Lean Change Management by Jason Little, a new approach to change management

- Change Management

by Jason Little

I’ve cited this study about change initiative failuresand also questioned its validityI have observed that the core problems change management professionals and Agile coaches run into are (a)the projectification of highly uncertain pieces of work and (b)how organizations measure performance.These approaches work actively against the success of change initiatives.

The ‘pieces of work’ I refer to above could be the change programs themselves. Or Agile transformations, Agile adoptions and other organizational changes that typically involve changing people’s habits.

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with the change management and organizational effectiveness people at a Fortune 100 company and we talked about challenges they have with managing change programs. I was surprised at the similarities this Organizational Effectiveness team had with Agile coaching teams I’ve been part of. They focused on capability and competence development. This was surprising and refreshing. It was surprising because in my experience Change Management/Organizational Effectiveness groups typically feel responsible for creating and pushing change plans more than anything else. Missing the opportunity to adapt.

I boiled down their challenges to a root cause, that while not being a solitary root cause, contributes to the creation of most of the obstacles they face:

Consequences of Running change initiatives like projects

Some of the issues we talked about were:

  • Stakeholders financing people working on the change project need to plan and create business cases the same way they do with all other projects – without this the project is not considered justified.
  • Stakeholders want to see detailed plans, regardless of the high-degree of uncertainty about future events. The unpredictability of how people will react to certain initiatives within the Change project makes creating a plan really hard, and through the pressure to present a detailed plan the Change team feels compelled to invent possible future events and initiatives – without knowing if they are relevant.
  • The constant focus on outcome measures and ‘ensuring’ success even when both are extremely difficult to predict. Talking about outcome measures or the definition of success are both very valuable. The problems start when by focusing on those topics we ignore actionable short term actions, and associated feedback (i.e. the experiments we need to run). In one such case – where we spent most of the time discussing outcome measures – the Change team felt they had learned very little about the actions they should take and listed as an objective “ensure a complete understanding of Lean Change Management” at the end of the session. Later, when I asked the audience for feedback, the result was poor: most of them felt that had learned very little about the Change project itself and the actions they needed to take.

We find assurance in defining tangible outcomes, and this happens because our brains do not like uncertainty

That last point touches on why I believe Lean Change Management is more effective than traditional approaches to change management. We find assurance in defining tangible outcomes, and this happens because our brains do not like uncertainty. But the reason why we find that assurance is the act of planning, not “the plan” or the actual outcome. It is the act of planning and talking about outcomes that gives us that assurance of having found the right way to implement change.

Why is the search for certainty dangerous?

One of the models I reference in Lean Change Management is SCARF by David Rock. The “C” in SCARF represents Certainty. Chances are they are not going to read it, but they need to feel certain and they feel certain when a plan is in place. The need for Certainty in all situations, also explains why some executives react violently to the introduction of Agile practices, because they may feel Agile means chaos and absence of planning. Having been used to seeing detailed long term plans, executives may fear that adopting Agile will prevent the creation of detailed plans.

When we feel uncertain about something, chemicals in our brain cause the “flight or fight” response which explains one of the reasons why stakeholders want to see detailed plans

Often we discuss the lack of trust as being the main reason why detailed plans are requested. Although that may be the case, it is often the need for certainty – not lack of trust – that is a major contributor for the request to create long-term detailed plans.

When a very assertive leader feels the need for certainty he may put the hammer down and request these long-term detailed plans, causing a culture of comman-and-control and fear. This culture is counterproductive to the change he wishes to implement. No amount of beating that leader with the Agile stick will improve the organization, and worse, it can be at odds with the ‘way work gets done’ which can be more damaging. A new approach is needed – we need to adapt our Change strategy and this is what Lean Change Management is about!

Lean Change Management is not a panacea

Although the process I propose may not solve all the problems listed above, I do know that by adding tools to Change practitioners toolkits will help people create the right conditions that allow positive and meaningful change to evolve organically in organizations. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen great people in organizations understand when change was not possible and leave better places. I’ve seen people who violently oppose Agile change end up becoming the strongest supporters of it once they learn a different approach to working and managing their work.

The role of Lean Change Management

We need new approaches to tackle that high failure rate of Change initiatives that I mentioned at the start of this article. I present those ideas in this book, drawing on concepts and experiences from Agile, Lean Startup and Neuroscience, and integrating multiple tools and models to help people navigate the murky waters of change. Lean Change Management whips up a delicious cocktail of methods that, when combined, create a powerful and more effective approach to managing change.

Lean Change Management whips up a delicious cocktail of methods that, when combined, create a powerful and more effective approach to managing change

A video introduction to Lean Change Management by Jason Little

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