Reviewing ‘Who Killed Change’
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Published: Wed, 10 May 2017
The book “Who Killed Change” is about change management. Through its interesting fable style, it teaches the managers of organizations how to cope with change successfully. The author, after analyzing all the change agents, concludes very appropriately that the same factors that lead to the death of organizations, if exercise their power rightfully, can help change thrive in the organizations.
The story starts by describing a murder scene of yet another change. Agent Mike McNally, a Columbo-style detective, investigates the crime scene and makes a list of thirteen suspects that he thinks are the most commonly involved culprits in the murder of anyone with the last name Change. He interviews all the thirteen suspects in detail in order to resolve the case.
The manner in which the author describes the suspects, personifies them and relates them to the cause of Change’s death is quite engrossing. Their description clearly shows an irony between what they are and what they should have been as far as change implementation is concerned. Another important insight provided by the author while these suspects are being interviewed, is that most of them have to work in synchronization with each other, otherwise failure is inevitable. These murder suspects are described as follows and in all similar cases, they are always the same.
Culture. Culture is the set of predominant values, beliefs and norms that define an organization. Culture plays a critical role in the entire change process. If change is to be implemented successfully, then managers should make sure that the existing culture in their organizations supports and sustains change, meanwhile detecting loopholes where existing culture is not aligned with the proposed change and taking corrective actions.
Commitment.Commitment refers to the people’s motivation and willingness to change their behaviors as a result of a change initiative. This can be achieved only if people working in the organizations are informed about the change alongwith the knowledge as to how it will impact them. Any concerns regarding change should also be addressed and this is the responsibility of the leadership team. To make people see how change will affect their lives and how important it is for them to be committed, can only be achieved through a clear vision, and through proper planning that will integrate change in their daily routines.
Sponsorship. Sponsorship is a senior leader who is responsible and authorized for using necessary resources like time, money and people, to ensure the timely implementation and eventual sustainability of change. The role of sponsorship is very important to the success of change in any organization and this role is not restricted to mere introduction of change, rather it involves the continuous support of the change sponsor and commitment of the leadership through reinforcement of change via accountability and incentives.
Change leadership team. The change leadership team comprises of leaders who are close to the action and are responsible for managing and executing various change strategies on a day-to-day basis. After sponsorship, it is these leaders who can play a vital role in leading people through change. The author believes that it is important for this team to comprise of people who have successfully implemented some change, who are respected by their peers, who can communicate effectively, who have the right skill set to lead and who respect diverse viewpoints because they have worked at all levels both in formal and informal roles.
Communication. The role of communication is to create a dialogue between those who want to bring about a change and those who will be asked to change. This dialogue should be consistent in its delivery irrespective of who is communicating, delivered through different media for effectiveness, and delivered by people who are known and well-respected. If communication regarding change is not effective, change will never survive.
Urgency. Urgency is the need for people to understand the importance to change while accepting change. If they do not feel this urgency, they will accept the status quo and will make no considerable effort to change. The author believes that a sense of urgency is created only if leaders and leadership teams communicate with the people the gaps between what is what should be, provide them with credible reasons to change and more importantly motivate them to change by translating the sense of urgency into a cause.
Vision. A vision is a clear and compelling picture that allows people to see how they will succeed after integrating change. A vision cannot be created successfully by the leaders alone. Just as people expect to be part of the change process, similarly everyone in the organization needs to share a vision as far as change and its positive impact is concerned. A sense of urgency should be created to break the monotony of routines and allow change to set in.
Plan. Leading people effectively through change is only possible if the change is not only planned strategically and tactfully, but also steps are taken to implement the change. Looking at the bigger picture for too long reflects that change implementation is not on the priority list of the managers. Therefore effective planning for change should involve all the people who are likely to be affected; the resistors and the early adopters both; and should outline all necessary details required to implement the plan. Once outlined, the right infrastructure should be developed to support the change.
Budget. Budget refers to the amount of money spent on change initiation. Unless the return on investment (ROI) is proportionate to the limited resources allocated for implementing change, financing change will always be difficult.For budgeting to be effective, it is important that the sponsors see the need and feel the urgency to bring about change and then allocate resources in the best possible way. Any necessary investments on infrastructure should not be withheld and managers should try to make the budget in the most cost-effective manner.
Trainer. The role of a change trainer is very important as he is the one responsible for assessing people on whether they have the required skills to execute change and succeed. A trainer should be able to evaluate and address the concerns of the people expected to change by using a variety of change leadership strategies. He should possess the necessary expertise to mold with the situation and partner with the people of the organization in order to influence and increase their commitment to change.
Incentive. Incentives are the reward and recognition people get when they bring about the desired change through their actions and behavior. Incentives do not necessarily mean monetary rewards. A lot many times, well-deserved recognition proves to be much more useful than mere money. The most important thing that the author has described as far as incentives are concerned is that different people need different incentives. Unless this is realized, employees will never embrace change willingly and effectively as their minds and hearts can only be tapped if it is known that what motivates them.
Performance management.Performance management is the process through which goals and expectations are set regarding people’s behavior towards change by tracking their progress and providing feedback and guiding them on how to implement change.
Accountability.Once goals and expectations are set, it is then through the process of accountability that followup is done as to whether people’s behaviors and results are in line with the goals. The act of accountability should ensure that managers walk the talk especially when behaviors and results do not match with the change initiatives. The role of accountability is very critical to the survival of change in any organization. Anyone, irrespective of their status and level in the hierarchy, should be held accountable for successful change implementation and managers should ensure two-way accountability where leaders and team members are partnered for performance.
In addition to all the above-mentioned suspects, the author talks about four more characters, the stakeholders, and how they view the death of change. According to the stakeholders there are a number of barriers that are mostly ignored by the middle and senior level managers and only the front-line employees and supervisors are able to see them. For example, managers and leaders show resistance to new ideas even if employees see the need to implement them. Accountability occurs in the form of reprimanding workers for a job done bad rather than incentivizing them not to make errors. This also acts as a barrier to successful change implementation. When leaders do not walk the talk, employees are unable to feel the urgency to embrace change.
Having described at length all factors that contribute towards the failure of change, the author solves the mystery in a very captivating way by making all the aforementioned characters responsible for the death of change. In the end he puts forth a series of questions that managers need to ask while undertaking change in their organization meanwhile applying the lessons of the story to real life situation. These questions will help the managers realize when a given change will be successful and when it might be at risk thereby helping them to design an action plan to address the risks to change.
Critical Assessment of the Book
“Change can be successful only when the usual characters in an organization combine their unique talents and consistently involve others in initiating, implementing and sustaining change”
Ken Blanchard is a management guru who with his insightful, powerful and compassionate qualities has impacted the day-to-day management of people and companies more than anyone else. He is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world and has done some groundbreaking work in the fields of management and leadership. Ken is an expert storyteller who has an amazing knack for making seemingly complex matters easy to understand.
Although there have been numerous books written on change management, yet it is the unorthodox style of presentation of Who Killed Change that makes it stand out. The authors, in a very fun and clever way, have highlighted the intricacies involved in organizational change and in the process have given some very important practical tips for managers of all types in organizations, both big and small. The study guide given at the end enables people to ask themselves some practical questions that will help them examine the change efforts that they are leading in their organizations. This study guide espouses the concepts of leading people through change, Blanchard’s hallmark program on Change Leadership, with the characters who conspired to kill change.
The characters identified as suspects are unique in their names and descriptions, yet at the same time we can easily relate to them and spot them in any organization we work in. The most enthralling aspect of these characters, however, is that each one of their physical descriptions reflects flaws that became a cause of sabotaging change. For example, Clair Communication is suffering from Laryngitis. Change, unfortunately, cannot survive when communication in the organization is faulty and people who are advocates of change are not communicating with those who are resisting it.
Another suspect, Victoria Vision, is myopic. If vision cannot see properly, how will it perform her role effectively? And this is what happens in organizations where change efforts do not succeed. The vision is so poor and weak that it is not transmitted to the concerned people and as a result, the desired outcome is not produced.
Similarly, Carolina Culture is a small and unassuming character, whereas,for leading people through change, the culture of change needs to be so strong and distinguished that anybody, working at any level in the organization, is able to see and feel it. The role of Earnest Urgency is very critical in integrating change as a prioritymatter, however, it is always late and fails to instill in people the dire need to change.
The plot of the story has been developed by John Britt, the senior co-author of Who Killed Change. John has been studying change for a long time and Ken Blanchard, alongwith his team of change experts, acquaints the readers with all the thirteen characters with reference to their organizational role, relationships and expectations and fits them together as pieces of a puzzle in the context of managing or murdering change.While doing so, however, the authors do tend to become a little too intense and forced. The notes shared by Agent McNally at the end of every chapter seem to stretch the description of the characters too far and one tends to lose interest in the story at this point. Although they help us see the picture of the murder from a neutral perspective, yet after having said so much in the chapters, they over-emphasize the details.
Apart from this, I found the story very engrossing and the best part is the lessons it teaches about change on a subliminal level while making the reader enjoy the plot. Through the description and interrogation of each character, the author supports the fact that roughly 70% of change efforts in organizations fail as change is never easy. The practical questions given at the end of the book teaches all those people, who are even slightly authorized to initiate a change, how to identify and address the typical concerns that employees have regarding change as well as how to select an appropriate strategy to resolve these concerns.
While writing the ‘autopsy report’ of Change’s death, the author has very pertinently highlighted three key assumptions regarding this murder.
People leading the Change think that announcing it is the same as integrating it.
People’s concerns with Change are not surfaced or addressed.
Those being asked to implement Change are not involved in the planning.
These assumptions are true for all sorts of organizations and the lesson learnt is that anybody responsible for bringing about a change in the correct manner, should do so by consulting everyone and support and finance change with integrity and care. Only then will change thrive and sustain.
Analysis and Evaluation of the Book
Who Killed Change is a unique book on change management as it has lessons for leaders who are not just CEOs or regular managers but for everyone, be it supervisors, teachers, parents or even for anyone sitting at home. The common lesson for each of these people is how to take a concept or an idea and get it implemented in a way that people get committed and excited about it. This is what is ca-lled managing change and in today’s world, each one of us has to be a manager of change. If we look carefully in the mirror around change efforts, we might find ourselves to be a suspect.
In organizational settings, this book will help all the members of the organization to get familiar with change and eventually influence it. The lessons of the story are not restricted to any particular role in the organization. The way many organizations view change is that it is the responsibility of the leaders at the top to drive that change and while they certainly do have a role to play, the author and his team of change experts want leaders at all levels to be playing a role in bringing about change.
Through this fun and clever murder mystery, the book teaches the managers to understand the dynamics operating in a company that kill change and assess whether it is a particular character like culture or vision, or is it some sort of leadership that has killed change. The managers need to realize that each of the dynamics in the organization has to work together for change to succeed. They just can’t launch change through a marketing campaign and expect it to take root for people to embrace it. All the thirteen suspects are commonly found in any organization, and people can easily resonate with these characters, thereby making them even more real. Through their vivid descriptions, readers, whoever they are, can start thinking of the change they are involved in, the projects they are working on, and then develop a quick sense of how well the project is working and what are the areas for improvement.
Who Killed Change is a useful book for small as well as large businesses as it introduces change in a fun way to all members of an organization while providing them with very practical tips on leading people through change. People do not resist so much to change as they resist to being controlled.
I would conclude this book review by applying the lessons of Who Killed Change to the educational institutions in our country. As mentioned above, each member of the organization is responsible for managing change. No doubt Principals and Head Teachers have a more important role to play in implementing and sustaining change, but teachers as classroom leaders are no less important. If a certain change is necessary for the very survival of the institution, then teachers should create the sense of urgency in a manner that leaders feel the need to implement it and then provide all necessary financial and moral support. This will show their commitment towards change. However, even if any one of the team members in the learning community fails to play its role, then it is eventually going to lead to the failure and death of change in the institution. Members of the staff will accept the status quo, and like Haw, a character in the well-known fable on organizational change, Who Moved My Cheese, they will never look for new opportunities and make no effort to change themselves as well as the institution as a whole. Hence the more united the vision of change is, the more successful the school will be in adopting the change.
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