The Footsteps of Change
By: Brian Ward
|Brian Ward is a principal in Affinity Consulting. He helps leaders, teams and individuals acquire new knowledge and wisdom through their consulting and educational work. He can be reached at t firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can organizational change really be managed? There are many experts (and
highly paid consultants) out there who think it can, but research has shown that
many efforts at change, especially large scale change, such as organizational
transformation and reengineering, fall far short of expectations.
leader I once knew used to say 'If after all your best efforts you still can't
find an answer to your question, then consider changing the
Perhaps then 'How Can We Manage Change?' is the wrong question. In our work, we advise leaders to create a compelling focus, one that will attract people to the change that the leader is proposing. But how can you do that?
Author and consultant Geoffrey Moore is renowned for his change
model described in his book 'Crossing the Chasm' (Harper Collins, 1991).
Although his model describes how technology gets adopted and becomes popular,
(or not), it is based on sociological research, and can be adapted to describe
how a change of any type, in any setting either succeeds or fails.
Here is an adaptation of Moore's model applied to organizational change...see
if it fits for you.
Types of Change
In any organization
setting, change is inevitable. But not all types of change are the same - there
is a distinct difference between 'continuous' change (as in continuous
incremental improvement of EXISTING products, programs, services and processes)
and 'discontinuous' change (as in reengineering using a 'blank sheet' approach
or new technology that relies on a complete departure from existing systems and
infrastructures). How we handle each of these is different. Continuous change is
evolutionary, whereas discontinuous change is revolutionary, and therefore
extremely disruptive. The remainder of this article will focus on discontinuous
When a leader, and presumably the leadership team, calls for
discontinuous change to happen, they are essentially saying to the organization
'life as we know it will never be the same'. And this causes a variety of
Responses to Change
Using Moore's model, people tend
to fall into one of the following categories, with responses to
Innovators (about 2-3%)
These are change junkies...it
doesn't matter what the change is, they will always sign up first. They like to
tinker, they like to work with concepts and build
Early Adopters (10-15%)
Much like the
Innovators, they want to work with an early version (complete with bugs) because
they see advantages, not just in the new way of doing things, but in being an
early pioneer. They are the 'beta testers'.
These are the ones who constitute a critical mass in any change
effort. Without a substantial number of these folks on board, the change will
fail. They are pragmatists who want a proven, workable version of the change,
complete with a 'how to' manual. Because they are pragmatists, they don't
necessarily talk the language of the Innovators and Early Adopters. The majority
of them are psychologically and behaviourly incompatible with the first two
groups, and a chasm, to use Moore's term, exists between the Early Majority and
Early Adopters. There are some however who are 'bilingual', that is thay can
talk the language of the Innovators and Early Adopters, and these are the ones
who will cause change to happen. Identify who they are, make them your champions
and your change efforts will take off.
These are theones who will only change if they have no other
option, when change becomes inevitable. They will look to the Early Majority for
proof that the change works, and will insist on a risk free version of the
change. They have a very low tolerance for risk.
These are the ones who will never adopt the change. They see no
sense in it at all, no personal benefits. They hold completely different
attitudes and values from the other four groups.
Critical Few Change Agents
So in 'managing change' it appears that the
critical group are those within the Early Majority who have a higher
tolerance for risk than the others in that same group...a sub-group of a larger
group, who can be difficult to identify.
How will you find them and
manage the relationship with them?
Here are a few tips:
'How Can We Manage Change?" Perhaps the real question, given that these Early
Majority are not huge risk takers, is 'How Can We Manage The RISKS Associated
- When the Innovators and Early Adopters have had time to make the change less
abstract, more concrete and have a working example, ask for volunteers to
advance the change to the next stage. See who turns up. Those that do turn up
are your Early-Early Majority, the ones who are willing to take somewhat more
risk than their buddies in the same group.
(If too few or no
one turns up, then you know that the change will not go any further. Your option
is to ask the Early Adopters to work on it some more, and then repeat the
invitation, or drop the change altogether.)
- Let them spend as much time as needed with the Innovators and Early
Adopters. Have them improve on the design.
- Ask them to better define the change, such as create a communications
program aimed at the rest of the Early Majority.
- Give them time to ADAPT the change to their environment, to improve on what
the Early Adopters have done.
- Provide plenty of positive feedback and encouragement...they need to know
that they will not take the fall if it doesn't work.
- Reduce as much of the risk associated with the change as possible. Help them
manage the RISK, not the change.
- Finally, encourage them to develop a full implementation plan, but watch the
timing. Too slow and cautious and other people will lose interest. Too fast and
these volunteers will jump ship.