change management, Toby Elwin, Darth Vader, alarm, blog

Change management alarm

Toby Elwin, blog, change management, alarm clock, Darth Vader

“Your lack of faith in change management is disturbing … oh, and don’t even think about pressing snooze. “

RING! Your alarm goes off.

Smack! Your alarm is off. The mental fog retreats and gives way to the slow realization of why you set the alarm.

Last week a slow realization came into focus that my profession, and passion, change management, elicits similar transference and abuse as an alarm clock does.

There is similarity to an alarm clock and to change management.

Unless you rely on luck, both an alarm clock and change require responsibility and accountability:

  • Set the alarm to meet expectation when your success relies on timeliness
  • Set change management to manage expectation when success is observable behavior

Both, to succeed, face a lose/lose situation:

  • Not many folks I know bound out of bed to meet an obligation
  • Not many folks I know are eager to change habit or behavior

Both an alarm clock and change management remind people of what they should do, but do not want to do: follow through.

Wipe the Sleep Out of My Eyes

Few people risk going without an alarm for an important obligation, like the Monday through Friday folk who rely on an alarm to pleasingly remind themselves to rise for work.

However, the alarm represents a zero-sum game: you win when awoken at the time you set; the alarm clock loses by reminding you to snap out of your dreams and get going. Your alarm only did what you asked, but you are not terribly keen that you needed to even ask.

In reality an alarm clock can not win:

  • No one looks forward when and what time the alarm is set.
    • We expect the alarm we set to keep some commitment we have, BUT an alarm remind us of what we wish we could do: sleep in.
  • No one is happy if the alarm did not go off.
    • We quickly realize we needed the alarm as we scramble to get back on track, BUT curse we forgot to set the alarm.

Just as an alarm stops you from a current, resting state, change management relies on communicating to people what they need to stop doing and what people need to start doing in a new, functional state. It isn’t enough to tell someone about change or expect change is greeted with fanfare. Why? Perhaps because change relies on motivation to change something fundamental to all: behavior.

I certainly do not call any plan divorced from addressing behavior change, like so many Information Technology (IT) change management plans, as relevant effort.

Change is not about what you propose to change, but what needs to change for the proposal to work and professional majority that I know remain content to scope and launch enterprise initiatives and projects without little change management planning or dedication to the resources needed for change that promotes adoption.

Oh What Can it Mean?

Without much conscious thought we continue a dysfunctional relationship with alarm clocks and with change management. Both provoke visceral resentment. Just as most people hate the sound of the alarm clock, change management takes many from their blissful slumber of naiveté to a rude awakening that change is about people not process, people not objects.

Both an alarm clock and change management share another common reluctance from people, but when you realize it is too late you wish you used it. We rely on what both provide, but hate we have that need.

People just want to get things done, but not the work to get it accomplished. But you rely on the alarm you set to get you to the airport on time to make your flight for vacation. At the time the alarm snaps you out of sleep, your vacation is not top of mind.

However, if the power went out, if you forgot to set the alarm, or set the alarm to PM instead of AM upon waking you will immediately remember the importance your alarm has. Once on vacation the alarm is forgiven its excess all but forgotten.

Change management is not about new procedure, new technology, new policy, the only success measure for change management is observable behavior change. Just as the alarm is presents observable change from sleep mode, the objective of change management is end-user adoption and utility.

Review of too many project plans reveal a dedication to project process without delivering required resources to adopt the project promise. It takes people to adopt the project product. For a project to work you must plan for behavior change in a change management plan, the change is more important than a delivery date.

But It Rings and I Rise

You set your alarm because you have to. When the alarm goes off you curse the sound as well as the reminder of an obligation to rise. It is not the alarm clock’s fault, you bought the alarm because you need it. You asked the alarm to wake you, but you are not terribly pleased about how effective your alarm is.

Either way you need an alarm to snap out of a preferred state of being: dreaming. There is an uneasy partnership between you and your alarm.

Change management is also about taking people out of their current-state and moving them from their inertia. Just as a force at rest stays at rest, until an alarm, a behavior adopted is a hard habit for people to break.

Change management is not a process, change management is not a top-down pronouncement, change management is not about buy-in.

Change management is a focus on the state of how people need to be, because change management focuses on behavior change as a success.

Daydream Believer Wake Up Call

There is a reason alarm sounds pierce and annoy. There is some obligation that needs taking care of, otherwise reserved time to allow you to sleep in.

Planning for people in change management should not annoy project sponsors or the project management office.

Planning for people is the reason the project started and the reason for project funding.

Change relies on people success and to avoid counting on people in change management is financially irresponsible and professionally incompetent.

The poor alarm clock, only doing exactly as designed and does reliably; when you remember to set it. The change agent, tasked to bring change to a population unaware of the behavior impact needed to change and not terribly motivated to squeeze new processes and ways to work into the workload they are responsible to get done.

Anyone ever happy getting a new alarm clock?

Sure you hope it works better than the last, but really what is it that is better?

A more pleasant annoying ring to cut through slumber to roust you? Kind of an oxymoron.

Stop resisting change management. Just as smacking the snooze bar on your alarm soon defeats the purpose of setting an alarm, stop throwing roadblocks in the way of change management unless, like hitting the snooze bar too many times, you expect the same result.

Change management, like project management, is not a process, but a promise.

For change management to succeed we need to move from announcements and pronouncements to change managed from understanding, engaging, and identification of what will be. Your project stakeholder competence lends to their confidence and that lends to their adoption.

So many projects fail because they fail to factor in the ability for stakeholders to adapt.  Change management plans to manage ability to adapt, but not as a secondary or tertiary objective, the plan to adapt is a primary objective; as well as a primary project risk

After all change management is not about what’s in it for you, but what’s in it for them.  Unlike an alarm clock, you can not exhibit gross indifference to change management and expect people to snap into line.

Stop hitting the snooze bar on change management then blaming change management for your failure to wake up.

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Comments 2

  1. Hi Toby
    The alarm clock to me is a constant reminder every morning as to what controlled lives we lead by the simple time piece and how society has utilised this to control us and condition us in to routine and commitment so as to nor let the inner beast get any where near the surface. Maybe I am getting a bit deep here. That is what the alarm clock is to me though

    Really great post thanks lee

    1. Post

      Feel of control certainly has merit. In the case of work the schedule to arise is followed by the compensation from work. So, I guess if we opt-in to provide an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, someone needs to know when you will get there to start your honest day’s work.

      I hoped to give a perspective from how we rely on an alarm, but also wish we did not. Similar to how organizations wish change did not rely on people.

      What is a positive of an alarm?

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