Bare Bones Change Management

Bare Bones Change Management by Bob Lewis is pretty much what it says it is: The basics of change management. But it is not something to just toss off to the side. Bob Lewis describes a lot of good, basic information about change management.  And he provides plenty of snarky asides and anecdotes that liven up the writing.  

The underlying premise of Lewis’ discussion in the book is around the old yarn that people (employees) resist change because they are stupid / dumb / uninformed / don’t understand. His claim, employees resist change because they’re smart. He clarifies that in further discussion that people resist change they expect to be unpleasant - and past experience gives them full justification to be worried. He also mentions another element to this: that the executive ranks are where resistance is often the strongest - where the risk is felt the strongest.

Why is change “hard?”  “Most of the important changes businesses undertake mean choosing to experience some pain now so as to avoid more significant pain at some indeterminate time in the future.” Lewis even suggests that a well-run change effort can outstrip “continuous improvement” in the long run.  I’m not sure I buy that, but I get the idea.  Any change worth doing should create a step change in a measurable business outcome.

The primary content of the book is Lewis’ basic framework for managing a change effort, which covers fairly familiar and mechanical territory: stakeholder analysis, involvement plan, metrics plan, structure plan, training plan, culture change plan, and communication plan. It’s really the material about the material that drew me into the book. Lewis has great comments along the lines that these things should simply be checklists on the way to closing the change effort - they are part of an ongoing process of creating change in the organization.  He also acknowledges that there are some topics (culture!) that he can only treat briefly, which suggests to me that this bare bones guide is to get you pointed in the right direction.  If you are new to change management, this probably isn’t the only resource you should use.

Some outtakes I highlighted for future reference:

  • Stakeholder analysis. You need to know who are the influencers and why the change is good for them.  “ROI is the ante that gets you into the game. Personal benefit is what gives you a winning hand.”
  • Stakeholder analysis. There will be supporters, acceptors (will go either way), and resisters (rational and irrational) of a change. The acceptors will follow the leader - it is the job of the change to ensure leaders lean towards support more than resistance.
  • Structure plan. “Most unanticipated consequences are anticipatable.” They are evidence of a failure to think things through.
  • Structure plan. “The only change that’s of any value in an organization is a change to how work is done - that should be self-evident, because if the way work is done doesn’t change, nothing about the organization’s products and services will change.”  
  • Training plan. “Show employees how to do their jobs, not how to use the tools.” This is a dangerous reality in many change efforts. They are all about the tools, rather than talking about the new way of working that happens to be supported by the tools.  What happens if the tools break, people still need to know how to do their work.
  • Culture plan. “Culture is the learned behavior employees exhibit in response to their environment.” I like the culture-as-behavior definition. It helps me think through the idea of What Good Looks Like - what actions I want to see on the ground.
  • Culture plan. “Tool-enabled cultures change doesn’t succeed because you add something to the job description.” People adopt the tools because they perceive a personal benefit in their use. See the above comment about training: what is the job people are expected to do? 
  • Culture plan. “The performers are the ones who have to figure out workaround for whatever the process designers miss.”  No change is going to be perfect. There has to be mechanisms to make it easy to bring these into the open to see if the change can be improved as a result.  
  • Communication plan. “Information is the stuff that results in an accurate reduction in uncertainty.” In the context of change-related communication, the “information” in the communication clarifies what is going on more than it scares or confuses them.
  • Communication plan. “Whatever you are trying to explain, you know way too much about it, and you’re going to be tempted to explain everything you know.” Don’t.
  • Communication plan. “In the context of business change you have to persuade stakeholders on only three subjects: The problem, the solution, and the plan.” - That should sound familiar to my Theory of Constraints friends. And most people who explore these topics.

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