Change management – different context, not a different discipline


Change management is a hot topic in many organizations. People are seeking workshops, books, and anything they can get their hands on to learn how to manage change. But, I think that we might be approaching this wrong. By treating change management as a unique discipline, we create more tools, models, and frameworks for leaders to have to juggle. Change management isn’t a separate discipline. It’s just another form of management.

One of a leader’s responsibilities is to help his or her people succeed. This involves understanding and clearing the barriers that are preventing their success. Leaders must ensure that their people have the ability, information, and motivation to perform. This is true whether they are managing day-to-day operations, change initiatives, or projects. The fundamentals are the same, the context is what changes.

This isn’t to say that change management tools are not helpful. Most of them address the key issues that are often overlooked when managing people in any context. However, leaders will be better positioned if they master a single set of tools and learn how to apply them in their different contexts.

For example, the Prosci organization has a simple yet powerful “change management” framework called the ADKAR model. ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.

But, why wouldn’t you use ADKAR for diagnosing and enabling operational performance problems? For example, if my call center operator isn’t able to do his job, it could be that:

He isn’t AWARE of the reasons for the specific process or scripts we ask him to follow

He doesn’t DESIRE to provide good service since it’s not rewarded

He doesn’t have the KNOWLEDGE of our processes our resources for fielding calls

He doesn’t have the ABILITY to resolve customer problems – he’s not a good problem solver

We aren’t REINFORCING by affirming his correct actions or remediating his incorrect actions

A model like ADKAR would be a helpful tool in any management context. Why limit it to just change?

I’m not arguing that we should all go out and adopt the ADKAR model (although it might not hurt). Rather, we should focus on the fundamental skills needed to enable employee performance regardless of whether it is in a change, project, or operational context. Choose a model for managing people and make that the model that you instill in your leaders.

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