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It's time to become model-agnostic.

I'm a big believer in the value of theoretical rigor - I guess that comes from my graduate work.  In fact, I tend to think that anyone who works in a professional services field should have a solid grounding in the theories that underpin their specialty.  Change management, in particular, is a field that can so often get mistaken for a touchy-feely offshoot of HR, I'd like to see more practitioners with advanced degrees in the field.

meaningless diagram

(An example of a diagram which looks nice, but means almost nothing when you think about it.)

However - and it's a big 'however - it's important to remember that if all the change management models we learn in degree programs were as true as 2+2=4, we wouldn't call them 'theories'.  We'd call them 'universal truths'.

And therein we have the basis of one of the biggest problems in change management: The $25,000 diagram.

What do I mean?

All too often I see change management professionals who try to use the theory approach to solve every change-related challenge.  They dust off their favorite change management model from a textbook, plug in some numbers and arrows, add some bullet points about the marvelous results this model will magically achieve - and voila!  The client gets a nice-looking PowerPoint presentation, the heart of which is an attractive diagram that appears to demonstrate a few simple actions that will transform the organization.  And a bill for $25,000 for this insight.

There's a big difference between theory and implementation

Theory is great as far as it goes, but it's only part of the solution - in my experience, implementation, execution and results are more than 75% of the change process.

What's more, every organization is different, and so far I've never encountered one that fit neatly into a single change model or approach. There's always an angle that isn't accounted for in the theory, a business function which isn't accommodated in the handy 4-square diagram, and a learning curve which isn't reflected in the results grid.

So my recommendation, when you're planning your change process, is to take a model-agnostic approach.  Instead of relying on a particular theory, look for a plan which spends more time on how the implementation will roll out - and how it will affect your people - than on how it should roll out, based on the theoretical diagram.



Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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