Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Change Management

The ability to manage change is critical to an organization's ability to thrive in a dynamic world. Often times, the need for change is reactive, discontinuous, and often triggered by existing organizational crises (Luecke, 2003). Given this tumultuous context, it's not surprising that 70-80% of all organizational change initiatives fail (Balogun & Hope, 2004).

This staggering factoid launched me into research around best practices for change management - of which there are hundreds of articles. Probably the most interesting article, was that compared several of the most prominent change management theories, those of Kotter, Kanter, and Luecke.

Immediately after diving into this content, I attended Hunter Lovins' and Kevin Wilhelm's seminar course on "Managing for Sustainability". Wilhelm has content specifically on change management and implementation; I was particularly impressed with these visuals.

Still feeling unsatisfied about practical strategies around change management, I asked the question, "Recognizing the importance of change management, and the importance of these frameworks - what's the missing element that drives success?"

According to Wilhelm, Lovins, and many other authors, there is no easy answer. No silver bullet.

So what's the tough answer?

I noticed a recurring theme around best practices. The theme of intuition, cultural engagement, relationships, and soft skills. Metrics rarely capture these themes effectively. It makes sense, if we only speak to half of our stakeholders brains(the numbers side), and don't effectively engage them fully, there's still a high chance that they won't change.

I'm reminded of the Education team project last year, where we researched the effectiveness of curriculum implementation in public school districts. Often times, school districts would attempt to adopt a new curriculum, not give the faculty the appropriate on boarding, and when metrics slipped, shifted to yet another new curriculum. They didn't give appropriate training, nor did they give it enough time. School districts became so obsessed with their metrics, they forgot to talk to their people.

This is also a common theme in business. I've heard over and over, "Our management keeps changing the rules, every six months there's a new "strategic initiative". We all just duck our heads and ignore it, waiting for the next change to come." Sound familiar?

One of Michael Porter's key pillars around strategy is Continuity. Stability is the core of strategy, strategy emerges and evolves, working with uncertainty.

What if we operated with three brains? Dr. Robert Cooper highlights some science that we're all intuitively aware of. We have three brains; Our head brain, our heart, and our gut. People who have worked with the enneagram may be familiar with this concept. For change management to be successful, we must both use all of our brains, and engage all of them as well. Change management around sustainability is a great place for this to happen.

As I begin my work in helping craft and communicate Seattle Children's Hospital's master strategic sustainability plan, I'll lay my foundation down in numbers. But my real work will be in the stories and relationships.


Balogun, J. Hope, H. Exploring Strategic Change, 2nd edition. London, Prentice Hall. 2004.

Cooper, R. The Other 90%: How to unlock your vast untapped potential for leadership and life. New York, NY. Three Rivers Press. 2001.

Luecke, R. Managing Change and Transition. Boston, MA. Harvard Business School Press. 2003.

Wilhelm, K. Making Sustainability Stick: The blueprint for implementation. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education Inc. 2014.

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