The Problem(s) With Traditional Change Management

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

change management
The Problem(s) with Traditional Change Management

Change Management

All organizations must address the issue of change.

Change may occur within an organization, or from outside an organization. But one way or another, every organization faces change, and has to deal with change management.

Traditional change management theory believes that successful change management starts at the top of the organization.

In other words, for a change management initiative to be successful, the CEO must be a great champion of change management. The CEO must lead the change management process and must enlist other top executives to develop and implement the change management plan.

The idea here is one of a waterfall, whereas the change management initiative will cascade down thru the organization from the top to the bottom.

Executives mobilize middle management, and managers are tasked with facilitating the flow of information from the C-level to the rank and file.

Studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of the top down model for change management consistently indicate that these type of change management strategies have a failure rate of 70%.

With such a high failure rate, something must be wrong.

If you knew that a project had a 70% chance of failing, would you even start the project, or would you look for alternatives?

Traditional top down change management models fail for many reasons;

First, such models view upper management as the sole, and most important originators of change ideas and initiatives. Employees are viewed as who needs to be 'changed.' In this model, employee ideas and inspiration for how the organization can be improved are ignored.

Second, in a top down model, employees that suggest alternatives to the senior management change initiatives are branded as 'sabotuers' of the plan. For fear of earning negative labels, employees are reluctant to be creative and are less likely to become actively engaged in seeing the change initiative succeed.

Third, the top down model is heavily centralized, and focuses on senior management. Senior management are often insulated from many of the day to day activities of the organization, and are thereby in a difficult position to react quickly if aspects of the change management plan need to be amended.

Fourth, the top down method favours a 'carrot and stick' approach.

Employee's are encouraged to 'get on board' with the change initiative and will receive a reward for doing so. Conversely, employee's that do not support the change will at best, receive no reward, and at worst, experience a host of negative consequences like poor manager feedback on performance reviews, omission from promotion, etc.

These flaws in the traditional top down change management model are indeed a symptom of a larger problem.

The problem is that we are trying to push change onto an organization that is built for stability, not agility.

It's like trying to hit the gas and the brakes at the same time. We won't go anywhere, but we'll consume a lot of resources (gas and tires) trying to get there.

No matter how well senior management designs the change initiative, or how well middle managers work to implement the change plan, the organization simply is not structured in a way that allows for meaningful change and improvement.

The solution is to get the organization ready for change.

If we get the organization ready, we will have to worry much less about the resistance that may come from employees.

In a future post, I will discuss how to get your organization agile and ready for big change and improvement.


Chris Hall

Chris is a business management consultant and family business advisor. For more resources and helpful information, please visit: www.abbusinessbuilders.ca