cope with the demands of their day job plus their involvement in creating improvements and delivering innovation. So unless we make change a two step process we are going to hit the bottleneck of great idea/no capacity to implement it. The two step process is:

1. What can we stop doing in our current ways of working to create enough time for us to engage with the change

2. Undertake the change

Be honest – how many of us jump to step 2 without the benefit of step 1?

2. Capability

Making change management training a core offering, backed up by a competency model, a method or framework and a toolkit. Change management is about creating new habits, which is a psychological and emotional process. To do it well, those involved need help in understanding how we react to change and how we are best supported as we struggle to adapt to something new.

3. Planning

Up front understanding, before the change is initiated, of how it fits with other changes already underway so that staff are not overwhelmed and “business as usual” is not threatened by lack of attention as people try to cope with new ways of working.

Root cause

So why are so few organisations professionalising their approach to change? Anecdotally the main stumbling blocks are:

No real awareness at senior levels of what change management involves – lots of Sponsors think of their role as sponsoring the project lifecycle, not realising that they need to take a wider view, continuing their championing and their active management of all the readiness activities needed for successful implementation and the longer term adoption of the change into the new “business as usual”.

No appreciation of the risk management and financial returns that change management offers. Without appreciating that Change Management is the set of activities that are the gateway to realising the benefits of project investment, there is no motivation for Sponsors to take this wider view.


Those of us developing change as a recognised and valued management discipline have more work to do. In whatever capacity we are working, let’s start explaining the benefits of change management.

If we can get people to appreciate there are financial and risk management benefits to well managed change initiatives then they will be more open to investing in the mechanisms for making successful change deliberate instead of accidental.

If you want more detail about this, look out for papers I publish on my website.