Why change management is failing and what can be done to improve your change management success?

Change management is the discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes (https://www.prosci.com/resources/articles/what-is-change-management).  For 20 years, the minimum failure rate of change management projects is 70%! Change management is one of the classical examples for a complex problem that people try to (unsuccessfully) resolve with problem-solving methods, created to deal with simple problems.

Most of the current management practices are still based (implicitly or explicitly) on the concept of separation between thinkers and doers (also known as Taylorism or Scientific Management) and seeing the organization as a machine that needs and can be optimized all the time. 

In the core of those concepts that is a continuous effort of the few (managers) to redesign the organization and improve companies current conditions. The outcomes of these efforts are changes in organization structure, policies, and processes. Because few designed the solution and the majority need to implement it, change management is the practice of preparing individuals for the new change.

Every organizational change impacts at least one group. It creates changes to the underlying network of interlinks between the group members. As long as the change is not embraced by the underlying network, it will reject it. As the group is bigger, there are more people, more diversity, and more interlinks. Complexity is the unpredictability phenomenon that yields from autonomous, diverse and connected elements in the system. 

Companies are not closed systems, therefore, even a change in one group has impacts on other groups that interact with the changed group. This increases the complexity of each change. When the change impacts externals (customers, suppliers) the level of complexity is even higher, as there are more autonomous parts.

Most management does not understand the impact of complexity on changes. They believe that people will follow their new ideas. They believe that they can influence and change complex systems. The results of the last 20 years’ attempts prove those concepts to be wrong.

The next question is why in the last twenty years management didn’t resolve the problem and change the percentage of failures. The answer, in a nutshell, is the problem-solving methods we are using to resolve a problem. 

Management is still heavily based on pre-quantum-physics science. There is still a belief that we can influence and predict the future of organizations if we know enough about the past (determinism). Break a problem into smaller parts to resolve a complex problem (reductionism) is still considered best practice. 

Reductionism is an analysis and the most common problem-solving method. The problem with analysis is that it breaks elements in the system into smaller elements. It focuses on people and groups. It’s a focus on people and groups, but it’s ignoring the interlinks and the complexity they create. It’s ignoring a complete sub-system that sometimes generates all the defects in companies. It’s not that people don’t have problems, they do. But many problems are not related to people at all.

Another problem of analysis is that by breaking a problem into smaller parts, we increase the complexity of the domain we are trying to resolve. When we see more complexity, we try to simplify the problem and break it into smaller pieces. That behavior creates reinforcing loops that increase complexity.

The way to flip the percentage of change management success is simple, but hard for management to accept and implement. If any changes in organizations result from an evolutionary process that includes most of the people, instead of a revolution that includes few; the entire need for change management is irrelevant. You can see an evolution of change in times of crisis. People will make changes and adjust with no change management.

Since we know that very few will use the above approach, we provide a different alternative. A framework that enables the depiction of interactions, impacts, and flows between people and groups that will be impacted by a proposed change. Such a framework can help in two ways. It can help to understand the impact of the change and to identify the level of the impact and the level of change management effort needed to prepare people for the change.

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