Sometimes Change Management Just Isn’t Enough.


iStock_000002098320XSmallSometimes when I post a blog I hear from people who wonder why I am addressing a particular topic. They’ll say that it’s interesting, or that they’d never really thought about it before. Then, in one way or another, they will note that what I have written “isn’t really change management.” And, they are right. The truth is that as a change mentor, it is change, not change management, that is at the core of what I do, and at the soul of my blog. Both change management and its much younger but more powerful sibling strategy execution guide my work.

I began in the early days of change management. Back then, I knew that I was excited by supporting the successful execution of change.

One of the first “big changes” I was involved in was the implementation of MBO (Management By Objectives) in the Department of Residential Life at Syracuse University. I was a residence hall director, and had been hired to establish a living learning center. The idea of concrete, measurable objectives was not foreign to me. (I was fresh out of serving four years as a Basic Military Training Instructor–“drill sergeant”–in the Air Force. But, for many of my peers it required a totally different mindset about what was expected of them. We got through it, and life settled down again.

That’s how it was back then. There were periodic big changes..but then there was time to settle into the new whatever, and be free of disruptive change for a while.

This “history” is important, because this was the same time as the nascent field of change management was emerging. Daryl Conner, my mentor, began his work in 1974. William Bridges (“Managing Transitions”) started at the same time. Other early pioneers in the field began to make  this the focus of their work within a few years one way or another.

Over time, other management trends took hold (or didn’t). Theory Z; Management by Wandering Around; Matrix Management; TQM (Total Quality Management); BPR (Business Process Re-engineering); Empowerment; 360-degree feedback; Six Sigma… these were some of the “what’s changing” that provided the organizational laboratories for observing the underlying patterns of the human response to change.

For me, it was more than a decade after my MBO experience that I met Daryl. By then I had moved on to re-launch a moribund annual giving program; to successfully implement a major university’s first travel policy during the period of airline deregulation; and to redesign core processes for a university engaged in refocusing its mission. I had supported more than one college/university merger, and the recommendation that another merger not take place based on desired vs. probable outcome.

While there was more than good intuition and occasional good luck at work with these change projects, until 1988 it was not clear to me that there was a science to this thing called change.

There is. The science of change management has taken root, grown, and matured in the last four-plus decades. (As discussed in an earlier post, more advanced practitioners have learned that there is also an art to this work.) There are professional associations. The Association of Change Management Professionals had its inaugural conference in 2011. The Project Management Institute (PMI), long recognized as the leading authority on project management, has begun to develop its own change management protocol. And, more and more, larger organizations are developing internal change management practices, either licensing a change management methodology or developing one of their own.

Jump forward to 2015. Some of the changes we face are of the MBO, Six Sigma, Managing by Wandering Around variety. But, more and more, the changes we face (whether in our organizations or in our personal lives) are significantly more challenging. There are no clear answers, or many clear answers. They are going to significantly disrupt a substantial number of lives; shift the politics of power and interaction; and bring us face to face with highly difficult and totally unfamiliar challenges.

We (personally, organizationally, or in combination) may be facing more than one such change at a time. At the same time, less disruptive changes keep coming. We’ve stopped predicting that “the next big thing” will lead to a slowdown, an easier life; we now know that “the next big thing” leads to “the next even bigger thing.”

All of which leads me back to the title of this post, “Sometimes Change Management Just Isn’t Enough.” We need every bit of knowledge that we have about change management today. And, we need to continue to deepen that knowledge. it is all essential to not just survive, but to thrive, in today’s turbulent change environment. But in most organizations in most industries, change management, while necessary, isn’t sufficient.

Over the last decade, the next generation approach to change has begun to emerge. While rooted in the same understanding of human behavior during change that is the foundation for change management, strategy execution goes both deeper and more broad than change management. It is intended to support the success of the most difficult, most disruptive changes. (For more on this, see the post “Don’t Ask How Big the Change Is…”)

You need more than a sound strategy to succeed; you need sound execution. Sometimes change management is enough to get you there…but sometimes it is not.

Whether your change is personal or organizational, make sure that you are approaching it from the necessary perspective. Tailor your approach to the change. You don’t need strategy execution, or even a very sophisticated approach to change management, for every change you face.But sometimes it requires more than even a very sophisticated change management methodology. Sometimes you need strategy execution.

What changes have you faced that have been more difficult that your approach to change management could address?


2 thoughts on “Sometimes Change Management Just Isn’t Enough.

  1. Daryl Conner

    You are are providing a very important contribution when you offer the historic perspective you do here. Even those who have been in the field for a while (and certainly those who are new) often lack a basic understanding of the origins of our profession.

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone


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