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Beyond the Conference Room Solution

May 01, 2013

What Steve Cantrell and Sharol Henry Can Teach Us About Change p.1

 I have known Steve Cantrell for nearly 20 years; Sharol for 10 years and have tremendous respect for their thoughtfulness and deep insights on transformational change.  Steve spent almost twenty years in the banking industry, primarily with Bank of America, where he morphed from banker into process change expert by applying Dr. Michael Hammer’s principles to the bank’s first-ever process redesign project in 1992. He then led the redesign of the bank's Commercial Banking and Small Business Banking businesses, ultimately serving as Director of the bank’s Process Leadership Center.

Sharol Henry has specialized in process-focused business transformations, utilizing her particular expertise to help address those issues facing C-suite leadership, as well as the people-related challenges of large, strategic change efforts. She has designed, lived, and led global process redesign initiatives and the multi-year process journey from the ‘inside’ of companies in addition to having spent the last 10 years as an ‘outside’ coach for executives traveling those journeys. Prior to becoming a process transformation coach, Sharol spent over 25 years as a Fortune 500 senior executive; spanning finance, supply chain, procurement, management of strategic alliances, and strategic change initiatives.  Sharol and Steve are the founding partners in Cantrell, Henry and Associates. 

What is change management?

One fairly common definition is the one from Wikipedia: 
Change management is an approach to shifting/transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. It is an organizational process aimed at helping change stakeholders to accept and embrace changes in their business environment or individuals in their personal lives.

But, at the risk of ending this interview early, let us say we think it’s the wrong question.  It is the verb “manage” that we really don’t like.  Here’s why.  There are plenty of principles, practices, tools and methods in the world for managing organizational change in organizations…there are libraries and tool chests full of stuff to help manage change…there are many who have built careers and fortunes out of making it virtually a discipline unto itself…and THAT is where we have a problem – that it is a discipline unto itself. 

We don’t think change is something to be managed, we think it is something to be achieved.  It’s not a body of work unto itself, it is a goal.  Let us explain the nuance:  manage means to work on directly, to devote time, effort and attention to change itself…achieve is about an end goal.  We think that trying to manage change separately from the real work of diagnosing issues, coming up with solutions and implementing those solutions…RATHER THAN doing this real work in a way that accelerates and achieves BOTH the change and results is precisely why so many struggle with “change management”.  We don’t believe there are many practitioners who would take kindly to our emphasis on the “separateness” of contemporary approaches to managing change…they would probably use words more like “parallel”, and “complimentary”.  But these words are euphemisms for “separate”.  And our experience shows that when focus shifts away from real work -- whether in parallel or complimentary or separate -- the effort is quite likely to fail. 

Doug Smith, author of several outstanding books related to change, including Taking Charge of Change, and Make Success Measurable, and whose work we adhere to closely, studied successful change efforts all over the world, and distilled from them “10 Principles for Managing People and Performance”.  Principle #1 is:  “Keep performance results the primary objective of behavior and skill change.”  He adds:  “Performance is the primary objective of change, not change.  When executives, managers, supervisors and/or consultants shift the focus toward change and away from performance, they violate this rock hard reality principle.  And the odds of success plummet." (For more information on Doug Smith’s work, go to www.douglasksmith.com.) 

Can you go deeper into what you mean by treating change as something separate rather than part of the “real work”, and why this matters?
The key point here is that there is far too much focus on the “what’s of change management”, with those what’s being something separate from the real work, and far too little focus on the “HOW”, with the how being an integral part of the real work.  Again, by real work we mean the work of diagnosing issues, coming up with solutions and implementing those solutions.

Richard Axelrod said in his book Terms of Engagement: Changing the Way We Change Organizations:  “There is hardly an organizational change process, from changing organizational cultures to developing new information systems, that does not have a parallel organization, and its accompanying change management paradigm, at its core.”  (Parallel can mean a work team or design team, an internal consulting group, a steering committee, or a sponsor group…or even a contracted outside consulting firm.  And quite often, as Axelrod points out, many of these elements are used together in some sort of change program structure.)

Separate not only implies the possibility that change-related work can be disconnected from the real work of diagnosing issues, coming up with solutions and implementing those solutions, it also implies that it is extra work.  Dan Cohen, whose collaboration with John Kotter produced one of the leading books on change management called Leading Change, and who then wrote The Heart of Change Field Guide, gives the widely accepted number one reason for failure of the majority of change initiatives…not adequately addressing the people-related challenges.  And he cites the primary root cause:  “If leaders acknowledge that projects fail for people-related reasons, why don’t they do something about it from the beginning of their transformation effort?  The answer is very simple—it takes a lot of time and energy!”. 

But then Cohen goes on to describe an eight-step process for leading change, and provides many tools and much description for how to do each of the eight steps.  Nowhere in his Field Guide does he make the case that his approach is NOT separate from the real work, nor make the case that it is NOT significant extra work.  Nowhere does he make absolutely clear how his “solution” overcomes the problem of having to spend lots of time and energy on dealing with people issues…the ROOT CAUSE of failure!  We can only conclude that Cohen does not have a case to argue.  His solution is sound in theory, but still takes lots of time and energy in practice.

Most contemporary change management approaches grew out of a recognition that many people-related issues arise in the course of implementing major change in organizations, but failed to recognize that these issues are rooted in a LACK OF adequate engagement of people THROUGHOUT the life cycle of these change initiatives.   It is oversimplifying to say that contemporary change management approaches are one big “band-aid”, but the analogy helps.

When we say “real work”, we mean the work involved in: identifying the business/operational issues and opportunities; analyzing and diagnosing what is underneath them; designing new offerings, solutions or ways of doing business; planning the implementation; building the new capabilities required, implementing; and sustaining the new way of doing business and higher level of business results.  The very best way to achieve required changes is to conduct each of these sets of “real work” in a high-engagement way…that is involving FAR MORE people than just work teams, steering teams or sponsors…in other words, the real people who are more often than not viewed as “targets” of change, rather than contributors and accelerators. 

And it is critical to engage these people THROUGHOUT the life cycle of the change effort, NOT JUST at the onset of implementation or the planning related to it.  And by “engage” we mean they help do the real work – they are NOT just communicated with periodically or tacitly involved after someone else already did the real work.

Our insight is that most resistance to change is actually a protest against the PROCESS of how the change is being designed and implemented.  But this doesn’t necessarily register with those doing the protesting.  It tends to show up as questioning or reservations about the content of the change, and/or challenges about who came up with the changes, or who should have been involved with the change effort before now, etc.  And to make matters worse, most change leaders take the reservations as resistance to the change itself, RATHER THAN what it really is…a CRY FOR A DIFFERENT PROCESS. 

Are you saying that widely accepted best practices aren’t really the BEST practices after all?

That is exactly what we are saying…one can only know the best practices one KNOWS…there is always the possibility that there are yet undiscovered best practices.  We are a small, boutique firm with breakthrough ways of accelerating all aspects of business transformation, but we haven’t yet published or otherwise made these practices widely accessible.  We found them through two decades of our own work in the trenches of large and small-scale change efforts, and through refusing to accept that people-related issues just have to take a lot of extra time and energy.  Quite frankly, we stubbornly chose to believe that there MUST be a better way than what was being espoused by the supposed experts – because as the preponderance of evidence shows, those solutions still don’t cut it operationally – they tend to die of their own weight most of the time.  Over time, our stubbornness became breakthrough insights supported by real evidence and results!  (Our colleague Brad Power wrote a short piece about a couple of these examples in his HBR Blog.  If you are interested in reading it, here’s the link:  http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/11/in_theory_actively_engaging_yo.html.)  We came to realize that many espoused “best practices” are actually MALPRACTICE…but the vast majority of people we encounter just don’t know any better!

To be continued...

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"When I have fully decided that a result is worth getting I go ahead of it and make trial after trial until it comes." - Thomas A. Edison

Let’s start with an explanation of the title, Beyond The Conference Room Solution. In all of my workshops and in many of my lectures, I refer to the phrase, The Conference Room Solution as a far too common approach used by organizations use to solve many of their most challenging issues.

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How does an established organization filled with long-time employees, a deeply entrenched culture, and a history of drawn-out planning and development cycles become nimble, innovative, and responsive in today’s challenging business climate? Published by Bibliomotion, The Q-Loop: The Art & Science of Lasting Corporate Change delivers an actionable strategy to help your company rapidly achieve lasting transformational change.

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