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Dr Tracy Stanley Overview of her Book Change Stories

Posted 2 years ago

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things (Niccolo Machavelli, The Prince, 1532). 


This quote hits home. Driving change in organisations generally, and in people’s behaviour specifically, is hard. This is because systems, processes and people’s behaviours interact within a complex social and political system. Because it’s hard, a change management profession has emerged to help make the desired changes stick. In writing Change Stories: Success and Failure in Changing Organisations, I wanted to learn more about the characteristics of effective change initiatives.


What is change management?

There is not a universally agreed definition for change management in organisations. Indeed, many perspectives are highlighting the complexity involved in getting a large number of people to do things differently.

When I wrote my book, I asked each interviewee for their preferred definition. Twenty-four interviews were undertaken with change practitioners, project managers, general managers, scrum masters, and human resource managers. This mix of backgrounds provided a diversity of perspectives. They defined the change management process in different ways. Some responses were procedural, viewing change management as a one-off process within a project structure. Others challenged this view saying that to embed change long term, many steps need to be taken over a long period so that the desired change becomes a part of the culture. Some definitions were behavioural with building skills and organisational capability as a focus. Others expressed change management as a way of helping employees to feel comfortable with uncertainty. Most described it in output terms, such as a way of achieving business objectives. Each definition was useful.


Why do organisations need to change?

Organisations are driven to change because of emerging technologies, evolving customer preferences, new competitors and government regulations. Also, to more effectively respond within a highly competitive marketplace, organisations need to be more innovative and nimble. Many organisations have recognised the need to encourage innovation as a way of generating new ideas that will ensure their survival and success. While they can introduce systems and programs, building an underlying culture that supports innovation is much harder. Culture is a big and complex concept and covers habits, behaviours, processes, attitudes, and artefacts and is often described ‘as the way that things are done around here. Organisational culture can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including leadership and employee behaviours, communication styles, decision-making processes and office layout. While it can be hard to describe, culture is something you can feel after a short time within a new environment.


What do we know about change programs to boost innovation?

Change programs that promote creativity and innovation typically start with a review of organisational strategy. Without this link to strategy, any innovation-related activities are merely innovation theatre, which is an initiative that is done to signal that innovation is happening but that doesn’t have a significant business impact. With the link to the strategy made, consideration can then be given to how innovation systems and processes will fit within normal business processes. In any change project, a whole or organisational systems approach is needed.

Culture is a big influencer on employees’ propensity to offer new ideas and do the hard work to test and validate the idea. Organisations need to provide time for idea exploration and to create a culture where failure is seen to be a natural by-product of the innovation process.


Key to successfully introducing change

There’s a lot of learning in my book of Change Stories. I’ve listed the top ten things that a successful change management project and practitioner need below:

  • Understanding of organisation environment
  • Capacity to absorb the project
  • Active support of sponsors and opinion leaders
  • User involvement in the design of new systems and processes
  • Sufficient role and process mapping
  • Detailed stakeholder analyses undertaken
  • Communication and engagement (lots of it and targeted)
  • Working closely with other groups including HR, IT, and process engineering
  • Skills development and coaching of leaders
  • Managing within a governance structure.

By paying attention to these areas, I (almost) guarantee that you will be successful in introducing major changes.


Change Stories: Success and failure in changing organisations by Tracy Stanley (2020)