‘Thank God you’re here, change manager!’

In the late-noughties, one of the most popular shows on Australian TV was a program called Thank God You’re Here. Each episode involved comedians/actors walking through a door into an unknown situation, to be greeted by the line “Thank God You’re Here!” and then having to improvise their way through the scene – often pretending to be an expert in their field.

At FOLD7, we often see this sort of approach taken with change managers on projects. The project has been making (reasonably) good progress on the technical/solution side when suddenly everyone realises that the solution alone is not going to achieve the intended outcomes/benefits. So, a change manager is hurriedly thrown onto the project – just like an actor on the program – when the people side of the change has been forgotten about and that the training hasn’t got everyone ready to adopt the change.

First, let us say that it’s great that a change manager has been allocated to a project. However, the arrival of the change manager on the scene often sees everyone else exiting stage left (including sponsors and managers) under the misguided belief that now having a change manager on the project is the panacea to all the people issues.

Whose change is it anyway? It’s certainly not the change manager’s. Their role should be to enable the change for the business, not to lead the change.

Paul Gibbons in his book, The Science of Successful Organizational Change, states:

 ‘on major projects, change people are called into sprinkle change pixie dust and make people problems go away. Their efforts are directed at persuading, involving and communicating in order to align people with the change. However, this is a bizarre circumstance, for is it not the manager’s job to persuade, involve, and communicate? Are not change managers, and their tools, a Band-Aid to cover-up managerial insufficiency?’

Over and over again, we see evidence that the role of executive sponsors cannot be underestimated. Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management  – in every one of its ten benchmark reports since 1998 – states that active and visible executive sponsorship is the number one contributor to success (beating the second top contributor by a margin of 3:1). In the Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession 2018for the sixth year in a row –  the top driver of project success was investing in actively engaged executive sponsors. In fact, organisations that had actively engaged sponsors reported 40% more successful projects than those with less engaged sponsors. And yet, for the vast majority of the projects we have worked on, the absence of the executive sponsor has really slowed down either progress or more importantly, results.
IBM’s Making Change Work 2014  found that:

‘The organization as a whole must have a clear understanding of the role, activities and benefits of change management. It is the critical responsibility of top managers to establish the right organizational context by making change matter. They must create this vision, reinforce the benefits and inject change management into the corporate culture of the organization.’ 

Yes, there are all sorts of roles and actors needed to enable successful change, but the stars of any change are the senior leaders/executive sponsors and middle managers. Mind you, we can’t blame our sponsors or managers if they don’t know their role in change (as Donald Rumsfeld put it – the Unknown Unknowns) or if no one has taken the time to upskill them – and then reinforce these behaviours and mindsets skills through their position descriptions and KPIs.

Building the capability, confidence and contribution of these two roles in an organisation is the best way of securing successful change on current and future initiatives – not throwing change managers into the spotlight and asking them to ad lib in front of the change audience.

Note: FOLD7 has developed role-specific programs to build the change capability and confidence of your senior leaders and managers, Check out some of our offerings or contact us if you would like to find out more: info@fold7.com.au  

We’re working on different ideas, telling a different story, and getting radically different outcomes than what others usually see.