Is there a ”Hard Side” to Change Management?

People tend to regard Change Management as ‘’the softer side’’ of Project Management. Hence, the delivery of Change Management is often challenging due to these misconceptions:

download2

Myth 1: Change Management is just the “soft touchy feely stuff”.

Reality: Change Management utilizes practices from various disciplines of psychology. However, Change Management also contributes to delivering solid bottom-line financial returns to the company.

Myth 2: If we focus on the hard (i.e., logical) side of the project and do a good job, we don’t need to worry about the soft (i.e., emotional) side.

Reality: The hard side can impact the way people do their work, what they are responsible for, and how they are compensated – none of which will be done until emotional acceptance and adjustments have occurred.  Many projects fail due to both natural and irrational reactions people exhibit when confronted with change

In view of these unflattering opinions, I was quite intrigued by an article in the Harvard Business Review.

download (1)

Written by partners and senior-level executives in Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the article was entitled ‘’The Hard Side of Change Management’’ and focused on the not-so-fashionable aspects of change management: the hard factors. They called these variables the ‘’DICE’’ factors.

I’ve reproduced part of the article below. It’s long, but worth the read:

When French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” he could have been penning an epigram about change management. For over three decades, academics, managers, and consultants, realizing that transforming organizations is difficult, have dissected the subject. They’ve sung the praises of leaders who communicate vision and walk the talk in order to make change efforts succeed. They’ve sanctified the importance of changing organizational culture and employees’ attitudes. They’ve teased out the tensions between top-down transformation efforts and participatory approaches to change. And they’ve exhorted companies to launch campaigns that appeal to people’s hearts and minds. Still, studies show that in most organizations, two out of three transformation initiatives fail. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

READ  Do You Know Why National Change Programs Fail?

Managing change is tough, but part of the problem is that there is little agreement on what factors most influence transformation initiatives. Ask five executives to name the one factor critical for the success of these programs, and you’ll probably get five different answers. That’s because each manager looks at an initiative from his or her viewpoint and, based on personal experience, focuses on different success factors. The experts, too, offer different perspectives. A recent search on Amazon.com for books on “change and management” turned up 6,153 titles, each with a distinct take on the topic. Those ideas have a lot to offer, but taken together, they force companies to tackle many priorities simultaneously, which spread resources and skills thin. Moreover, executives use different approaches in different parts of the organization, which compounds the turmoil that usually accompanies change.

In recent years, many change management gurus have focused on soft issues, such as culture, leadership, and motivation. Such elements are important for success, but managing these aspects alone isn’t sufficient to implement transformation projects. Soft factors don’t directly influence the outcomes of many change programs. For instance, visionary leadership is often vital for transformation projects, but not always. The same can be said about communication with employees. Moreover, it isn’t easy to change attitudes or relationships; they’re deeply ingrained in organizations and people. And although changes in, say, culture or motivation levels can be indirectly gauged through surveys and interviews, it’s tough to get reliable data on soft factors.

What’s missing, we believe, is a focus on the not-so-fashionable aspects of change management: the hard factors. These factors bear three distinct characteristics. First, companies are able to measure them in direct or indirect ways. Second, companies can easily communicate their importance, both within and outside organizations. Third, and perhaps most important, businesses are capable of influencing those elements quickly. Some of the hard factors that affect a transformation initiative are the time necessary to complete it, the number of people required to execute it, and the financial results that intended actions are expected to achieve. Our research shows that change projects fail to get off the ground when companies neglect the hard factors. That doesn’t mean that executives can ignore the soft elements; that would be a grave mistake. However, if companies don’t pay attention to the hard issues first, transformation programs will break down before the soft elements come into play.

READ  Myths and Realities of Change Management

That’s a lesson we learned when we identified the common denominators of change. In 1992, we started with the contrarian hypothesis that organizations handle transformations in remarkably similar ways. We researched projects in a number of industries and countries to identify those common elements. Our initial 225-company study revealed a consistent correlation between the outcomes (success or failure) of change programs and four hard factors: project duration, particularly the time between project reviews; performance integrity, or the capabilities of project teams; the commitment of both senior executives and the staff whom the change will affect the most; and the additional effort that employees must make to cope with the change. We called these variables the DICE factors because we could load them in favor of projects’ success.

download (2)

We completed our study in 1994, and in the 11 years since then, the Boston Consulting Group has used those four factors to predict the outcomes, and guide the execution, of more than 1,000 change management initiatives worldwide. Not only has the correlation held, but no other factors (or combination of factors) have predicted outcomes as well.

The Four Key Factors

If you think about it, the different ways in which organizations combine the four factors create a continuum—from projects that are set up to succeed to those that are set up to fail. At one extreme, a short project led by a skilled, motivated, and cohesive team, championed by top management and implemented in a department that is receptive to the change and has to put in very little additional effort, is bound to succeed. At the other extreme, a long, drawn-out project executed by an inexpert, unenthusiastic, and disjointed team, without any top-level sponsors and targeted at a function that dislikes the change and has to do a lot of extra work, will fail. Businesses can easily identify change programs at either end of the spectrum, but most initiatives occupy the middle ground where the likelihood of success or failure is difficult to assess. Executives must study the four DICE factors carefully to figure out if their change programs will fly—or die.

READ  Benefits of Change Management

Duration.

Companies make the mistake of worrying mostly about the time it will take to implement change programs. They assume that the longer an initiative carries on, the more likely it is to fail—the early impetus will peter out, windows of opportunity will close, objectives will be forgotten, key supporters will leave or lose their enthusiasm, and problems will accumulate. However, contrary to popular perception, our studies show that a long project that is reviewed frequently is more likely to succeed than a short project that isn’t reviewed frequently. Thus, the time between reviews is more critical for success than a project’s life span.

To view the rest of the article, you need to register on the Harvard Business Review publishing site. You can register by following this link, though: http://hbr.org/ and join their network of nearly a million global business professionals.

Thinker. Writer. Consultant.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *