Transforming the Change Management Confusion

With a twinge of self-consciousness, a brilliant doctor related to me how for two weeks she repeated an error each morning on her one-mile commute to work. Despite the daily inconvenience that occurred, she drove her habitual morning route, consistently forgetting about serious road repair construction a block from her clinic. So she was forced to detour each morning. Such is the power of habit, and the mindset of routine. She joked that the cup of coffee she consumed at her clinic shifted her into a higher state of consciousness.

Her wise insight: People tend — particularly when disengaged or detached — to remain in habitual behavioral patterns unless they consciously engage in new behavior patterns. Her insight shines a telling light on the failure rate of transformational change.

This failure is estimated at 70% by McKinsey & Company consultants. Organizations have nominally challenged themselves with significant performance change intentions for decades, so what’s the problem here? If transformational change is dependent upon attaining new levels of correlated consciousness, what’s standing in the way? If the opportunity cost is so high and the problem is so ubiquitous, what truths are being ignored in corporate change-management endeavors, 70% of the time?

There are a lot of books and articles on “change-management”, and they appear to me to miss several fundamental points. The most important success factor in my experience is that the entire leadership team must shift into a change-leadership orientation.

I want to suggest a few points for your consideration, and I propose that each obstacle can be removed by change-leadership correlated with effective project management. Hence, leadership influences management.

  • There is a significant difference between a change-management culture and a change in leadership culture. Hence, the adjective distinguishing the change philosophy is materially important. This is particularly true when change-management presides in transaction-minded organizations that habitually quantify performance.
  • Change-leadership takes greater responsibility for inspiring human potential and being comprehensive, long-term and culturally attuned. Leadership increases the capacity for measurable changes in performance, consciously.
  • Most executive teams self-congratulate, relax and delegate long before they arrive at a point of profound effect when it comes to change-leadership. Those that avoid this trap have a huge competitive advantage.
  • When transformational change is approached with “change-management”, the probability is that short-term pressures and a tactical project management mindset will preempt considerations about culture and sustainability.
  • Sustainability is largely embedded (or not) in organizational culture and process technology. Both require a long-term — comprehensive and deep — commitment.
  • Culture is the engine for organizational effectiveness. Like athletic fitness, three dimensions are critical to greater performance: muscular strength, continuous learning, and agility. None can be presumed. Each can be developed. Yet, many companies do not invest in culture change when profits are deemed reasonable and shun investing in culture when profits are considered inadequate. Culture development occurs top-down and then virally. Superficial approaches waste resources.
  • The most remarkable indicator of performance capacity and aptitude for change-leadership is employee engagement. Workforce engagement in the U.S.A. averages 30% (Source: Gallup); the performance engine is barely idling with low engagement.
  • So, significant and sustainable performance change requires a quantum shift in leadership that culturally enables such change, and supports change-management at the tactical project level.

Among other benefits, change-leadership raises the consciousness of the workforce and inspires mechanisms for organization-wide learning that shift habitual behaviors toward the fitness and agility needed for transformation.