The motto 'no pain, no gain' could have been invented for change management. It's a cliche but it's true.
It has been dubbed 'the Emperor's new clothes', 'reengineering with a human face' and 'outdoor relief for social psychologists', but change management is seen by many as the most painful - yet potentially the most effective - way to improve an organisation. Scott Adams, the writer of the Dilbert cartoon, gives a fairly good indication of what most employees think of it when he notes: 'The goal of change management is to dupe slow-witted employees into thinking that change is good for them by appealing to their sense of adventure and love of challenge. This is like convincing a trout to leap out of a stream to experience the adventure of getting deboned. Trout are not team players.'
Unfortunately, that is rather the point of change management. Organisations have realised that all the structures in the world are of no use if the people implementing them are not convinced of their necessity. The so-called 'movers and shakers' in organisations often miss this point when undertaking the latest in a long line of radical overhauls of their organisation. Douglas Wynn, senior consultant at Deloitte & Touche, points out that it is easier for managers charged with implementing changes 'to focus on structures, as they are concrete. It is easier to draw a chart than change nature.'
Change management means much more than changing the chart. It means changing the nature of an organisation. And this involves people. No one will disagree with Andrew Duncan, senior consultant at Price Waterhouse, when he points out that: 'Retraining and the renewal of the skills set of the workforce was underdone in re-engineering' - now the emphasis of change is far more holistic.
For organisations that fully embrace change management, the pay-offs can be incredible. Some British companies have done it well. Colin Price, head of change at Price Waterhouse, cites Shell, which he says 'did a stunningly good job'. It managed to change its focus from geographic to business lines. In one fell swoop, the red-tape image that headquarters had was removed (albeit through a drastically reduced head count) and a clear message was sent through the company: Similarly, Price suggests that British Aerospace has been a good example of a previously moribund organisation that has given itself a total overhaul.
Even with smaller companies the effects of change management can be dramatic. Gordon Colborn, head of consultants SI Associates, speaks of an initiative he has been involved with - along with two other consultancies - in the north west of England over the last five years. This change management programme, designed to create a quantum leap in the performance of traditional manufacturing in small and medium-sized enterprises has had dramatic effects for some. A third of the SMEs involved had a significant level of performance improvement and were likely to continue to do so. For these companies, fully committed to the programme and motivated by the idea of a change of culture, the magnitudes of improvement were immense.
However, SI Associates readily admits that of the other two-thirds of the SMEs it worked with, half saw only modest improvements, while the other half saw none. Why is the success rate for change management so low? Change management is certainly not easy to implement. It is clear that if you want a change programme to work, an organisation and the people in it must want to change. Colborn says that when first talking to clients, he emphasises that SI Associates itself will not change anything. 'We ask the questions that force them to create the answers,' he says. By saying that to a potential client, he believes he can tell right away the attitudes of senior management and hence their likely success.
The hardest time to accept a need for change is when times are good. Some management thinkers, like Tom Peters, exhort you to create artificial crises in order to push change through. …