We live in an age where it feels like there is an app for everything. So it’s not surprising there is a tendency for some people to view change management as simply using or applying change management tools and templates. But, just like that new time management app won’t solve your time management issues, change management tools and techniques are not enough to ensure organizational change success.
Harnessing the Value of Your Change Management Tools
Having the right tools for any job is necessary for success, but they are not sufficient. Your success and the value of any tool, whether it’s an ordinary wrench, the latest app to beat procrastination, or your change management tools, depends on the knowledge and skill of the person using them.
My husband has always mowed the lawn in our family. It’s one of the chores he took, partly because he liked it and partly because no one else wanted to do it. Recently, I decided I would mow the lawn.
When I finished mowing the lawn, I said to my husband, “wow, that lawnmower is hard to push. It felt like I was pushing a tank”. And I thought if I am going to mow the lawn regularly, we will need a new lawn mower because this one is too heavy.
That’s when he showed me the clutch. A little bit of pressure on the clutch, and the lawnmower practically drives itself. However, to take advantage of this feature and ensure I didn’t have a runaway lawnmower, I needed to understand how it works, when to use it, and when not to use it.
Change leadership and management are more complex than mowing a lawn. Yet, like me using the lawnmower, to get the value from your change management tools and templates, you need knowledge and skill beyond just using the tool or template. You need an understanding of the human and organizational dynamics of change.
The Hidden Risks of Using Change Management Tools
Change management tools and templates are useful. They can help with your change management efforts. But without an understanding of the human and organizational dynamics of change, templates can be more harmful than helpful. There are three potential and hidden risks when you use change management tools without knowledge of the change process and the skills to navigate the complexities of organizational change.
The first risk is a focus on the change management tool. Instead of focusing on helping and supporting people to navigate the Whitespace, the focus becomes on using a tool or completing a template.
When I am helping clients navigate change, I often use tools and templates. I use them to guide a process, gather information, stimulate new thinking, and engage a group in a conversation. However, my focus is never on completing the tool or template. My focus is always on what’s needed to guide, support and enable people to navigate the transition as comfortably as possible.
The second risk is the wrong tool is used for the wrong reason and with the wrong people. Before introducing any change management tool in our courses and when working with our clients, we explore its context. We want leaders to know how it supports or enables people to move through the change process. For example, before we present the intended outcome story template, we explore how storytelling, documenting and sharing an outcome story helps people let go of the current state.
Compartmentalization is the third risk of using change management tools without knowledge of the human dynamics of change. When change is compartmentalized, the broader context of its fit within the organization is lost. The result is a reduced capacity for change. Research has shown compartmentalizing the change and focusing on the tools and techniques instead of the leadership and management of the change is one reason for the high failure rate.
Knowledge and Skill are the Foundation for Your Change Management Toolkit
Like any toolkit, a change management toolkit can be immensely valuable. The key to leveraging its value is to build and use your toolkit with a commitment to understanding the beliefs and assumptions that drive change in your organization. Then create a foundation that enhances leaders’ change management knowledge and skills to navigate the change process.
Here are three things to help ensure your change management toolkit adds value and supports your organizational change efforts:
- Build your knowledge and skills to work with the normal human response to change as the foundation for your change management toolkit.
- Stop doing change management and integrate the knowledge and skills of change leadership into your leadership practices.
- Focus on supporting and enabling people to navigate through the change process and not on completing a specific change management tool or template.
Developing the knowledge and skills to build your organizational change management tool kit is worth the effort.
We can help. Check out our change management courses or ask us about our Change Leadership Skill Development program.
 Karp, T. & Helgo, T. (2008). From change management to change leadership: embracing chaotic change in public service organizations. Journal of Organizational Change Management 8(1), 82-96.