That funny thing called “People” (necessary but not sufficient – going further with OCM)

It would be rare to find an organization today that isn’t going through some kind of “Transformation”. Probably a “Digital Transformation”. And of course, it will avail itself of an “Agile” approach. Throw in some AI (Artificial Intelligence), predictive analytics and BOTs (robots) for good measure. How fantastic for the organization! More efficient processes, better technology, superior ROI (Return on Investment), happy shareholders. Are you feeling motivated?

OCM – Organizational Change Management – is what should make the difference here. But we need to talk about how OCM needs to go deeper and stretch beyond just using standard tools. In this article we suggest some ways.

If you have a bit of a mathematical background, you may recall a distant memory of the term “necessary but not sufficient”. It refers to a condition that must exist for an outcome to be true, but on its own is not enough to make it so. It’s a bit like saying you need an engine to make a car move, but some wheels might also be useful.

Evidence shows (e.g. that the huge investments in Transformations are unlikely to achieve their vaunted promises if the emphasis is given to tech and process. Why? Because, of course, there’s that funny thing called “People”. That’s where OCM comes in – Organizational Change Management. Most large programs these days do utilize OCM. More often than not, this is focused on tools such as Impact Assessments, Readiness Assessments, Stakeholder Engagement, Benefits Realization and of course Training and Communication. These tools are needed and provide useful information about people aspects in programs. They are indeed necessary, but are they sufficient? Well, let’s take a look at some evidence that Stanford uncovered some years ago, which Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton captured in their book “The Knowing-Doing Gap”. People don’t adopt new behaviors readily even when they know what they’re supposed to do. Some areas they identified:


Talk substitutes for action

This is when the act of making a decision to change something is equated with it actually being done. A program may be launched. Important people may say impressive things. A vision may be agreed upon. But has anything actually changed?


Memory as a substitute for action

It’s not uncommon to revert to the “way of things are done around here”, accepted norms, relying on precedent rather than making the change.


Fear prevents acting on knowledge

Leaders have a very specific role in actively encouraging people to speak up about areas that need to be improved. Invariably people know what needs to be done but (an often unspoken) fear prevents them from doing so.


Measurement obstructs good judgement

An obsessive focus on measuring performance, particularly outputs and end-of-process measures, can create perverse incentives and take attention away from behaviors that are core to the organization’s core values, culture and strategy.


Internal competition

Competition between individuals in an organization may create positive outcomes, but if this is done thoughtlessly it can be extremely harmful. Without teamwork, mutual respect and a sense of loyalty, getting people to buy in to any change will be an up-hill endeavor.

Do the “ordinary” OCM tools listed above (Impact Assessments etc.) address these gaps? They may provide data that bears out the problem, but the tools alone won’t be enough – they aren’t sufficient. What’s required is to go further, deeper, and make authentic connections with people. To do this requires leaders, managers, advocates to play specific roles. In a principled manner, a way must be found to grasp those thorny issues: internal politics, power dynamics, behavior, culture. This is where transformation and other programs would garner great benefits from highly experienced experts in OCM. A good example is organizational culture. It is a term often used on Change or Transformation programs, but precision is rare. Mapping this accurately and gaining agreement on how this will change is a key factor in unblocking changes that are stuck in an internal quagmire.

Yes, the tools and their proficient use is necessary, but to make that real difference requires deep expertise in the aspects of OCM that are often avoided but make the real difference.

Tenthpin has deep expertise in OCM, with highly experienced consultants who have helped organizations succeed in a variety of situations. Have you tried utilizing Organizational Change Management on your projects but were left feeling underwhelmed? Have you hit a roadblock in making progress in your Transformation efforts? Perhaps our highly experienced Organizational Change Management team can help you.

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