Change Management Models in Context

Updated: Mar 28, 2019

We have all heard that 70% of change programs fail. There are many reasons why, but a key one is not understanding where the practical steps of process change models like ADKAR and Kotter fit in the bigger strategic context of organisational evolution, the psychology of individual reactions to change and the role of culture.

After a recent presentation I was due to give didn't come through, I decided not to waste the content and uploaded it to Slideshare (it is also attached below). This post really just adds a little more detail and information to the slides.

Most change managers these days approach business transformation using process models such as ADKAR and Kotter’s eight step model (a range of other models are also popular and applicable, including those from project management and IT systems implementation paradigms). This is not surprising as they describe the necessary steps and actions required to move an organization, and its people, from its current state to its preferred state.

However when applying only process thinking, change may occur within a vacuum, and these models can be applied with a couple of inherent assumptions that may limit the effectiveness and long term sustainability of the change program. Firstly, when you look at many of the process models, they start with something like "create awareness of the change", "establish a sense of urgency", "mobilise energy" or "mobilise commitment",

Common sense would tell you that any change program should be a response to a clearly researched, diagnosed and understood business issue that the change program is addressing - unfortunately experience tells us that this is not always the case.

Change managers, especially those who are inexperienced or under pressure to "deliver a result" may attack a surface symptom rather than take the time to fully diagnose the true underlying issues.

This is where an understanding of lifecycle models and diagnostic models of organizations and change may support more effective and lasting change. Lifecycle or evolution models (including classic theories such as Gersick and Greiner) posit that organizations grow and evolve through stages of stability and change, and that all process change and business transformation occurs within the context of this growth and evolution. These models focus on the overarching consideration of the strategic issues of growth and development; they set the scene in relation to understanding where an organization is at in its development and what drivers for change (interrnal and external) may exist at that stage. These models describe how organizations change over time

Diagnostic models (such as Kotter's Organizational Dynamics, Systems Theory and McKinsey's 7S model) may offer insights into where to target change processes. These models focus on analysis and diagnosis of the underlying problems. Change and organizational leaders must take a closer look at the components and dynamics of an organization and their interactions with each other and the external environment, not just at a point in time but over the short, medium and long term, to identify both immediate issues and trends. These theories focus on identifying the interactions and cause/effect relationships between people, structures, systems and processes within an organization and, in particular, diagnosing the currently dysfunctional or misaligned factors or relationships (or those at risk of future misalignment) within the enterprise and its environment.

A core component most of these diagnostic models is the organizational culture, and a number of theories take this one step further.

Cultural Models essentially propose that 'organizations are culture’, and that the considerations of aligning change strategies to the existing culture of the organization (and the culture of individual groups affected) is the key to success. These models promote understanding the relative value of one's own culture compared to the attractiveness of taking on a new organization culture during transition (particularly mergers), as well as considering issues such as the connectedness and uniformity of the culture (or subcultures) and the level of formalization and centralisation in an organization. All of which may influence the success of a change program.

Finally, leaders of change processes need to have an understanding of individual and group emotions. While many change and project management models include a "people side" there is, nevertheless, an underlying assumption of rationality in the activities and messages delivered and that people will 'think their way through change'.

The reality is, most people will feel their way through change, so individual reaction or transition models are helpful for change managers to identify the potential journey change recipients may undertake during a change process. Having an awareness of the broad stages of transition and the feelings and blockages they may experience during that journey may support more effective communication and action.

The conference presentation are a broad introduction to a number of models that may be of benefit to change managers - while they include the names of the authors of the various models, there are no detailed references, that can be part of your learning journey (Google will help).