Tag Archives: change management

Modelling Change Management

For such a complex process, change management can be modeled mathematically using basic and remarkably simple assumptions, or rules.  The Nobel prize winner, Thomas Schelling as done so.

The sequence below shows segregation occurring where each red and blue dot is a “person” and they each want to live next to at least 2 neighboring dots of the same color out of their 4 total neighbors, the result of the simple and apparently moderate rule is total segregation after a period of time. What’s fascinating is that an apparently minor rule or constraint leads to this level of change.

Number of neighbors that need to be of the same color:

  • 1 neighbor – no segregation
  • 2 neighbors – complete segregation
  • 3 neighbors – complete segregation
  • 4 neighbor – complete segregation

Fine. So what does this mean for change management? The lesson is that very small changes in people’s behaviors and preferences can drive enormous differences in outcome.

You can see the animated sequence here (note: if it doesn’t work you need to have Quicktime installed.)



See the full article from Atlantic Magazine here.

Change Management and (gasp) Fun

In case you haven’t seen these viral videos from Volkswagen, they make an interesting point about change. This experiment attempts to show that people are more likely to change their behavior if it’s fun to do so. Hardly, scientific, but they are clever and inspiring. This video shows how people are more likely to take the stairs vs. an escalator if you make the stairs respond like walking on piano keys. Also a good reminder on balancing sticks and carrots, often the using a stick (punishment) as a form of motivation seems easiest, but offering carrots (incentives) can get better results.

Next, people are more likely to slow down if they can receive cash from those who speed via a lottery. Frankly, I think this one has less to do with fun and more to do with the power of financial incentives.

Finally, there are more ideas for improving recycling and bin/trash usage at http://www.thefuntheory.com/

Book Review – Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard

Switch is a book on change management. The publication has similarities to John Kotter’s Leading Change. The authors make the distinction between emotional and analytical motivations for change and argue persuasively that successful change requires both. This is insightful because most people tend to use either analytical or emotional arguments depending on their personality, but this is incomplete and if the two techniques are not combined change will fail. The authors use anecdotes to support their case, for example they detail how it wasn’t enough at a glove manufacturer to tell executives that they made too may different kinds of gloves, the change agents assembled all the gloves on a conference table during a meeting to make their point.

Projects, by definition are changing something, and as with all change, some people will prefer the status quo. The best project managers understand how to drive the change and will benefit from this book, which summarizes a lot of thinking on the topic in an easy to follow way. John Kotter should still be considered the leading author on the topic, but Chip and Dan Heath contribute some new thinking, particularly from a psychological perspective.

Resistance to Change

You may have seen that the Japanese government is considering moving away from a press club system. The press club is a small cadre of journalists, who get access to government officials, often working in the same office building, a result of Japan’s post-war system, which had a single party in power until recently. The proposal is to move to a more open system of public disclosure, granting more access to a broader range of journalists. The New York Times article on the topic is here.

What I liked was the press club’s defence, from former chairman of the press club Shinji Furuta:

“What if someone tried to commit suicide or burn themselves to death at a press conference? Who would take responsibility for that?”

Irrational resistance to change is common, but seldom this absurd. It’s interesting that the arguments to preserve a system seem to have a lower threshold that arguments to create it. An argument by Mr Furata to create a press club to prevent suicides at press conferences, presumably wouldn’t get New York Times coverage. 

As an aside, I did look into the risks associated with press conferences, and the man who threw his shoes at President Bush last December was a pretty senior journalist – a correspondent for an Egyptian TV station, so a press club system wouldn’t have kept him and his size ten shoes out. On a more sombre note, there was a suicide at a press conference in Philadelphia in 1987, but that was by the very politician who called the press conference, Budd Dwyer a State Treasurer being investigated for taking kick-backs. He was not a journalist.

Communication and Change Management

In the world of consumer marketing, people are shown a barrage adverts multiple times over an extended period of time via different media such as TV, radio, print to drive behavioral change whether it’s to try a new cereal or purchase dairy products more often. Compare that to the corporate world, where often a single memo, training class or even an email is can be deemed sufficient to drive change.

It seems organizations could learn from consumer marketing campaigns – often more time is spent on crafting the right message than considering opportunities to repeat it over time.

Where’s the marketing campaigne for the internal change you want to drive?

Change Management – What’s In It For Me?

Project and portfolio management often require change. In thinking through the change process it’s easy to forget to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ for the participants. If you can create real momentum for change based on the enthusiasm of others, then you don’t have to drive it, as much as shepherd it, which is much more rewarding and less arduous.

Consider starting small, with a group that can demonstrate clear success from the change, so as to encourage viral support for the new initiative. Then your only role it to ensure the channels of communication are working well so that others hear about it. Far far easier than mandating change, regardless of how senior your executive sponsors are. How can you make change benefit others in the organization, rather than yourself?

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry S. Truman

There is another perspective on change management here, stressing the importance of repeatition in communication. And a nice post here that draws on Kotter’s change framework. If you read one book on change management, then John Kotter’s is not a bad place to start.

If you’re interested in change management related to PPM, see my recent book.