The Myth of the Perfect Change Model


Adopting a standardized approach to change management is an important step that organizations take as they build change capability.

But… how to choose the right approach? It sometimes feels like every change manager and their pet dog has their own particular recipe for their unique change management approach!

Here’s why it is important that change models are taken in context, particularly in today’s varied application of Change Management deliverables:

Making new decisions based on old studies

The reality is that a lot of change models were originally based on academic studies written around specific case studies and are now being incorrectly applied to broader examples.

Post-War: Lewin and the Freezer

Kurt Lewin’s model of change was created in the immediate postwar era in 1947. It suggests organizational change is essentially “unfreeze”, “change”, “refreeze”. Like a jelly mould.

Good Grief: Kubler Ross

The late 1960’s saw the Kubler Ross Grief curve created, a model originally created to explain how individuals process grief.

The Kubler Ross change curve is an adaptation of this model and can be a powerful tool when transitioning stakeholders from something they love to something they’re not so keen on. Like transitioning 3,000 users from Outlook to Gmail. You need to acknowledge people generally liked what they had before and are not happy with the way forward.

While the skillful change manager will find the Kubler-Ross studies insightful and will support them in working with stakeholders to guide them through a transition, the Kubler-Ross model is designed to help an individual navigate through five stages of grief and has no place in many Change PowerPoints.

1970s: Enter the Consultants

McKinsey’s 7-step model for organizational strategy, still vaunted by MBAs worldwide was developed in the 1970s, over 45 years ago. It was based on research into ‘excellence’ in organizations and the common patterns and factors that contribute to organizational success. Patterns from the 1970s and 1980s!

1990s: John Kotter and his Penguins

We’re also still held hostage to remnants of 1990s ideas. The idea that 70% of all change initiatives fail is likely a remnant of work by John Kotter. These days it’s unlikely you’d be re-hired if you only had a 30% success rate in your change delivery!

Frankly, here at ChangePlan, we wonder about the wisdom of using yesterday’s models to run today’s organizations. When many of these models were created, there was no internet, no social media, working from home, Microsoft Teams, or SharePoint site links. Are they still relevant today?

Choose a Proprietary Methodology or Make Your Own?

Thankfully, most organizations do not embrace older models of change. Change management offices and centers of excellence typically follow one of two paths:

1: Adopt a proprietary, off-the-shelf change management methodology

Ostensibly these methodologies are based on years of research of best practices across many organizations. They also offer practitioners the credibility of known certification.

The downside of proprietary methodologies are the costs (licensing, training, and support) a lack of flexibility, and the risk of tying the organization’s change approach to a commercial organization with a ‘blade and razor’ type business model, whose broad offerings may not be 100% fit for purpose.

2: Create their own change management approach to suit their organization.

Change practitioners invariably have encountered numerous approaches during their careers. Change leads and senior change managers are often eager to create a simplified change management approach for their organization.

Having the flexibility to tailor the model for the organization, along with the increased sense of ownership of the process is a major advantage of this approach.

Our digital platform ChangePlan supports all approaches and methodologies since it is configurable to suit the needs of each organization. We’re seeing about a 35/65 split between organizations adopting a proprietary model and organizations that have developed their own approach.

Audiences are more change familiar

These days team members across organizations deal with change every day. They navigate new user interfaces, deal with disrupted public transport routes, and don’t panic if the fridges in the supermarket move from aisle two to aisle seven.

So… should we throw out all outdated change models?

Our trusted Change advisors say no; they’re still valid and valuable. They tell us when designing their change strategies they have all the well-known change models to hand and refer to them to ensure they consider the change from many perspectives.

Most change projects are episodic rather than organizational. A system upgrade, building move, and regulatory mandate are time-boxed with clear objectives and success measures. With each one being different, each one will require a unique approach. When deciding the best approach, it’s helpful to refer to all the change models and extract what applies.

Organizations worldwide recognize that regardless of methodology, having a true single view of change – like our digital platform ChangePlan creates – is an enormous success vector.

Click here to book your demonstration of ChangePlan now.

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