hank pym, change management, people, organization, Toby Elwin, blog

Organizations don’t change, people change

organization change, Hank Pym, change management

… and now, Mr. Pym will review our organization transformation plan

Organizations will not change if people do not change. There is no such thing as organization change, people form organizations.

Organizations are, quite simply, made up of social interactions:  groups of people.

People change and all change is local change:

  • transformation,
  • business process reengineering,
  • technology implementation,
  • mergers & acquisitions,
  • Total Quality Management,
  • Six Sigma,
  • strategic planning

Or, if you prefer:

  • downsizing,
  • right-sizing,
  • restructuring,
  • Lean,
  • Agile,
  • redesign,
  • flattening of the organization, and
  • self-managed work teams all present organization change

What are the common themes between them?

All of rely on people for success. The best process is useless if people don’t routinely follow the process. The best technology has no use if people don’t plug it in and use it to its capability.

WIIFT? — What’s in it For Them?

It is people at the heart of organization change. People are the key to any of the above organization changes.

Whether strategic or tactical, mandated or self-initiated, change happens in organizations with or without warning.

What becomes important is proper planning for change to succeed. Rarely factored in for too many change projects, is the most important variable to change and transformation success:  people.

It’s not the strongest species that survive, or the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change. [I can not find proof Charles Darwin ever said this, so I won’t quote him, though I will co-op it.]

Why is it transformation projects succeed or gain institutional resilience only 10% to 20% of the time and that long-term, institutional rates of change success even smaller?

Do these small rates of success justify the capital expense and effort to attempt change without a proper change management plan? It seems like executive insanity to ever sign off on without identification of and full review of a change management plan.

To put it more clearly:  it is executive irresponsibility to not review a change management plan before, during, and throughout any enterprise-impacting project.

Executive blessing for any project without a concrete change plan, puts the firm’s investment at risk.

Also, the risk of going forward without a change plan adds unnecessary risk to all stakeholders to a degree that any project launch without a change management plan can only be labelled executive hubris.

People Act According to Their Plan

Planned or unplanned, clearly there are a sea of conditions that force organization change. Change can come from any front:  outside conditions, a new mission, new mandates, new technologies, and organizational growth.

These are all drivers and all compelling reasons for organizations to change, but how can you increase the odds that change will succeed?

No organization can maintain or remain the same and hope to compete, let alone survive. You can dramatically increase the odds of change success with a dedicated change management strategy. Let’s begin with what change management is:

  • Change management includes the tools, techniques, and process to manage the people-side of a business change in order to achieve the required business outcome and realize that business solution effectively within the social infrastructure of the workplace
  • Change management gets results by:
    1. Building sponsorship,
    2. creating leaders who will act as change agents, and
    3. changing behaviors in front-line teams and individual employees in business units.

If only 10% to 20% of projects succeed, do you believe change management stewardship is fully accounted for before launch?

Ask yourself when you review procedures of a business process reengineering project, a new technology implementation, or a strategic planning implementation what ratio (financial, budget, goals, metrics, communications) of that implementation’s resources dedicated to the human element of change?

Plan for People, not Process

What part of the plan is set aside to help people, those responsible, accountable, and within the very processes and charged to succeed using the new technology we perceive will deliver success.

You may find clear procedures in place for process or technology implementation, but what percentage gets allotted for change management?

Has your team built a process to assure project success to run in concert with present transformation projects built to increase success odds?

What does change management account for?

The focus of change management is the human and social side of the organization. Organizations are, quite simply, made up of social interactions and groups of people. The foundation of change management:

  • Create reasons that compel the need for change,
  • What part of change they deliver,
  • What change an employee is expected to do,
  • How someone can contribute to the changed organizations success, and
  • How change affects each person’s job

Change management is crucial to how the organization will embrace and institutionalize the change.

You need to devote the same energy and discipline to data collection, analysis, planning and implementation for organizational changes as devoted to process and technology changes.

Be mindful when you move from a 10% chance of success to a 100% chance of success, your change project not only succeeds, but as it becomes institutionalized, your organization is now more flexible and better prepared for future change(s).

The sum of organization change is not greater than the sum of people change.

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Comments 2

  1. Great Post. It's clear to me that you know your stuff. Couldn't agree more with the thesis: Org. change is individual change – I suggest coupling your theory above with examples from your own experience and/or current events.

    Also I think there are key 'soft skills' needed in organizations that would enhance the sustainment of flux..Soft skills around the big five personality traits – conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness.


    1. Post

      Soft skills, tangible versus intangible, hard skills – so many views of what is “important” and what is noise. If we, and I know you are, involved in organization development interventions, we really need to know our audience, need to know what spectrum of comfort they analyze, process, and count on to make sense of their world.

      At times we push the envelop to try to bring in perspectives or to move the conversation to another place, but it is our job to get into the personality of the organization or sponsor and translate into their language.

      As for case studies? They are valuable, but I find with so many people looking to identify themselves as unique, many case studies run the risk of: “well that is their issue, not our issue”; “that does not sound like us”; or the classic “but we are different”. Case studies run the risk of getting too personalized as to become esoteric or too specific.

      I try to suppress my client experiences, this blog is my therapy.

      Joking aside, it would take me some time to sanitize the work I've done to protect the innocent; you can see who I have worked for at About Us. No need to name names, just an amalgam.

      For me the industry is irrelevant, because all organizations are made of people and all people have a bias, agenda, filter, perspective, and motivation, so I try to capture the state all organizations must navigate. I hope to impart a place for people to say to themselves, “geez, I better look into that, seems that is important”.

      I could write for law enforcement, intelligence community, manufacturing, biopharm, health care, education, retail, professional services, or just write about those soft skills that all people, projects, managers, and leaders need to account for.

      Thanks for your visit Ernest, I'd love to hear about some of the work you are doing: a project manager with an master's in OD, working at one of the nation's leading hospitals is a whole kettle of interesting dynamics. Consider my site your forum for anything you can share with us.

      Thanks again,


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