Change Models Don’t Drive Change

When I talk to prospective clients, I get a lot of questions around what change model I recommend. That’s an interesting question because after 20 years of driving and leading large scale strategic organizational change, what I’ve really learned is that it doesn’t matter. I’ll admit that during those 20 years, I’ve gone round and round on this. In an attempt to make change work and leverage the latest thinking, I’ve espoused a lot of them. I went through the ADKAR phase, the Bridges phase, the Kotter phase (and by the way, that’s not a model, it’s a checklist), and even the internally developed phase (at two companies that had to reinvent the wheel because they wanted their own)…and each and every time, I swore we had found the latest and greatest road to change Mecca. But when I finally decided I had enough expertise and wisdom to share, started my own firm, and set out to build an approach to change management that I could sell, I had to come face to face with the truth. The ‘no one’s listening, no BS, dark bedroom kind of truth’. And the truth is that it just doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t. A change model is a change model is a change model. Pick one. With possibly one exception, all of them have been written by very smart and thoughtful people to do exactly the same thing. They give you a big picture of what’s going to happen as a change evolves….a list of phases you and the organization will go through as you drive change. Consultants love these! They look great in PowerPoint and make you feel like you’ve got a roadmap to a perfectly implemented sustainable change, all in one pretty page. They are often followed by the slide that tells you all the reasons change fails and if the consultant is lucky, you’ll be so afraid of having your change fail that you hire them to help you read the map! Sold!

Not so fast. Here’s the thing about roadmaps: they’re pretty, they’re reasonably accurate, and yes, they are a great big picture to help you envision all the places you could go along your route. BUT, they don’t get you there. You still need some kind of working vehicle, fuel, a responsible driver and some way to determine where to turn next. The roadmap alone will not move you the slightest bit towards your destination. Neither will your change model.

I have come to believe that there are only two things that will ever ensure that a large scale organizational change is implemented effectively. By effectively, I mean implemented in a way that minimizes lost of productivity and sustains itself over time. In Kitchen English, your future state works without a lot of drama and stays that way when the official project is over. Those two things are leadership alignment and the tools you use to during the change to manage transitions. That’s it. You have to get exactly two things right. We’ll talk about how to do that next week.