The usual suspects in change management models plot a familiar curve when describing the impact of change on individuals, teams or enterprises as a whole. When a change is implemented, at first there is a “dip”; in knowledge, in competence, in confidence, in emotional state, in cooperation, in performance. Organisations and their people go through a decline before moving on to realise the desired benefits of the changes they are implementing.
Traditional change management approaches fail to prevent “Productivity Dip”
Traditional Organisational Change Management has grown as a discipline putting in place communications and planning practices to fight the battle against this ‘Productivity dip’. The recurring theme is that this productivity dip occurs at its worst when change is not managed well. The traditional change management discipline seeks to address this issue but the approach is hampered by being inherently linear in nature, having grown up supporting traditional linear program management practices.
Despite planning a solid schedule of upfront vision setting, regular communications and training programs, linear change management practices are fighting an uphill battle against the dip as they have no room to listen and learn from their stakeholders. The type of change activities commonly locked in up front are predominantly one-directional ‘push’ activities. There may be activities that ‘tick’ the feedback box in a schedule, but the reality is that when you lift the lid on those activities, they are not supported by mechanisms that allow change programs to easily learn and adapt to the moving target of customer needs. Cumbersome change control and approval processes reduce the likelihood that learnings will be taken on board, such that only ‘squeaky wheels’ impact program direction.
Agile change management takes on the “Change Curve”
The more complex an organisation’s change portfolio is, the more the traditional linear approach to change management isn’t going to cut it. As contemporary organisations focus more on enterprise level business agility, opportunities arise for the change management discipline to move away from the fixed time, cost and scope criteria of linear change management, towards an agile organisational change management strategy underpinned by continuous engagement, regular feedback loops and the ability to pivot in response to feedback and changes to market conditions.
Agile change management returns the customer to centre stage. In the context of agile product management rolling out smaller changes more often, agile change management activities can start to genuinely deliver their change management outcomes as intended to decrease the depth and duration of the dip. The change curves modelled for individuals, teams and organisations remain relevant, but each step will be small, anticipated, and normalised.
With smaller iterations the perception of a burden of change is lessened, and supporting activities can be rapidly adapted in each successive iteration. Agile Change Management approaches ensure that business readiness is part of each iteration rather than something that is done later downstream. This means that the productivity dip of the traditional change curve becomes downsized into insignificance in a sustainable ongoing improvement journey founded on the small incremental iterations of evidence based inspection and adaptation.
Reframing outcomes and impacts for “Value Delivery”
The terminology of ‘productivity dip’ or even ‘performance dip’ comes with connotations of activity based measures. ‘Activity and output’ metrics are another legacy of traditional management practices linking success to progress against fixed up front criteria. These associations have a way of anchoring the change process into a linear predefined ‘push’ of information.
By re-framing ‘productivity’ as ‘value delivery’, the outcome and impact on people is brought back into focus in the change portfolio. If decreasing the depth and duration of the ‘value delivery dip’ is the goal of a change management, then change management success becomes associated with enabling the people impacted by change programs, be they internal employees or external customers, to achieve the outcomes they are looking to achieve.
The importance of building a change program that welcomes changing requirements guided by leading indicators of stakeholder satisfaction, is highlighted. In contrast, consider the likelihood that a linear change program will sufficiently comprehend the needs of its stakeholders to successfully predefine all change activities required up front? The very actions of up front planning and determining a predefined solution without incremental feedback loops, under the guise that this reduces risk, actually exacerbates conditions associated with increasing the depth and width of the ‘value delivery’ dip.
Terminology matters - say goodbye to ‘resistance’ and ‘fatigue’
In the battle against the dip, change is called out as the enemy, and traditional change methodologies are rife with terminology and labels with negative connotations that are used to prepare the defence ahead of the outcome. “Change Resistors” and “Change Fatigue” are strongly established as the villains in the change management story. Rather, the behaviours that traditional methodologies are so quick to label negatively are actually normal human behaviours for individuals, teams and organisations approaching unfamiliar situations.
Avoid labelling stakeholders as ‘resisting change’ to avoid anchoring perceptions and limiting change opportunities. Address the normal human response to change by pivoting your organisation’s approach to change and support your stakeholders and customers through smaller iterations. Embed an enterprise wide agile change management strategy that replaces change fatigue with a culture of sustainable change.
- Cameron, E., & Green, M. (2009). Making sense of change management: A complete guide to the models, tools & techniques of organizational change (2nd ed.). London ; Philadelphia: Kogan Page.