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What, Really, is Change Management?

In the mid 1980's the emerging management practice was Quality Circles -- where teams were empowered to improve their work. In graduate school I interned for the QC program at Martin Marietta.

After decades of factory worker complaints that management did not listen, Martin Marietta created a QC program. Yet, surprisingly, the new program encountered tremendous resistance. Workers told us that they did not want to be accountable for quality improvements -- that was a manager duty. Why the sudden reversal? Because employees saw their work environment changing without their consent and they reacted against the change.

Principle No. 2: Management Must Give Sufficient Support

It takes a certain amount of energy to send a rocket into orbit. Once in orbit, the rocket continues on forever. But if the rocket cannot escape the atmosphere, it falls back to earth and produces no value. With rockets, there is no such thing as a good try -- it either breaks the atmosphere or falls to earth. There is no other outcome.

The same is true with the energy needed to create behavior change. Changing behavior for teams or organizations requires very large amounts of sustained energy through strong project management and simple and clear communication through determined leaders. Without sufficient energy and leadership backbone, good ideas will not become new behaviors.

Principle No. 3: Align the Environment to the Change

Often, new initiatives are designed by consultants who present to senior teams. As senior team members ask for more and more details, project documents become voluminous. These documents are cascaded down management levels in the hope that people who do the work will read and understand it and that work team members will change how they operate.

Successful organizations are not managed by hope.

In the best cases, workers are given training on the proposed changes. But training alone is rarely sufficient to change behavior. Making behavior change requires that:

1. Each individual knows precisely what is expected of him/her. Team members define how the team will operate and make reciprocal commitments -- "I agree to give you a weekly Friday update by e-mail if you ..."

2. HR systems are aligned to the new expectations. HR systems (e.g., pay, performance management, selection, and training) must be explicitly aligned to reinforce the change.

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