Tools for Driving Change with Tom Devane

One of the most promising and fastest growing areas of management science is the area of organizational change. “Organizational change” is the fancy way of saying, we often know what we should do — we just don’t do it. Like diet, go to the gym, and so on. Turns out there’s a science for making that jump — from knowing we should do something, to actually doing it.

Tom Devane is an internationally known management consultant, author, and leadership development coach. He specializes in building client capabilities in the areas of large-scale change, high-performance teams, and the strategy-through-execution cycle. He has consulted for a wide variety of organizations including Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, the US Federal Judicial Court System, and the government of South Africa.

I asked Tom to share some high-leverage tools that can fit on any leader’s tool belt. Tom’s the perfect expert for this because he’s the co-author of an outstanding book, The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems – it gives details on over 60 simple methods that CEOs can use to engage their people, and drive successful change.

“Successful change” means staff don’t give it lip service and go back to doing the old way, they actually do embrace the new way. “Engage their people” means you get, not passive compliance or secret resistance, but enthusiastic help.

Tom Devane learned about the importance of Change Management the hard way. While at Accenture, the biggest variable controlling the success or failure of projects was, whether the users wanted the new project or not. In fact the failure rate of change projects is near 75% — 3 out of 4 projects do not meet their agreed objectives on time and on budget.

Even simple changes can fail. Once when I worked at Oracle, the VP of Operations announced that the entire company was going to switch to a “manufacturing calendar” — sometimes called a “4-4-5 calendar” — which would have provided some benefits, and which he certainly had the power to do. Yet within a month the decree was rescinded, due to foot-dragging and grass roots resistance.

And when we hit resistance we too often think we have to explain. We try to give reasons. We try to use logic. Yet logic and reasons and explanations are not enough. I could give you 10 powerful and compelling reasons why I ought to exercise more — yet I still don’t go to the gym.

Behavior change requires more than logic and reasons. Behavior change requires a level of emotional buy-in.

In other words, we need to figure out how to get employee engagement.

So Tom Devane set out to document the best ways to create engagement. The result is a collection of 61 different techniques that allow people to reach engagement by taking part in the creation of the plan. This has the advantage of also tapping the knowledge of those people — so we get a smarter plan that’s also more popular and has greater buy-in from the staff.

No Charisma Required
One wrong way to try to get buy in is to rely on motivational speakers, or the charisma of the CEO (if the CEO has any). Why wrong? Because the outside motivation is, as Devane puts it, “buy-in for a day” — it’s temporary because it’s external.

A problem with charismatic CEOs is, the other people start to rely on the CEO to provide a motivation that truly needs to come from the inside.

Fortunately, CEOs can instead use one of the semi-structured methods in the book for bringing people together and getting the peers to motivate each other. No special training or outside consultants required.

In fact it’s often more effective for internal people — the CEO or some other inside person — to facilitate, because the other people in the company will cut one of their peers a lot more slack.

Example: Integrated Planning via the Search Conference
Microsoft had a division that wanted to go after a new market. They used the “Search Conference” — a roughly two day effort that alternates between large group meetings and small group analysis. Each small group cycle ends by reporting back out to the whole group. The whole group tackles all the major issues.

The crucial element so many folks miss is, to turn the resulting strategy into action plans for the people in the room.

Example: World Cafe
Start with some small questions that feed each other. And set the room with round tables. At each table, there is a different question being asked and answered. One person “hosts” the table and provides continuity. After each round of discussion, people move to another table, changing who they are with, and take on the next question. Again, you end the day with action plans.

Keeping the Process Safe
Sometimes CEOs worry the group will take the company into a wrong direction. That’s not a problem – just set up the boundaries in advance of the meeting, directing the group up front as to which areas are open for innovation — maybe new markets are okay — and which areas are not open — maybe new products are off the table. Try to keep it at 4-6 boundaries or less.

Competitive Advantage
Organizational change is tremendously difficult. The firm that masters this will profoundly out-perform the competition who have not.

Tom Devane strongly believes that any CEO can easily become good enough at a few of these group techniques (and a few is all you’ll need) to make organizational change far more likely to succeed.

[Listen to the whole interview here.]

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