Strategies to improve your team's organizational change skills: Employing "grassroots" action research to expand strategic throughput
Stephen Garfein, MBA, PMP®
Shankar Sankaran PhD, PMP®
Professor, School of the Built Environment. University of Technology, Sydney
This paper provides a framework for an extended workshop for portfolio, program and project managers. It is designed to facilitate organizational change and to expand strategic throughput.
What follows builds on our prior papers on organizational change (Garfein & Sankaran, 2011, 2012, 2014). Further, this paper is based on the process of expanding strategic throughput by delivering project and program benefits more effectively (Garfein 2007, 2009). The paper is organized into nine major topics: 1) Strategy and organizational frameworks; 2) Using action research to improve organizational change skills; 3) A conceptual model for expanding strategic throughput when organizational change is a significant factor; 4) Project manager or change manager; 5) Work Preference Indicator; 6) The “grassroots” organization change leadership process; 7) A case study: Vancouver Island Chapter of PMI; 8) Recommended workshop materials; and 9) Action research inputs.
Team of Change Agents: According to Steve DelGrosso, Vice Chair, Project Management Institute (PMI) Board of Directors, project and program managers need to be the orchestra leaders for [today's] much larger team of change agents as the scope and complexity of organizational transformations increase (DelGrosso, 2014).
All Strategic Change Happens through Projects and Programs: The Project Management Institute's February 2014 Pulse of the Profession® found that 61% of the firms surveyed struggle to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation. This gap between strategy and implementation demonstrates a lack of understanding among organization executives that all strategic change happens through projects and programs. Only 56% of the strategic initiatives met the original goals and business intent. While some projects improve an organization's ability to “run the business” and don't rise to the level of a “strategic initiative,” all of an organization's strategic initiatives are projects and programs which inevitably “change the business.” (February 2014 Pulse of the Profession® (Page 2)
Strategy and Organizational Change Frameworks
Before discussing strategies to improve a team's organizational change skills, the following two frameworks are offered to improve understanding of the organizational change environment (Exhibit 1) and strategic portfolio management (Exhibit 2).
Exhibit 1–Change management is pervasive from strategy formulation to the successful day-to-day implementation of projects and programs.
Exhibit 2–All strategic change happens through projects and programs. Only 56% of the strategic initiatives met the original goals and business intent (benefits realization) (Garfein 2007).
Using Action Research to Improve Organization Change Skills
There are many varieties of action research practiced in the world. For the purposes of this paper the characteristics of action research are shown in Exhibits 3 and 4 lists the reasons why action research useful in the development of improved organizational change skills. (Sankaran, Walker, Paul, Mau, & Orr, 2012, & Dick 2001):
Exhibit 3 - Characteristics of action research (Sankaran et al., 2012)
Some reasons that action research is attractive to managers are the following:
Exhibit 4–Benefits of action research (Sankaran et al., 2012)
Conceptual Model for Expanding Strategic Throughput when Organization Change Is a Significant Factor
While the Work Preference Indicator (discussed below) is helpful in the identification of those individuals with a preference for organizational change work, the WPI is only one of three relevant factors shown in Exhibit 5. The other two are, 1) the individual's organizational change management knowledge and interpersonal skills; and 2) their capabilities in project, program, and portfolio management (Exhibit 6). Exhibit 7 provides the references that support the conceptual model for expanding strategic throughput when organization change is a significant factor.
Two Competencies and a Work Preference
Exhibit 5–Change management: Two competencies and a work preference
When Organizational Change Is a Significant Factor
Exhibit 6–Increasing importance of capabilities along all three axes (X, Y, And Z) as the requirement for organizational change increases
References Supporting the Three Axes of the Conceptual Model
Exhibit 7–References that discuss the preferences and competencies shown in the conceptual model for expanding strategic throughput when organization change is a significant factor
Project Manager or Change Manager?
Similarities and Differences
Nahmias and Crawford (2008) identified a group of competencies that were shared by program, project, and change managers (Exhibit 8). They also identified competencies that are unique to change managers.
Change managers are different. While they may also be effective project and program managers, it is their unique change management competencies that set them apart. The question is, is it possible to identify individuals with these unique organizational change competencies?
Exhibit 8–Similarities and differences among project manager (PM), program manager (PG), and organizational change manager (CM) competencies (On the right side of this exhibit are the characteristics unique to change managers [Nahmias &Crawford, 2008].)
Mapping Competencies to Work Preferences
Exhibit 9 maps the unique change manager competencies identified by Nahmias and Crawford (2008) with three of the 17 work preference indicators discussed in the following section.
Exhibit 9–Mapping of the Nahmias and Crawford (2008) change management characteristics to the Work Preference Indicator (Gilbert 2006)
Work Preference Indicator
There may be a meaningful difference between a person's skills and their work preferences (a person may be competent at something but prefer not to do it). The Work Preference Indicator (Gilbert, Sohi, & McEachern, 2008) is a scientifically based instrument that measures an individual's work preferences. Work preferences can be used to help identify individuals who are more likely to be successful as organization change managers.
In what follows, quantitative results were gathered using the WPI from a population of 245 participants. In depth, qualitative conversations were conducted with individuals having a change management score of 75% or higher to improve understanding of their roles in leading, or participating in, change management initiatives. These conversations were part of a pilot effort that will be incorporated into the action research project described later in this paper.
To answer the question, “Is it possible to identify individuals with these unique organizational change competencies?” we began by correlating unique change manager competencies identified by Nahmias and Crawford (2008) (see previous Exhibit 8) within three Work Preference Indicator measures: 1) achieve results; 2) be flexible; and 3) explore ideas (see previous Exhibit 9 and Exhibit 10 below).
Identification of Work Preferences
Exhibit 10–The WPI measures of an individual's job task preferences
Criteria for the Classification of CMs, PMs, and TMs
The criteria for classification of CMs, PMs, and TMs (team members) are shown in Exhibits 11 and 12. The change manager (CM) thresholds were driven by the high level of skill required for success in leading organizational change. Thus a CM had to score higher than 75 on the WPI in the three measures indicative of these three CM work preferences: 1) achieve results; 2) explore ideas; and 3) flexibility. The minimum project manager and team member thresholds were set at 50.
Exhibit 11–The 17 WPI Preferences Mapped to CM, PM, and TM Competencies
Exhibit 12–Thresholds for Determining Work Preference Alignment in the Domains of Project Management and Change Management
When an individual scored over 75 in CM and over 50 in PM, they were considered to have both change manager and program/project manager work preferences. In Competencies for Managing Change (Crawford & Nahmias, 2008. “Suggested Decision Matrix for Engagement of Project Managers and Change Managers” p. 11), the authors recommend that strategic initiatives, which, by their nature, are complex and require significant organizational change, have both a CM and a PM. It may be the case that the job is too big for one individual. Simply put, in this situation the CM figures out what to do, and the PM determines how to achieve the desired results.
“Grassroots” Organizational Change Leadership
This section is the heart of this paper; it is based on the following premises:
- Almost without exception, strategic initiatives require organizational change, and many require significant change.
- Failure to address organizational change adequately is a major cause of project and program failures in achieving benefits realization.
- “Grassroots” organizational change leadership, when coupled with the strong support of the executive sponsor, will expand strategic throughput (increasing benefits realization).
- Application of action research methods, with the researcher playing an active role in the process, will facilitate sensemaking and provide research data that is likely to produce meaningful insights into how project, program, and portfolio managers manage organizational change in the real world.
What follows is a suggested format for a “grassroots” workshop that takes place over a period of time ranging from one to three months. The key to the effectiveness of the workshop is giving the participants time for sensemaking; that is, it should give them time to give meaning to what they are experiencing in their individual organizations. Sensemaking is a collaborative process that helps each individual create a shared understanding and awareness of the change taking place in their specific organization (Wieck et al., 2005). The proposed process is diagrammed in Exhibit 13 and further detailed in Exhibit 14. If some of the participants will only be interested in, or able to attend, the first day of the workshop, it will still be beneficial.
Exhibit 13–“Grassroots” organizational change leadership process workshop agenda
Exhibit 14–“Grassroots” organizational change leadership workshop outline
A Case Study: Vancouver Island Chapter of PMI
Sixty-seven members of the Vancouver Island chapter of PMI took the Work Preference Indicator prior to a presentation by the author of this paper on the work preferences of organizational change managers. Thirteen individuals (19% of the population) scored 70% or higher, indicating that they had a preference for organizational change. At the other end of the spectrum, sixteen individuals (24% of the population) had scores below 35%, indicating a low preference for organizational change work (Exhibits 15 and 16). This paper suggests that we are all expected to function as change managers, like it or not—even those individuals who score low on work preferences for change management. Although a project manager may have a low preference for organizational change work, he or she may be assigned to lead a project requiring significant change nevertheless.
Exhibit 15–Change manager score distribution across a population of 67 individuals (Even the 24% of the population having low change manager work preferences are likely to be assigned to projects and programs requiring change management skills.)
Exhibit 16–Change manager greater than 70 and Less than 35 (n of 67)
Recommended Workshop Materials
Exhibit 17–Primary book for the workshop This book is used to identify change leader styles (see the following section for additional detail).
Exhibit 18–Required reference for the workshop PMI believes that all strategic change in organizations is delivered through programs and projects.
Exhibit 19–Suggested reference summarizing many of the organizational concepts and techniques found in the literature
Change Intelligence (Trautlein, 2013)
The reality is that most changes do fail. As many as 70% of organizational change initiatives fall short of expectations. According to Trautlein:
Psychologists have conducted many studies indicating that almost all the time, our first reaction to changes to perceive it as a threat – something that causes apprehension, if not outright fear.
Humans are hard-wired to resist change. Rapid changes bring up fear in our very bodies. Our ancestral memories and DNA are hardwired to resist change because change usually meant fire, flood, drought, enemy or animal attacks, earthquakes or famine. Change, to our reflexes, heart and mind usually means something bad, evoking chaos, loss and grief.
Yet change is a constant and not likely to go away anytime soon. In fact, change has only become more wide-ranging, coming at us faster than ever. Those who cannot adapt to change will be left behind, and, in organizations, change can affect everyone from the top down. It only stands to reason that those who go beyond mere adaptation to spearheading and initiating change will thrive and prosper.
Exhibit 20 provides an overview of the seven change leadership styles discussed in Change Intelligence. During Phase 2 of the workshop these change leadership styles will be discussed. Participants will then identify their own styles and include an overview in their first bimonthly report submitted in connection with the Phase 3 Study Groups.
Exhibit 20–Change Intelligence's change leader styles (Trautlein, 2013)
Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide (Project Management Institute, 2013)
Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide a states: “PMI [Project Management Institute] views change management as an essential capability that cascades across and throughout portfolio, program, and project management (Exhibit 18). PMI believes that all strategic change in organizations is delivered through programs and projects. Successful organizations lead change by managing their projects and programs effectively. Executing strategy well requires the successful delivery of change programs—programs that improve performance and implement innovations. Such programs, however, have typically not been executed well.” (Pages VIII & 1)
Leading Business Change for Dummies (Schlachter & Hildebrandt, 2012)
This book (Exhibit 19) is a suggested reference summarizing many of the organizational concepts and techniques found in the literature. To quote the authors, “Although we are firm believers in the need for senior leaders to take responsibility and set a powerful vision and the reasons for change in the organization, we also know that leading changes everyone's responsibility, not just the CEOs for this and” The book provides easy-to-apply frameworks that may prove useful during the Phase 3 Study Group timeframe.
Action Research Inputs
The role of action research in all of the above is the subject of another paper. However, in summary, there are potentially five, rich sources of research data that can be derived from these workshops:
- Individual participant Work Preference Indicator results, including documentation of where each participant disagrees with the indicated preferences and examples of where the indicators correlate with their experience.
- Participant survey of their work experience, education, and other factors. This will help assess the participant's project, program, and portfolio management expertise and their organizational behavior and change experience.
- Identification of individual change leadership styles as described in Change Intelligence (Trautlein, 2013).
- Bimonthly Microsoft Word reports from each participant on their observations, both individual and organizational. These reports will be searched automatically for keywords and phrases to identify common threads and trends, with the results being loaded into a relational database for further analysis.
- Observations from the two workshop days.
This proposed research is likely to produce meaningful insights into how project, program, and portfolio managers actually manage organizational change in the real world.
Almost without exception, strategic initiatives require organizational change, and most require significant change.
Failure to adequately address organizational change is a major cause of project and program failures in achieving benefits realization.
“Grassroots” organizational change leadership, when coupled with the strong support by the executive sponsor, will expand strategic throughput (increasing benefits realization).
Application of action research methods, with the researcher playing an active role in the process, will facilitate sensemaking and provide research data that is likely to produce meaningful insights into how project, program, and portfolio managers manage organizational change in the real world.
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© 2014, Stephen J Garfein
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA