Why managing change doesn’t guarantee results

October 27, 2015 By Ro Gorell

Take a few moments out of your day in reflection.  Think about the change methodology you are using at the moment. Why did you choose that particular methodology? (You might not have had a choice!) What experience have you had with it? What results is it delivering? Were these results the same or different from what you were expecting?

When it comes to managing change we typically treat it as cause and effect i.e. if we do ‘x’ then we’ll achieve ‘y’ result. In some organisations this approach makes sense – usually traditional organisations operating in a stable environment with consistent outcomes year on year.

Yet, as we know, in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment, cause and effect is much harder to pinpoint. You have to adapt your approach according to the context - that context will and does keep changing.

Managing change is not one-model-fits-all

The one-model-fits-all approach to change is no longer valid because working life is more complex. That doesn’t mean you approach change in an unstructured chaotic way. What it does mean is that you have to be resourceful and open to insights, options and experimentation. First, by creating a tailor made change process you acknowledge that organisations are in a state of flux and uncertainty. In other words, they’re introducing change into a complex system with little control on the outcomes.

For example, if your organisation is changing its business model it is likely to be disruptive change. Something will be fundamentally different after the change has taken hold. Changing a business model touches many stakeholders and is impacted by external factors such as the economy, competition, customers’ perceptions and so on. Having a process to coordinate all these variables is necessary to avoid chaos and uncertainty.

And there’s the rub – any mechanism you choose has to be capable of flexing to all of these factors. By definition, this means feedback is essential to know if the levers you are pulling are working or not.

It’s complicated

By adopting a plan, do, check, act approach to change you create such a system designed on feedback. Lean change incorporates this and recognises that most organisations are either complex – whereby participants impact the system – or complicated where cause and effect is not immediately obvious. In other words, the system itself provides feedback about what is happening and is changeable.  Dave Snowden creator of the insightful Cynefin Complexity framework which helps us understand this explains:

The patterns or framework itself emerges from the data in a social process

Most change management methodologies approach change as cause and effect: “if we follow this methodology we’ll get these results.” This creates comfort because it feeds our need for certainty. On the other hand it can sometimes be counterproductive in a VUCA environment. Often the methodology creates an expectation with senior leaders that results will be positive and can be controlled.

Managing change as a predictable, repeatable methodology can create false confidence and make positive results less likely.   Because there is likely no obvious cause and effect relationship, rendering results random at best.  Attribution bias, whereby we believe that we cause results, plays into our need to be the creators of the change.  Even when evidence suggests otherwise or even where no evidence exists at all.

Let's be honest about managing change

Coping with and catering for complexity through LEAN change may not guarantee results. It is, however a more honest approach to what really happens in organisations seeking value through transformation.  That insights lead to options which can create experiments to test hypotheses against which results can be measured.  And continuous improvement ensues.

Email me ro@growtalentro.com "My biggest challenge in introducing change in my organisation" and I'll send you your invitation to a google hangout on LEAN change.  I'll be sure to include your challenge and help you clarify the first step to create your own tailor-made approach to change.