Effectively applying change management

Change management discipline, tactics, and techniques empirically help projects through the pesky “people side” of change. Some projects need and benefit from change management more than others, requiring emphasis and sustained focus on all aspects of change management not just the structured processes and tools to check off during project execution.

Knowns and Unknowns

The Institute X “Change Knowns/Unknowns” matrix classifies projects for what kind/how much change management is needed. It recommends where change management tools/techniques during project execution may suffice and where more strategic and higher-level change leadership is mandatory. It is loosely based on a logical structure that Donald Rumsfeld uttered in February 2002

On the vertical axis (un)known refers to Awareness; on the horizontal to Ability (i.e., “how to handle”). Because change management focus is the human side of change, these definitions are to be understood in the context of resistance and other behavioural tendencies.

Awareness: the vertical dimension

Awareness is the answer to the question, “Has this been seen, experienced, considered, and understood?” Whether for the project specifically or as domain expertise more generally, it’s pinning down just how surprised or influenced by the condition (thing).

Known
We recognize and understand these behaviours/this resistance. We have accounted for them so we’re prepared.
Unknown
We may not be familiar with some behaviours and, even for those we know, may not have accounted for them and may be surprised.

Ability: the horizontal dimension

This is the practical axis, its spectrum generally from “unable” to “skilled.” But there is nuance. It considers not just raw knowledge and capability, but also proficiency and effectiveness. After all, what value is knowing how to handle a situation if the approach regularly fails?

Known
We are trained for and/or experienced with effectively addressing resistance should we encounter its kind.
Unknown
We are incapable of handing a given resistance behaviour, let alone correcting it if encountered.

Classes of Change Knowns/Unknowns

The two dimensions, on a 2x2 matrix, result in the following quadrants.

I Complex
Known-Unknown

“(Resistance) behaviour we are aware of but don’t have the ability to handle.”
All aspects of projects have elements of this, but here it applies to situations where we can project some kind of response but do not know what it will be, what will cause it, or what will address it effectively.
Where change management discipline should dominate.

II Simple
Known-Known

“(Resistance) behaviour we are aware of and have the ability to handle.”
Well-trod projects, of all sizes and complications, that have been done many times before can confidently project forward, knowing there are unlikely to be unpredictable human responses that cannot be dealt with effectively.
Most projects believe they operate with this certainty post-planning.

III Complicated
Unknown-Known

“(Resistance) behaviour we have the ability to handle but are not aware of.”
A base level of outcome unpredictability rises for a project if we have done insufficient homework. Here we understand and can deal with potential resistance behaviours but have ignored or dismissed them as immaterial.
Somebody's not doing their job...

IV Mysterious
Unknown-Unknown

“(Resistance) behaviour we are neither aware of nor have the ability to handle.”
Some projects fall into this category in every respect (process, technology, people). These are typically extreme innovations or cataclysmic breaks. We can’t even fathom the (resistance) behaviour and are hence wholly unprepared.
Leave this realm to Cpn. Kirk and the Enterprise. It is substantially irrelevant to projects before most of us.

Low Awareness

  • Quadrant IV is fanciful, irrelevant, and not worth more consideration.
  • Quadrant III is endemic to our times but resolvable with better preparation and skill. Homework needs to more centrally consider human behaviour idiosyncrasies.

High Awareness

  • The top row (Quadrants I and II) is relevant. We’re at least somewhat aware of things but are not handling them effectively.
  • Quadrant II just needs skilled people to perform the basic processes of change management.
  • Effectively addressing risks/issues in Quadrant II requires more central focus on people’s behaviours, motivations, and incentives.
The strength and applicability of typical project management and change management disciplines are illustrated as horizontal gradients through these quadrants.

The impact or conclusion

More, better preparation is a must. And remember, resistance is rooted in individual and group self-conception, making change management so much more than merely raising change awareness, desire, or capability.

Here are a few other gremlins lurking beneath this surface.

  1. It is not just possible but common to be aware of something and ignorant of how to deal with it. Or only able to deal with it ineffectively. Giving human behaviour (i.e., resistance) peripheral attention or assuming superficial causes and solutions is hazardous.
  2. The further “west” a project’s circumstance, the less likely it is a project manager, trainer, or communicator will be effective at addressing resistance. Tools and methods of change management alone become less central to success moving from right to left.
  3. Change management as primarily reliable tools and methods at the project level may enhance but more likely impede existing resources (e.g., communications, training). This is practically true when change management is effectively duplicating the jobs of “communications” and “training.”
  4. Applying only more change management process and tool rigour to a complex environment (Quadrant I) may help. But tools and processes rarely resolve lack of understanding; experience, education, and perspective fix lack of understanding.

Are the elaborate tools and processes conceived for change management adequate?

Some may argue that capability to use these tools ought to be increased. Fair, but how does applying tools at the project level do anything to address organization capability and competence deficits at senior levels?

The accomplishments of change management so far have vastly raised awareness and interest. Mthods, tools, techniques, and processes that have been made available are certainly helpful, particularly in simple circumstances.

To benefit from the value of change management now that this low hanging fruit has been plucked, the focus in Quadrant I has to be on significantly raising senior executive and organizational capability, capacity, and commitment to the change management mindset.

Institute X can help you focus your change management efforts and transform your organization. Contact us now.

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