Change : The Footsteps of Change

Brian has over 25 years of experience consulting to all levels of management and staff. His most recent work has included strategy building sessions and processes. He brings to all his assignments a solid background in project management and group facilitation, gained through experience in banking, manufacturing, health care, education and insurance sectors. A Certified Human Resources Professional ( CHRP ), with experience gained in this field in both Europe and Canada, he helps organizations align strategy & people.

Brian is a board member of Habitat for Humanity, Edmonton and a member of their Human Resources Committee. Habitat for Humanity, working in conjunction with sponsors, donors, volunteers and partner families, opens the door to home ownership for low income families.

He can be contacted at View Affinity website

Can organizational change really be managed ?

There are many experts ( and highly paid consultants ) out there who think it can, but research has shown that many efforts at change, especially large scale change, such as organizational transformation and reengineering, fall far short of expectations.

A leader I once knew used to say 'If after all your best efforts you still can't find an answer to your question, then consider changing the question'.

Perhaps then 'How Can We Manage Change ?' is the wrong question. In our work, we advise leaders to create a compelling focus, one that will ATTRACT people to the change that the leader is proposing. But how can you do that ?

Author and consultant Geoffrey Moore is renowned for his change model described in his book 'Crossing the Chasm' ( Harper Collins, 1991 ). Although his model describes how technology gets adopted and becomes popular, ( or not ), it is based on sociological research, and can be adapted to describe how a change of any type, in any setting either succeeds or fails. 

Here is an adaptation of Moore's model applied to organizational change...see if it fits for you.

Types of Change

In any organization setting, change is inevitable. But not all types of change are the same - there is a distinct difference between 'continuous' change ( as in continuous incremental improvement of EXISTING products, programs, services and processes ) and 'discontinuous' change ( as in reengineering using a 'blank sheet' approach or new technology that relies on a complete departure from existing systems and infrastructures ). How we handle each of these is different. Continuous change is evolutionary, whereas discontinuous change is revolutionary, and therefore extremely disruptive. The remainder of this article will focus on discontinuous change.

When a leader, and presumably the leadership team, calls for discontinuous change to happen, they are essentially saying to the organization 'life as we know it will never be the same'. And this causes a variety of responses.

Responses to Change

Using Moore's model, people tend to fall into one of the following categories, with responses to match:

Innovators ( about 2-3% )

These are change doesn't matter what the change is, they will always sign up first. They like to tinker, they like to work with concepts and build prototypes.

Early Adopters ( 10-15% )

Much like the Innovators, they want to work with an early version ( complete with bugs ) because they see advantages, not just in the new way of doing things, but in being an early pioneer. They are the 'beta testers'.

Early Majority ( 30-40% )

These are the ones who constitute a critical mass in any change effort. Without a substantial number of these folks on board, the change will fail. They are pragmatists who want a proven, workable version of the change, complete with a 'how to' manual. Because they are pragmatists, they don't necessarily talk the language of the Innovators and Early Adopters. The majority of them are psychologically and behaviourly incompatible with the first two groups, and a chasm, to use Moore's term, exists between the Early Majority and Early Adopters. There are some however who are 'bilingual', that is thay can talk the language of the Innovators and Early Adopters, and these are the ones who will cause change to happen. Identify who they are, make them your champions and your change efforts will take off.

Late Majority ( 30-40% )

These are theones who will only change if they have no other option, when change becomes inevitable. They will look to the Early Majority for proof that the change works, and will insist on a risk free version of the change. They have a very low tolerance for risk.

Laggards ( 1-2% )

These are the ones who will never adopt the change. They see no sense in it at all, no personal benefits. They hold completely different attitudes and values from the other four groups.

Identifying the Critical Few Change Agents

So in 'managing change' it appears that the critical group are those within the Early Majority who have a higher tolerance for risk than the others in that same group...a sub-group of a larger group, who can be difficult to identify.

How will you find them and manage the relationship with them ? 

Here are a few tips :-

  1. When the Innovators and Early Adopters have had time to make the change less abstract, more concrete and have a working example, ask for volunteers to advance the change to the next stage. See who turns up. Those that do turn up are your Early-Early Majority, the ones who are willing to take somewhat more risk than their buddies in the same group. ( If too few or no one turns up, then you know that the change will not go any further. Your option is to ask the Early Adopters to work on it some more, and then repeat the invitation, or drop the change altogether. )
  2. Let them spend as much time as needed with the Innovators and Early Adopters. Have them improve on the design.
  3. Ask them to better define the change, such as create a communications program aimed at the rest of the Early Majority.
  4. Give them time to ADAPT the change to their environment, to improve on what the Early Adopters have done.
  5. Provide plenty of positive feedback and encouragement...they need to know that they will not take the fall if it doesn't work.
  6. Reduce as much of the risk associated with the change as possible. Help them manage the RISK, not the change.
  7. Finally, encourage them to develop a full implementation plan, but watch the timing. Too slow and cautious and other people will lose interest. Too fast and these volunteers will jump ship.

'How Can We Manage Change ?" Perhaps the real question, given that these Early Majority are not huge risk takers, is 'How Can We Manage The RISKS Associated With Change ?"

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