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Flevy Author Spotlight: Our Interview with World-recognized Change Leader and Flevy Author, Ron Leeman

Ron LeemanIn 2012, Ron Leeman was awarded the distinguished title of Change Leader by the World HRD Congress.   He has led numerous global Change and Project Management initiatives.  Ron has also published numerous frameworks on Flevy related to Change, Process, and Project Management.  These frameworks are his own, developed through his extensive experience of over 40 years as a Change, Process, and Project professional.

We recently interviewed Mr. Leeman to better understand his approach to Change and how it differs from established Change Management frameworks, such as Prosci’s ADKAR and Kotter’s 8 Steps to Change.

How did you first get started in Change Management?

That’s a good “starter for 10.”

It was in 1974–goodness me that was a long time ago!–when I worked for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the UK. I attended various courses related to RM Currie’s Work Study, including Method Study, Work Study, Work Measurement, and Organisation & Methods, at what was then the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham, UK (now the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom). Following the successful completion of these courses, I went back to work for the MoD to apply my trade. I can hear you say “but that’s nothing to do with change?” Well, actually, it was because they all involved observing the way people went about their work, mapping their processes, critically examining them, and coming up with a better way of doing things. This then had to be sold to managers and their teams and to implement the new ways of working!

Following my time with the MoD, I went to work at Abbey National (which became Abbey and is now Banco Santander) first as a Business Analyst and then as a Productivity Consultant and Profit Improvement Consultant, but, again, all to do with “change.”

In 1996, I started work as an Independent Consultant and, if my memory serves me well, I first called myself a Change Manager when I was contracted to work for, what was then, the Bank of Scotland on a Core Banking Implementation, which had a far reaching impact on changing the way people did their job.

If you want to know more about me, take a look at my LinkedIn profile and I am happy to accept connection requests from you.

You have pioneered your own practical approach to Change Management.  Can you describe it and explain how it differs from other established Change frameworks?

I began developing this approach after I first started working as an Independent Consultant in 1996, but it has been regularly updated and changed since, based on new learning, acquired knowledge, research, and through being involved in many diverse change initiatives in a cross-section of different industry sectors.

The framework is modular, which means it can be used in its entirety or you can “pick and choose” which modules you want to use dependent on the change initiative. Implicit in the “framework” are creating a positive environment for change, managing change resistance, engendering positive change behaviours, and addressing organisational culture.

There are many change methodologies out there of which some are very well known (e.g. Prosci and Kotter), but others that not so well known (e.g. Pritchett’s Change Management Model and Weisbord’s Six-Box Model). These methodologies, in my opinion, are more about the “what” of change and what I call “fluffy.”  For example, here is the essence of these frameworks:

  • Prosci’s ADKAR – Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement.
  • Kotter’ 8 Steps – Create Urgency, Form a Powerful Coalition, Create a Vision for Change, Communicate the Vision, Empower Action, Create Quick Wins, Build on the Change, Make it Stick.
  • Pritchett’s Change Management Model – Imperative, Readiness, Implementation, Gain.
  • Weisbord’s Six-Box Model – Purpose, Structure, Rewards, Helping Mechanisms, Relationships, Leadership.

I like to think that the difference between my approach and other methodologies is that it is more of a “how” or “practical” way to do change and takes you through a logical set of steps with associated tools and techniques to help you on the way. It also includes desired outcomes, which I do not see in many other methodologies. I have had some favourable comments about my approach, including the following:

  • a nice framework…
  • as usual – apt, useful, and relevant…
  • a great overview of the change process…
  • another great article demystifying the subject…
  • great written article about ongoing change.

You can find more information about my approach in an article I published to the Flevy Blog The Highway of Change and a Practical Framework Approach to Change. I also have a free document on Flevy called A Practical Framework Approach to Change, which has now been downloaded more than 2,000 times and A Practical Framework Approach to Change – The Full Version.

What are some weaknesses you see in existing Change Management methodologies?

I don’t think there are any weaknesses in other methodologies apart from outcomes, as mentioned in my previous response, because they each serve a useful purpose. What I do think is that there are too many of them and practitioners get confused when embarking on a career in change–e.g., which one is best. Invariably they do tend to go for the better known ones, but there are lesser known ones that are equally valid and useful.

I would argue that models and methodologies are no substitute for an experienced Change Manager, because change is high risk, complex and dynamic, often messy and painful, fraught with problems, and associated with the unpredictable behaviour of people. While methodology is an important component of Change Management capability, it is not the only one–and perhaps not even the most important one. An experienced and seasoned Change Manager who can make sense of the “noise” using these and other tools is the most important asset.

All models and methodologies have value, but in my view, they should only be used by advanced and/or seasoned practitioners, because they require a deep academic and/or practical knowledge to be interpreted accurately.

More information on this subject can be found in my article called Change Management Methodologies and also in a Flevy document called A Snapshot Guide (to the better known Change Management Models/Methodologies).

What type of personality do you need to be a Change Leader?

I note you use the word “Leader!”

There has been many a debate about the subject of whether Change Manager is still the best title with the main argument against being for Change Leader. Before I answer this question, can I just say that I am a Change Manager–always have been and always will be–because having this title is a globally recognised one. Also, it does not preclude me from “leading” change.

I think the main difference between Change Manager and Change Leader is that a Change Manager is normally regarded as the person who is actually responsible for delivering the change, whereas a Change Leader is normally a person from the higher echelons of an organisation who has a responsibility to make it happen (e.g. the Sponsor).

For more information on this subject, please read my article Is the Term Change Management Still Relevant?.

A Change Manager needs to be many things to many people. Remember, they are dealing with a wide spectrum of people in the organisations “food chain” from a Sponsor, who is normally a senior individual, down to Operations, who are those people that will be most impacted by the change.

If I may be a little narcissistic, the following are some attributes that I have extracted from the 85 recommendations I have on LinkedIn, which people say I have. I think these will give you a good steer as to the kind of attributes a Change Manager needs:

  • “vast experience in managing change”
  • “highly respected by co-workers”
  • “quick capability to adapt to the context”
  • “down-to-earth no-nonsense communicator”
  • “reliable, knowledgeable and always positive”
  • “creative and works great with all clients”
  • “quickly builds relationships and trust”
  • “infinite patience and great tenacity”
  • “attention to detail, probity and sense of fun”
  • “ability to build immediate rapport”
  • “adaptable, flexible and people focused”

More information on personality can be found in my article called The Personality Side of Being a Change Management Professional.

What is the biggest barrier to the implementation of change initiatives?

The easy answer to this question is to say people and the “what’s in it for me” (WIFM) factor. Although this is the main factor, there are many barriers that exist, such as:

  • People – Self Interest, Habit, Misunderstanding, Non Acceptance, Self Interest, Fear etc.
  • Others – Lack of Sponsorship, Structural Inertia, Existing Power Structures, Failure of Previous Change Initiatives, Short Term Thinking, Lack of Empowerment etc.

So, how do you overcome these barriers? Here are just some ways–not an exhaustive list by the way:

  • Effective Sponsorship at the right level.
  • Open and honest communication.
  • Consult employees – early and widely.
  • Build in active involvement of all those impacted.
  • Allow for changes in Management roles.
  • Create awareness.
  • Clearly state objectives and benefits.
  • Consider and communicate the impact of change at an early stage.
  • Allow sufficient timescales to implement the change.
  • Ensure timely and focused training.
  • Create a change agent network.

For more information I have a document on Flevy called The People Side of Change & Change Resistance.

There is a much publicised statistic that 70% of change initiatives fail! Have you ever been involved in a failed project?

I’m glad you asked that question. Yes, the statistic you speak of is much used, but my view is that it does not have any sound statistical evidence on which it is based. In fact, I wrote a blog called 70% of Change Management Initiatives Fail–Really? on this very subject, which attracted some 3,500 hits on LinkedIn and which has been re-published on Flevy, in which I challenge that statistic.

But back to the question, it depends!

I have always had the good foresight of knowing when I am or when I am not suited to a project and whether I would add value and make it a success. What do I mean by that? Well, in projects that I have seen through to implementation, it has not failed. However, on a personal level, there has been “failure” due to a variety of reasons. Let me expand on that:

  • Interview vs. Reality – when you are interviewed for a role you are normally given a high-level requirement of what is expected of you and you are asked questions based on those high-level requirements. If all goes well you get selected and start the job. I can make a judgement, probably within a week of starting, as to whether I would add-value and deliver what was expected of me. In two instances what was discussed at the interview was not reflected in the reality of the situation so rather than continue I made it clear that I was not suitable and negotiated an amicable exit.
  • Clash of Personalities – stemming from the interview situation if the people you are going to be working for are not actually involved in the interview process e.g. HR do the interview you do not actually meet them before starting the role. One occasion springs to mind where my Programme Manager just did not have a clue about “change” and had a real hang-up about open and honest communication. Unfortunately I could not live with that so I terminated my contract.
  • Cultural Fit – there was one occasion where I just did not fit with the culture of the organisation and specifically the change team and key stakeholders. There was something inside me that said “try and fit in” but after some weeks it became apparent that the way I like to do things was not aligned to that organisational culture so once again I terminated my contract.
  • Running out of Budget – this is a classic because you would think it was something that should have been thought through well before the recruitment process. There were two occasions where I was told that they had “run out of money” for the overall project and that they had to cut back. Unfortunately one of the first areas they look at when this happens is change because it is not recognised as a “must have” within the project structure. The upshot was my contracted was terminated early.

The one thing about failure is that you learn some valuable lessons and I’m glad to say that the above were all relatively early in my career and as a result are far outweighed by the successful change initiatives I have been involved in since.

What are some challenges to implementing change in small and midsize business that are not as prevalent in larger organizations?

I would say that it is easier to implement change in smaller organisations than it is in larger ones (with some provisos). Why do I say that?

My approach to change is wholly underpinned by Communication and Stakeholder Management, because these two components have been shown, through much research, as being the two things (if done well) that make change successful.

If you take the two components as being synonymous with each other, while you now have many mechanisms through which to communicate to people, for me, face-to-face communications is still the best and most effective. It is easier to do that in an SME than it is in larger organisations and this can also be said about Stakeholder Management, which, in essence, is mainly about communication. In SMEs, although the overall challenges of change are similar, it is easier to reach the impacted community and interact with them on a more frequent basis. Actually, if you think about it logically, not all change initiatives are organisation-wide. They are more likely to be programme/project based and will impact only part of an organisation, so, effectively, this is like implementing change into an SME.

Culture also plays a big part in this aspect. SMEs are likely to have a more distinctive culture rather than larger organisations and I think this aspect helps because usually everyone knows each other from C-Level Execs down to Operational people. They will more likely be multi-skilled and able to switch between different roles which the makes it easier for them to gain a better understanding of how the change will impact the overall organisation. However, a word of caution, this could also be problematical when looking at processes and organisation structures because of all the complex inter-dependencies and interactions involved.

When you meet someone resistant to change, how do you diagnose their true reasons or motives behind this resistance?

 In a previous answer, I said people resistance is often cited as the number one barrier to effectively implement change. In my experience, it is not a widespread trait and you will normally find that there will only be a handful of people who actively resist change, probably those that are more impacted than others. I recall watching a video in which John Kotter recommended that the best way to deal with these people is to “cut them out of the process” altogether, because you will be spending too much time trying to convince them. I have an opposing view!

I remember one project I worked on for a large Government organisation in the UK that was implementing a new online Ministerial Online Briefing System as part of a wider Government-wide Knowledge Network. One of the key stakeholders who headed up one of the Departments was an avid resistor–i.e. they would not entertain a change to their current process and were adamant that their current ways of working were efficient and adequate. And, in addition, they said they were too busy with “business as usual” to commit any time and effort in a new implementation of this sort.

My approach was to engage with the Department Head on a one-to-one basis and then to be involved in briefing his Lead Policy Officials at their weekly meetings about the “why,” “what,” “how,” “who,” “when,” and “where” of the new system and to understand their specific reasons for not wanting to be involved. I also created a “draft” brief related to one of their initiatives to demonstrate how easy it was to create and upload onto the new system. This had the desired effect and consequently the Department became a complete advocate; and their briefs and use of the system were used as a “guiding light” to all other Departments involved in the implementation. So ,for the sake of a little bit of time and effort, it helps to convert resistors, because they will become key advocates and others will follow suit.

What are some tips to measure an organization’s readiness to adopt change?

I think I will start by saying that we need to draw a distinction between Change Readiness and Business Readiness. My take on this is:

  • Change Readiness is a general assessment of people’s views of how ready their organisation is for change and is normally executed before a change initiative starts but can also be followed-up at any time with no requirement for tracking.
  • Business Readiness and Adoption is a regular assessment (from project inception through to go-live) of how ready people are to work in the context of a specific change initiative with a target to be reached to confirm readiness for go-live.

Change Readiness, a crucial step in any change initiative, is to understand what the “state of readiness” of an organisation is. Unfortunately, many organisations plunge headlong into change initiatives with little consideration given to the following factors:

  • Will the organisations culture permit success?
  • Does the organisation have the capacities and resources to ensure success?
  • Are there any legacy issues that might confound any change?
  • Will leadership be able to make it happen?

So, as a first pass, it is important to measure an organisations readiness for the pending change through the use of a focused questionnaire. The answers will help when pulling together a Change Management Strategy and Plan. It will also help determine what initial communications need to be sent out, which stakeholders need to be engaged and at the same time will create awareness and a feeling of involvement with the impacted community.

But, this will only give you information on overall readiness for change and not an indication of whether an organisation is ready the implementation of new ways of working. This aspect is what I call Business Readiness and Adoption.

In projects to measure Business Readiness and Adoption, I have previously used (but not restricted to) the following measurement areas:

  • Leadership.
  • Business Area Readiness.
  • Implementation Planning.
  • Stakeholder Management & Communication.
  • Process & Procedures Readiness.
  • Business Benefits.
  • Departmental Roles & Responsibilities (Impact on Individuals).
  • Education & Training.

These areas are all qualitative and are measured through a simple questionnaire containing previously agreed (with key stakeholders) questions and a suitable numerical scoring scale. Questionnaires were sent out on a cyclical basis (normally monthly) to the same group of stakeholders and the results were compiled and measured against previous results to track movement (static, up or down) in any of the key areas. Analysis was done on the results and commentary provided to the stakeholder group in the form of a presentation, which was normally done face-to-face during stakeholder meetings and also sent out to other interested parties, e.g. Steering Group for information.

If there was a static or downward trend from previous scores, then this indicated an area of concern although sometimes there was a valid reason for this. If it is deemed an area of concern, then specific actions and change interventions were put in place to address them.  The results of which would hopefully reverse the trend and show up in subsequent results. In addition to this, before the initial questionnaire was sent out, the stakeholder group would be asked to agree an overall target score which was what they considered should be achieved to indicate business readiness. All scores were tracked against this overall score. Achieving the target indicated readiness but if the target was not achieved a subjective judgement could be made, based on results, of whether they were close enough to the target to go-live anyway or, if they were not, to delay go-live.

I have to say that this is a very simple (if not somewhat crude) way of tracking and measuring change readiness/adoption and there are more sophisticated tools out there which will provide a much more scientific and comprehensive approach. But for me and the organisations I have used it in, it has worked.

For more information on Business Readiness/Adoption please read my article Measuring Business Readiness & Adoption.  I also have accompanying slides available on Flevy called A Framework for Measuring Business Readiness & Adoption.

For someone who is interested in the field of Change Management or relatively new to change management, which of your instructional change guides would you recommend to them?

All of them! No seriously it depends on what people are looking for.

I have three, what I call “overall guides” available on Flevy:

  1. My Comprehensive Guide to Change Management, which will give them a good understanding of what change is all about.
  2. My Comprehensive Guide to Change Management and ERP Implementations, which contains much of the information in the above document, but adds specific elements which need to be considered for an ERP change initiative.
  3. My A Practical Framework Approach to Change – the Full Version, which details the different components of my approach which are also contained in the two documents above.

But, another word of caution on the subject of guides, whilst they provide an invaluable reference, you cannot have a discussion with a set of PowerPoint slides or an associated article in order to probe a point, ask a related question, or obtain background information. You also do not have the benefit of the author’s context or able to discuss with them any questions that you may have. For someone who is new to change, this is important because it helps to focus thought processes and galvanise ideas. To help with this, I offer a Coaching/Mentoring Service.

As a change and process professional of many years standing, I have learned a lot about change and process work through both success and the occasional failure (see my answer to the previous question on this subject). During this time, I have kept masses of reference material previously used on assignments for organisations or which I have researched when I myself have needed knowledge to augment what I already knew. I am willing to share this information to those new to change and process work, those just wishing to gain practical insights, or students who are studying anything to do with change or process.

I am not saying I know it all and that what I have done and the way I have done it is the right way, it isn’t! It is “my way” (as Frank Sinatra sang) and is based on my practical experience–the things I have done for organisations and that have worked.

About David Tang

David Tang is an entrepreneur and management consultant. His current focus is Flevy, the marketplace for premium business documents (e.g. business frameworks, presentation templates, financial models). Prior to Flevy, David worked as a management consultant for 8 years. His consulting experience spans corporate strategy, marketing, operations, change management, and IT; both domestic and international (EMEA + APAC). Industries served include Media & Entertainment, Telecommunications, Consumer Products/Retail, High-Tech, Life Sciences, and Business Services. You can connect with David here on LinkedIn.

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