Your company is insane according to Albert (and who am I to argue?)


Article by JM Guest Blogger Neil Marshall of This article first appeared on Neil Marshall’s LinkedIn blog of 30 June 2014. The world is changing. Or at least mine is. Conversations in client organisations are going from “Why are we doing this?” to “Why haven’t we done this yet?” All very encouraging. All of which means the ever present change programme cycle moves on again. There has been a lot of ink spilt down the years on how to do this well. Everyone from Kotter to Prosci to X to Y can tell you the ‘7 things that make your kettle boil NOW’. If you laid all the slide decks full of 2x2 matrices end on end you’d probably discover dark matter. And yet somehow we still manage not to do change very well. The stats have stayed the same. In the late 90’s Harvard did surveys and they found that 65% of change initiatives had failed. McKinsey did a recent study and the figure is 70%. You can find lots of reasons in lots of articles and books for this – badly scoped, projects not implemented poorly, benefits not quantified etc etc – lots of ‘What’s done or not done'. 30 years talking about 'what to do', with no improvement.  That would have Albert scratching his head. So out of respect for Albert, 'What to do' is not what this blog is about. Instead, I want to look at something different.  I want to look at ‘Who does it’.  Here is my take on it.

Whodunnit (up until now)

Traditionally, companies have used one of three sets of people to implement change.  These are the three things that fail 7 times out of 10.  They are:

They do it themselves

This has advantages – you know your people, you know your industry, and you know your organisation. And the Finance Director likes it because it is cheap. However, change is a process and a competency like any other. It draws from strategy, problem solving, project management methodology, behavioural science, neuroscience, psychology and leadership, and you have to know what you are doing. What you save in lower cost, you will lose a hundred fold in benefits that never come to pass and plunging productivity in the meantime.

Bring in contractors to help

This costs a bit more, but at least you have the resource and (hopefully) some expertise. Someone skilled enough is hard to find. Even if you do, as a contractor they will be hamstrung because they lack a network in your organisation. The leader of your change is completely reliant on the political power of others. And once they’re done, even if they do succeed where most fail, that expertise then walks out of the door and off to the next contract. In fact, usually well before your change has stuck, because again, they are expensive.

Use consultants

Professional, with a good level of expertise, the right consultants understand change. They also understand their value – this is an expensive route. The thing with consultants is, the process is one of being done to. Consultants are always outsiders, often resented by those in the organisation, which makes their task doubly hard. And, just like contractors, they will leave early and take their expertise with them. Looking at these options that people have, a 70% change failure rate is really no surprise. Without your own change capability, deployed strategically, the options aren’t great.

It’s not about what you do, it is about who does it.

So what to do? My answer, for what it is worth, is to build your own internal change capacity and capability in BAU to successfully deliver change. (And that's not just me saying it - IBM do to, in this report) That is not PMO, by the way (sorry PMs). Projects initiate change, but they are not the ones that need to carry it out. Project managers deliver new capabilities that have the promise of changing the way we do things. They do this really well, focussed on time, quality and cost. However, the actual change (and the positive outcomes) happen in operations - the sales, HR, manufacturing and finance teams who have to go through changes and make them endearing. These are the people who are either tasked with a change or find themselves at the business end of large transformation programmes. They are the ones that need to deal with people adapting to change. In other words, change happens in ‘Business As Usual’.  It is there that you need your change competency, not the PMO. Jack Welch in his letter to shareholders in 1992 famously said: Stimulate and relish change… [don’t be] frightened or paralyzed by it. See change as opportunity, not just a threat. So next time you look at managing change (that would be tomorrow for many of us), use it as an opportunity.  Us it to build personal and organisational change competency in BAU, competency you can keep, so you can deliver the benefits you promised. Get some expertise in (Hello! – just saying :-)) not to run the change for you, but to develop and mentor your leaders to be successful change agents. Give them a deep understanding and knowledge of change, complemented by practiced new skills. Over time, you can build a valuable internal competency, which is the best resource to deliver successful change. As you do it, you will develop your next generation of leaders. And you’ll never have to rely on consultants or contractors again. Neil is Commercial Director of ChangeSchool Ltd, Contact him at