A Theory of Change and Strategy Implementation

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.