When I tell people about my job, I often get asked what exactly it is.
“Change management,” I say, “is helping organizations going through complex change. It includes acquisitions, mergers, new leadership, rebranding, etc. We help make their change efforts successful.” I generally get polite nods and an “oh, that’s interesting!” until I get to the punchline: “…because you know, the majority of change efforts fail, and it has nothing to do with preparation or resources. It’s almost always because of the people involved.” Cue vigorous nodding and exclamations of agreement, leading into a “my company could definitely use your help!.”
That’s the thing; everyone has an example of a frustrating coworker or micromanaging boss that prevented, or ruined, a major project or change effort. Nearly every previous job I’ve had suffered from the office disaster artist; someone who managed to precipitate failure in every project. But as we point out, these people aren’t inherently bad, or bad at their jobs. Generally speaking, most people have good intentions and are trying to do the best in their position and for their organization. So why do they fail?
As it turns out, individuals who play a role in project failure often suffer from misaligned expectations or underestimated complexity. Meaning, they thought the process/outcome would be different from what others envisioned, or they didn’t realize exactly how much work the project involved. Additionally, we find that many people suffer from lack of trust; they don’t trust that others will actually do what they say, or that a project is actually fated for success. This leads to a whole host of bad work habits, including micromanaging, inability to delegate, poor communication, and toxic relationships.
So who needs change management anyway? As it turns out, lots of organizations. It’s not for lack of experience or know-how; sometimes, an outside perspective is just needed to identify trouble spots and give expert advice on how to avoid or minimize their effects. Change experts are a combination of business consultant and social scientist, working to help big projects reach completion with the ease of a well-oiled machine.
While we wish change was as easy as having enough resources and the most talented people on board, we know that that is not the case. What’s really at the root of successful change are compelling team players (leaders or otherwise) who have high emotional intelligence, effective communication skills, and a clear vision of the process and resources needed. And those skills are not always inherent; but the good news is they can be learned.