Change Management, Transformation, Consolidation – Where do we go from here?

Over the past three years, I must confess that I have been confused by the terms change management, transformation, and consolidation.   And lately, I have found myself ‘finding and replacing’ these terms in documents in a rather random and interchangeable manner.  They are obviously very distinct terms and processes, as evidenced by the definitions presented below:

  • Change Management is a set of tools and techniques for managing the people side of change.  It is also the principle that must underpin all major projects and initiatives that impact people.
  • Transformation is a process of radical change that takes an organization in a new direction.  It implies a basic change of character that will have little or no resemblance with the past configuration or structure.
  • Consolidation is a process of combining two or more organizations through purchase, merger, or ownership transfer to form a new organization.  It involves the combining of assets, equities, liabilities and operating accounts into one financial statement.

The difference in their definitions is significant, so why all the confusion?

I believe the answer lies in our history and proven track record as task masters.  I don’t think we spend a lot of time considering their definitions.  When presented with a new challenge or term, we simply get busy assigning tasks and start working on deliverables.  After all, definitions are secondary when we are on such tight timelines to show results.

I have seen a fairly technical approach being applied to the way departments are approaching the new GC direction as a whole.  After all, this task-based recipe has delivered results in the past, so why wouldn’t it work in the present environment?

The present environment is not business as usual.  The present environment will not respond to recipes from the past. 

In fact, many change management practitioners claim that 20% of a change implementation is technical, and 80% is tactical.  So any organization approaching their change management, transformation, or consolidation efforts in a technical manner are just getting started, as 80% of the work still lies ahead.

Note: Technical refers to the development of plans, objectives, tasks, deliverables; Tactical refers to the implementation of the technical plans through engaging people, changing behaviours, managing resistance, communicating effectively.

I believe that leaders throughout the Government of Canada right now are beginning to realize this reality, but are unsure of what to do to achieve the other 80%.

Here’s some ideas:

1. Embrace that change management, transformation, and consolidation are big initiatives. They involve an intricate web of process, technology, and people changes that require enterprise-wide approaches.

    • Pick your leaders carefully, it’s directly correlated to an initiative’s success
    • Do not assign critical responsibilities to already over-tasked staff,  dedicate the resources required
    • Start accepting that trade-offs are a necessary part of the process (i.e. lower service levels, extensions on other initiatives, etc.)

2. Accept that people cannot even begin to think in terms of changing, transforming, or consolidating services until they first understand the process of changing, transforming or consolidating themselves and their teams.

  • Place organizational end state decisions as the highest priority
  • Do not require people to work in uncertain conditions for extended periods of time
  • Stop under-estimating the importance of defining where people will ‘live’ (it’s a basic need in their Hierarchy of Needs)

3. Get real about progress made to-date, and commit to achieving the other 80% on a go-forward basis.

  • Commit to adapting the overall approach, it’s never too late
  • Build a powerful coalition consisting of both tactical and technical experts
  • Accept ideas that may not fit with past practices, remember it’s not business as usual

Throughout the ages, top management teams have been challenged by the implementation of complex changes in their organizations.  This is hard stuff, not to be underestimated. The ultimate test for all teams has always been their ability to be agile and adaptive throughout the change process.

The recipe for success is not fixed, and differs from one organization to the next. However, it has always contained a balanced combination of technical and tactical ingredients. It is encumbent on all of us to find that balance, and deliver change, transformation and consolidation implementations that not only achieve their intended results, but do so in a manner that considers the people in the process.

After all,  change is not accomplished by an organization, it’s accomplished by individuals.


Kathy Roy has implemented business transformation and change management projects in complex organizations for over two decades. She has worked with major companies, both public and private, and with numerous business sectors in both Canada and the United States. She is part of Systemscope's Strategic Business Consulting practice.


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