A Theory of Change and Strategy Implementation

Posted on May 25, 2014 in News -
Business improvement & Collaborative Change Strategy Implementation

In last week’s newsfeed, we proposed that a more sophisticated understanding of the strategy process was to separate strategy formulation from strategy implementation.  In order to provide some initial thoughts and theory in this regard, we would like to share the following with you.  

The following is an excerpt from a presentation recently developed by Stephen Rothgiesser, the Managing Director of CCG.  We would love to hear your thoughts, comments and feedback on how we might improve this piece of work:

 So what do we need to do in order to do change better?

CCG believes there are two things that we need to do better: We need to build more coherent and useful definition of change, and we need to build more practically useful models and methodologies for doing change and strategy implementation.

Let’s start off by looking at a better definition of change:

In this context it is important to bear in mind that the field that is generically referred to as Change Management is only about 50 years old.  It first emerged as an area of interest as the result of a book entitled Diffusion of Innovations, which was written by American sociologist Everett Rogers in 1962.  In this important work, (which is the second most cited social sciences book ever written), Everett explored the way in which human beings communicate and adopt new ideas, and he described the uptake behaviour of difference human personality profiles in the context of new technology.

As a result of this theoretical background, Change Management as a concept has unfortunately (in our view) been linked to two fields in particular: Information technology (IT), where change management is recognized as a set of tools to help and encourage employees to adopt new technology, through training and explanation and showing the advantage of new technology; and psychology, which has had a significant influence on Human Resource and Organizational Development practitioners who work in the field of change today.  In this latter context, professional practice is concerned about influencing the thoughts and feelings of employees, to help them deal with change that has taken place within their organization.

At CCG we believe that these definitions and theoretical positions of change are insufficient; in fact we do not use the phrase change management at all because we seek to break with this tradition to instead build more complex and useful approach to the field that we describe as Change Implementation. 

Based on professional practice, what we realised is that we needed a more complex, integrated and extended theoretical model of change to adequately capture events as they unfold prior to, during, and after a change moment.  As a result, Change Implementation refers to change as the entire process of events and planning that take place before a change moment, the process of transition that transpires between the AS IS status quo and the TO BE state that we strive towards, and which occurs at the closing off of the transition state.  Change Implementation also refers to the strategy implementation processes that unfold post project closure, which include activities to measure return on investment, to measure success levels and project outcomes, to tie up loose ends, and to identify ongoing project activities that are required to ensure sustainability of the change process and to manage potential risk going forward.

We define a change moment as any moment in time that a new strategy is introduced into an organization (or human system).  That strategy might seek to restructure the organization, to change the culture of the organization, to develop and deliver a new product out of a division or cluster of that organization, to change the structure of functional areas within that organisation, or it might relate to the implementation of new systems of governance or operational protocols.

The point here is that once the decision is taken to do something different or new and this is then announced or actioned in some way within the organisation, this action gives rise to a change moment for the simple reason that what we are seeking to do in the future is something different from the past.

Change is also a process that involves a number of interrelated and interlocking pieces, which is comprised of a number of factors in addition to human beings, and it is for this very reason that that traditional definition and approach to change as that which emerged from the work of Rogers is insufficient in our view.

What we would rather propose as a more sophisticated model that properly describes the scope of change in any organization, is that there are four interlocking areas that make organisations work and that we need to ensure speak to one another in a coherent and useful way in the context of change: These areas are

  1. People who are either contractors or employees who are dispersed across an organizational matrix;
  2. Hard systems that those employees use and engage with to do their work (these are computers and other tangible assets);
  3. Systems of governance, the rules, systems and processes that employees need to adhere to in order to act within accepted professional norms and standards within the organization;
  4. Operational systems and processes which inform the way in which pieces of work are tasked, completed and referred on to ensure organizational efficiency and profit.

So what we put to you today is that the introduction of new strategy into an organization gives rise to a change moment (because we are wanting to change a future state in some way), which in turn gives rise to complexity and risk because of the interplay of these four different areas in an organisation that might be impinged upon and affected during the transition state of a change process.

It is this complexity that we are concerned with identifying and engaging with.  As a result, Change Implementation can most appropriately be described as an activity which seeks to identify what is complex about introducing strategy into an organization and the inherent risk that this set of activities gives rise to.

In response to this, the change tools and methodologies that we have developed (and continue to develop) seek to provide an integrated approach to project planning; identification, mitigation and management of project risk; project management; engagement with human actors as and when required in order to support adoption of new behaviours and practices; and to deliver new strategy into the organization in a coherent and effective manner.

This is the new field of Change and Strategy Implementation. 

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The Change Review: McKinsey Interview

Posted on May 15, 2014 in News -
The Change Consulting Group, Change Consulting Firms

A key purpose of this newsfeed is to stimulate discussion and debate around some of the challenges associated with change and strategy implementation.  Part of this process is about sharing our experiences and areas of concern with our listeners, and part of this is about commenting on the work currently being done by our colleagues.  Some of this engagement might be critical of that work; this should be seen solely in the light of professional dialogue and debate.

Disagreement should be welcome in an emergent profession such as ours, particularly as we tussle with often enormously complex areas of practice with respect to change and strategy implementation.

The reason we felt it necessary to include the disclaimer above is that we wish to make reference in this newsfeed to articles written by colleagues at various consulting practices around the world, to engage with their ideas and experience and to offer our professional opinion and thoughts in this regard.  At all times we wish to be constructive and in the spirit and interest of adding value to the change and strategy consulting professions.  Of course, we encourage responses to our thoughts and welcome your comments in the space provided below this item.

With that out of the way, this week we would like to comment on what we feel is an important video interview put up in October 2013 by two strategy consultants, Chris Bradley and Angus Dawson, out of the Sydney office of McKinsey & Company (You can see the full interview here).

We feel this interview is extremely important in the context of change and strategy implementation because of two key points made by Mr Bradley and Mr Dawson:

1. Strategy is still a relatively young discipline, emerging from the new field of management studies in the 1960’s, supported by the strategy greats like Peter Drucker in the 1950’s, and more recently, Michael Porter, Gary Hamel, Henry Mintzberg and Tom Peters.  Any yet, if you speak to strategy consultants worth their salt (and McKinsey consultants are certainly at the top of the pile in this regard and we have enormous respect for that firm), they will admit that we continue to learn.  

In fact it is probably true to say that strategy consultants are currently scrambling to really understand and respond to the enormous pace and scope of change that globalisation has foisted on us (and the additional complexity that social media, big data and the financial crisis has thrown into this complex mix).  The impact of these events on the field of consulting are not our purview in this article; our key concern is the fact that these men are brave enough to admit that we are still learning and we feel that this is extremely important for consultants to acknowledge if we are to do our work better (and the statistics as we describe elsewhere on this site are not in our favour).

2. The most important point that the interview conveys, however, (and we can’t stress enough how fundamental this point is), is made by Chris Bradley when he first starts speaking.  He says: “Another layer (of strategy formulation) is bringing psychology and adult learning into strategy and realising that strategy’s not just about what’s written on the paper but about the thinking and feeling processes of the leaders of the company.”  This is a hugely important statement, especially from a firm of strategy consultants of McKinsey’s stature:  It is a recognition that strategy does not happen unless it is understood, bought into and actualised by an often diverse (and often conflicted) group of human beings, usually spread over a wide organisational array, with an enormously complex set of people, process, systems and governance structures in place that often get in the way of the smooth implementation of this strategy.

Strategy formulation, and certainly strategy implementation, is therefore a process of engaging and deploying human beings in such a way that they understand their own motivation for action, as well as the areas of resistance or upset that they might experience from time in time in various parts of their organisation.  As a result, it takes not just smarts to build a strategy, but an enormously complex psychological toolkit in order to execute it.  And from our perspective at CCG, if we can’t execute a piece of strategy, it might as well be binned.

What the article does not speak to, however, (and what we believe is the more difficult part of our work with respect to strategy consulting), is how we get strategy implemented.

In our view, it is easier to formulate strategy than it is to implement it, simply because strategy formulation can rely on smarts and industry data and metrics in order to forecast trends and possible commercial trajectories that are either in the organisation’s interests or otherwise, and they can determine proposed behaviour.  But strategy, once formulated and presented on paper and slides, remains a set of ideas unless it can be operationalised within an organisation.  The formulation of strategy usually gives us no indication of how it might be executed.

In fact, many companies spend a lot of time and money defining a strategy, but very little (if any) time actually describing, in detail and on paper, how they seek to go about executing this strategy within their organisations.  Please note that we are less concerned in this regard with execution of a new product line (for example) to one’s customer base, and more about how we distribute a set of instructions and directives to the myriad of employees who are required to make this happen within the organisation.  In other words, we are concerned in this instance with how we mobilise an often disparate group of individuals towards a single goal.

It is our belief, therefore, (and a fundamental premise upon which we practice as strategy implementation consultants), that we should understand strategy as emotion and that commitment, buy-in and passion are as important for successful implementation as the raw intellectual validity of the ideas contained within a strategy.

Strategy is an innately human activity, that uses all of us for its emergence into and success within the world.

This is a profoundly important insight because it separates strategy into two discrete activities: The first is the formulation of strategy which is a purely intellectual exercise.  The reason that McKinsey is such a globally recognised leader in this regard is that they hire and nurture brilliant analytical minds to formulate strategy, and provide an environment, framework, structure and systems to ensure that the very best strategy is formulated.  But equally, there is a growing understanding that strategy has a second component which is about planning and structure required for the execution or mobilisation of a strategy within the internal spaces of organisations.  This second aspect of change and strategy implementation is more messy, sure, because it calls us to work with human psychology and human fallibility, but it is vital to get right and an increasingly important area of professional practice within the sphere of strategy consulting. 

In next week’s post we will pick up on the second part of this discussion and provide detail on how we might define the field of strategy implementation as something discreet from strategy formulation.

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Building internal change capability is HARD!

Posted on May 8, 2014 in News -
Business Consultations, Strategic change implementations

In last week’s blog, we promised to dive into more detail on why building internal change competence is so difficult, and, more to the point, why internal change agents often have such a challenging task.

Building internal change capability is hard because:

  1. Good experiential training is hard to find: In our opinion, there are currently insufficient tertiary level programmes (whether formal or bespoke designed for an organisation) that provide a deep level of theoretical and technical support for internal change agents (by this we mean HR and OD professionals, as well as line managers and leaders who understand how vitally important a deep change competence is to their role function).  A key part of such a programme would be linking change and strategy implementation theory to practice within that client organisation’s specific context.  We can’t stress this enough: The most common concern we hear from internal change practitioners is that they went on an extensive course but on their return to the office were unsure of how to use the tools and skills learnt within their work environment.  [We put this out as a challenge to all tertiary institutions to prove us wrong; if you feel that you do offer such a programme and we are convinced of this, we will certainly sing your praises on this website.  Please let us know who you are in the comments section below.]
  2. Most organisations do not yet recognise change as a strategic imperative and as a result internal change consultants are often not granted access to important information that is vital in order to deliver change at a strategic level.  [Remember, we are not interested in defining change as simply an operational set of tasks that involve training, version control or changing the hearts and minds of individuals.  Change implementation is the full process of designing, structuring and implementing a strategic programme within a business.]
  3. Even where access is granted, influence is often hard to come by.  Most organisations do not have change represented as a discrete skill set at a Board or Exco level, and if we are correct that change is not yet recognised as a strategic skill set and that, often as a result of this, most company executives themselves do not have sufficient awareness and/or training in this regard, the change requirements for the implementation of strategic projects are overlooked.  A seat at the table in order to influence decisions around strategy, its formulation and critically, its implementation, is therefore of vital importance if we wish to turn this situation around.

What is the solution?  We would suggest the following:

  1. As professional change consultants we need to do more to both influence, build and lecture on tertiary level training programmes.  We are committed to this at CCG and have made a strategic decision to step up our efforts in this regard by engaging with local colleagues and universities.
  2. Organisations would do well to appoint professional internal change agents and to build discrete change teams that are comprised of a diverse groupings of influential individuals from across the organisations and representing all levels of the company.
  3. Organisations would do well to appoint change representatives to important strategic forums, even if this presence is on an ad hoc basis in order to influence decision-making.
  4. External change consultants have an important role to play in this regard: Consulting firms provide extensive experience in the field from a range of industries, we can often see organisational dynamics that are hidden or unconscious for employees, and, if we are courageous enough, we are able to speak to these dynamics in a good way in order to build consciousness in this regard and to provide solutions that might resolve these challenges.

This area of practice remains a challenge for all stakeholders.  We would very much like to see improvement in this regard, and believe this is possible if we pool resources and engage with one another in developing more effective practices and approaches.

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Change is Everywhere!!!

Posted on May 2, 2014 in News -
Change consulting and business transformation

We have noticed a significant increase in the interest in strategic change initiatives and the desire of clients to more deeply understand how they might do change better within their organisations and upskill line and support management with change awareness and capability.

There are a number of reasons for this increased awareness: We have become more aware of just how quickly change can occur in the world (a good example of this is 9-11 and the resultant impact on financial markets and their regulation, security awareness at every level of society, military training, readiness and warfighting, intelligence gathering, and the overall connectedness of the entire world in respect of the GWOT), the massive access to data and information that the internet provides and with it the ability to make quicker decisions, the need to make decisions more quickly than our competitors, and, most importantly, the fact that strategic decisions have to be executed more and more quickly and effectively in order to stay competitive (or even in the game!).

It has also been interesting to watch how the word change has seeped in our daily vernacular; examples are US President Barak Obama running his 2008 campaign on a slogan of Change We Can Believe In, and a more recent example of the Democratic Alliance in South Africa running its current political campaign prior to the national vote next week under a Together For Change banner.  Change has become a rallying cry for hope, for the future, for something different.  It seems to swirl all around as a better alternative on the morrow.

If only we could translate many of those wonderful words into effective action!  Regardless of the emotionality of the word change and its underlying promise, at CCG we are much more concerned about how we do change effectively in order to achieve sustainable advantage for a client organisation.  For this reason alone we believe the recent interest in change as a concept, and an increasing organisational recognition of the strategic imperative of change implementation, is an important step forward for the profession.

There are a number of ways in which this interest has been expressed: The level and intensity of engagement with the CCG website, requests for engagement with CCG, and ever-increasing requests to provide change capability building through our Change Learning Academy, to run internal Master Classes for line and support management, and to speak at internal conferences on strategic change and the impact of change on strategy implementation, risk management and optimal line functioning.

A key component of our approach which we believe to be important in this regard is that all offerings are of a private nature.  We do not believe in offering public courses in change, for two reasons:

1. Every client organisation presents with a unique set of circumstances and a unique change profile or signature, and a key reason why change initiatives can fail is because the change methodology or framework used for a previous change programme is reapplied to a different moment in time and to a programme with a different risk profile and delivery requirements.

Key takeout: Change skills development or training (or capability building as we prefer to call it) should be delivered in a bespoke manner for a preselected group of individuals who display the necessary attributes to be change agents within their organisation.  In addition, these delegates should be upskilled using a tailored methodology that takes that organisation’s specific requirements into account, at a particular moment in time.

2. When we have run public change workshops previously and have delegates from various organisations in the room, and sought to drill down in detail to discuss granular aspects of a change programme the delegates were involved with, many clammed up, feeling uncomfortable to share what was often sensitive information at that level of detail.

Key takeout: Change capability building should be delivered to a select group of change agents from a single organisation at a time, who are granted permission to speak openly and freely about their experiences and to share (sensitive) information where this would help the skills development process.

Building internal change capability is an extraordinarily difficult task (which we will deal with in our next blog); in order to get this right, we need to design the appropriate programme, tailored in the right way for a single organisation at a time and in a way that addresses that particular organisation’s strategic change concerns at that specific moment in its history.

Change is very much in the public domain at present: This certainly helps our cause as a change consultants, and for this reason we should be grateful the word has reached mantra status.

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