Seven has always been my lucky number, and by all stretch of the imagination it continues to remain so as my seventh in the series of conversations with a change management executive finds us at the table with our Managing Consultant, Ruchira Chatterjee. With over 30 years’ experience transforming organizations, not only has she mastered portfolio, program and project management, Ruchira epitomizes the true management consultant: give her a problem and, in nearly any environment she will solve it. As an effective change leader, Ruchira’s value stems from an inherent ability to maintain her team’s focus in a maelstrom and shepherd very large, complex, operational and technological initiatives from strategy through to execution.
PGG: Ruchira, there’s little doubt that many people have varied ideas about where a Change Management project belongs in their company. Some companies are attaching it to the Human Resources department as it is viewed as a “People” initiative, while others have clearly indicated it belongs with the Operations department as they feel it’s really about “Processes”. In your own experience, Ruchira, who is right and could you elaborate as to why?
RC: That’s an interesting question, Peter. Many will argue that HR is a natural home for change management in an organization as at the end of the day, both functions focus on people either as individuals or as homogeneous groups. The proponents of ‘HR is the right home for change management’ are further supported by the fact that many HR professionals have found an affinity and home with change management and have made a career choice to move there.
Opponents of that school of thought will say HR is not the right home as HR is transactional while OCM is transformational. I don’t think it’s that black or white but rather shades of gray. However, I do lean towards Operations being the right home for Change Management. Here are the reasons why:
We have all read the pundits espouse that pace and complexity of Change will only increase. After all, ‘the only constant is change’. In today’s world, it’s pretty widely accepted that how well people adopt and adapt to change is a critical factor between success and failure of organizational strategy.
So I believe OCM is a strategic driver not a support function as HR may be tagged. If Change Management is a strategic driver, it needs to be at the beating heart of an organization i.e. Operations. Change Management needs to play a big part in determining an organization’s initiative portfolio, mitigating business risks through consideration of change fatigue, saturation, organizational resilience, change capacity and capability. Therefore, OCM must be considered at the start when strategies are being formulated and at the end when benefits are being realized as well as everywhere in between.
Having said that, as long as an organization recognizes the importance and takes action to incorporate change management into their business environment, it is not earth shattering as to where it starts – as organizations mature in their OCM capability. I believe it will ultimately find a way to the right home!
Sorry for the very long-winded response.
PGG: Not at all Ruchira, on the contrary, I’m pleased to hear you cover off your thoughts and insight in this manner. There are no shortcuts to quality.
We’ve heard from a number of your colleagues over the past weeks about the need for clear, concise communication when operating a Change initiative. It’s evident that most people strive for that as a business as usual effort in any organization, but why is the criticality stepped up when it’s attached to a Change Management initiative and is there a way to ensure that it will take place?
RC: Couldn’t agree with you more. A universal truth is that effective communication is critical under any mode – as one of my previously featured colleagues says, ‘run and manage’ or ‘build and fix’ – we need superior communication. Case in point, doesn’t every job requirement ask for excellent verbal and written communication skills?
There are two parts to your question: a) is communication more important in times of change and b) how do we make sure the appropriate focus attention is there? The criticality of communication is heightened when change happens. Primarily because change in any form can trigger a number of emotional responses. We go through an emotional journey and any communication needs to be sensitive to this.
We practitioners talk in terms of individually and sometimes organizationally travelling through the ‘change curve’ or the ‘human response to change’ based on the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Her model refers to 7 stages we go through when faced with change; shock, denial, anger/blame, bargaining and self-blame, depression and confusion, and finally acceptance and problem solving. One of the most effective ways to help move us through these phases is the right kind of communication to the right people, at the right time, with the right messages and right engagement strategies.
How can we make sure that we communicate effectively to ensure we are helping organizations and individuals make the change journey successfully?
- by educating as many people as we can on why this is important
- by building a comprehensive strategy taking the needs of our audiences to heart, understanding cultural considerations, applying best practices
- by developing a right fit communications and engagement plan based on this strategy
- by ensuring we are resourced appropriately to do a great job
- by wrapping accountability, decision-making and governance around the communication effort so that it cannot fall through the cracks
PGG: Thanks for that Ruchira. I’m positive the phases you mentioned in your answer are recognized by many of our readers in their everyday lives.
There are some very sensitive elements about starting a Change initiative in what might be considered a mature organization that has an immature understanding of how to manage the effort. I’ve personally witnessed a scenario where the senior executive believed that we simply remove the old ways, install the new and that the changes will automatically be adopted. What are some of the things that come to mind as I describe this picture, and do you have any recommendations that could help move an executive off this platform onto something much more progressive?
RC: When you say ‘much more progressive’ you are, of course, referring to an environment where the value of Change Management is accepted, perhaps even revered?
Wouldn’t that be perfect! Even though significant progress has been made in acceptance of the value of Change Management, unfortunately many executives fall into the scenario you have described. We hear Change Management regularly being referred to as ‘fluff’ and a level of widespread skepticism targeting a bunch of ‘do gooders’ slowing things down and costing a pretty penny!
I think some of this is our (those of us that are passionate about OCM) own doing. We believe deeply in the value of focusing on the people side of change, but demonstrating concrete business value resulting from these efforts is still not a slam dunk. Good work is being done in this arena and once we can tie qualitative and quantitative benefits of undertaking investments in OCM, or more importantly the risks and dangers of not investing in OCM, it will become easier to move executives on to the ‘pro Change Management’ platform
In the meanwhile, challenging some of the implicit assumptions that lead to the oversimplification of the effort required to get people functioning optimally (if we build it they will come!) and questioning whether the risks involved in ignoring people’s ability to transition to the ‘new normal’ is the best course of action, will help with some executives making the move albeit grudgingly!
PGG: Thanks Ruchira, I know that was a tough question, but one that I was really interested in hearing your thoughts on. One very obvious factor about the world that we all live and work in today is that it’s highly volatile and forever transforming in both operative style and through technology enablement. People are constantly having to change something in order to compete and in some cases, exist in business. Never has the need for preparedness to tackle change been so prominent. There are many leaders who have never required the kind of help that experts like yourself offer. Some, I know, feel it’s a weakness to admit that they even need such help. What would you say to someone who is struggling with this feeling, and what can they expect when they work with you?
RC: We see this struggle on a regular basis in our work. Leaders philosophically may buy in to the importance of Change Management but don’t know what to do about it. When project management came on the scene, we faced similar reluctance to buy in to it just because it was ‘new and unknown’. Now, anywhere in the world, we would not embark on any project without applying the discipline of project management. The practice area of OCM is relatively new, has really jelled in the last 20–25 years but before that it was hit and miss, driven by the heroics, ability and influence of forward-thinking individuals in organizations.
We have made significant inroads in building awareness. Early adopters and thought leaders have brought OCM to where it is today; a powerful combination of both a science (e.g. the theories of related neuroscience) and an art (e.g. contextual application of EQ). OCM, however, is uncomfortably complex. An executive would not think twice about hiring an expert on logistics or a particular technology. The issue is that some executives think Change Management does not need specialized expertise, after all it’s about people, communication and training and any good manager should be able to handle that if they get some training help! They think this could and should be done under ‘general’ management expertise. They are unwilling to admit; a) that it requires specific expertise and b) that this expertise is something they need to invest in.
Getting enterprise change initiatives right can be extremely challenging: 60% of large, structural changes end in failure and consequent losses in revenue, productivity, and competitiveness.
Employees feel the stress of change initiatives directly, and change-stressed employees perform 5% worse than the average employee.
This problem has never been so challenging:
70% of firms say these changes are more complex than they’ve ever been
60% of managers say they don’t have the right experience to guide them
I, and many others like me at Watershed CI, are in a unique position to empathize with and help these leaders. The first 20+ years of my career I was on the other side of the desk, I lived in their shoes and had similar doubts and fears. Because of this specific experience, if they work with someone like me who speaks their language, understands and relates to their challenges and increases their confidence level, they are much better served. We build their self-awareness of what they know and do best, and how this can be applied to the Change Management effort, as well where the gaps are and how our expertise can right fit a solution solely for them.
It all starts with an authentic conversation.
PGG: And on that note, I want to thank you, Ruchira, for a very authentic conversation shared with our readers. I’m sure that many have a new understanding of Change Management and what to expect when we are faced with such events in our lives and businesses.