The Trojan Horse Approach to Organizational Change Management

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: April 3, 2019

I recently wrote about how organizational change management is dead. The premise of this article is that traditional change efforts, frameworks, and approaches fail time and time again, so something needs to change if we are going to be more effective at managing change.

These failed change efforts are creating a vicious circle of continuous neglect of the people side of the digital transformation equation. Despite plenty of evidence and experience to the contrary, too many organizations fail to: a) recognize the importance of change management, and b) understand how exactly organizational change management should look on an SAP S/4HANA, Oracle Cloud ERP, Microsoft Dynamics 365, or other digital transformation initiative.

The reasons why companies misunderstand organizational change management

As a 20-year industry veteran that began as a Big 5 SAP organizational change management consultant, I have seen plenty of reasons why so many companies resist or misunderstand the need for change management. These reasons haven’t changed a whole lot over the years.

For example, here are just a few reasons why change management gets a bad rap:

  • Many “old school” industries such as manufacturing view change management as a non-essential, touchy-feely workstream that doesn’t fit their blue-collar cultures.
  • Digital transformation leaders focus too much on technology and too little on people and processes.
  • Software vendors focus more on software functionality and relegate organizational change to end-user training and communications – which is just the tip of the iceberg of change.
  • In their quest to sell value, software vendors and big system integrators such as Deloitte, Accenture, and Capgemini downplay the risks and people impact of transformations such as these.
  • It is difficult enough to keep a project on time and on budget, so project teams and executives think they can speed up their transformation by cutting corners in organizational change management.
  • Change management practitioners have failed in so many past change efforts, which gives organizational change a bad name.

This last one is the one that I have been digging deeper into as I have tried to dissect and understand things like SAP failures, Microsoft Dynamics 365 expert witness engagements, and every other digital transformation challenge under the sun.

The problem with organizational change management consultants

Too many organizational change consultants put themselves into a change management box and don’t know how to effectively relate to the other components of digital transformation. They simply get their PROSCI certification, manage activities around “communications,” “awareness,” and other nebulous things, but fail to integrate change into the organization.

Worse yet, these change consultants fail to understand business operations, supply chains, industry trends, company strategies, and other components of integrated change. Organizational change consultants can’t be effective if all they do is put together some training, a few newsletters, and wipe their hands clean of overall accountability for the overarching transformation. Unfortunately, this is how I have seen too many change consultants operate.

Change management as a trojan horse

Maybe “trojan horse” is a strong term, but change management needs to be embedded in the DNA of the overall transformation – not a standalone workstream with a standalone team. To be sure, you want resources to focus on these efforts and they should be deploying a comprehensive organizational change strategy, but they should not be on their own island.

Instead, these team members should be part of the team. They should roll up their sleeves to understand and improve business operations. They should understand the intersection of process and technology as well – not just people. Most importantly, they should help embed a structured organizational change mentality into the DNA of the client organization.

These people are hard to find, but they exist. They may be a small subset of the change management population, but they are some of the most effective change consultants that I have worked with. Not coincidentally, I have either hired or attempted to hire these types of consultants on to the Third Stage team.

The bottom line? Treat organizational change as a siloed part of your transformation workstream, and it will eventually become detached (or intentionally cut) from the overall initiative. Embed it into the fabric of your project and team, on the other hand, and it will become a natural way of doing business with greater long-term success.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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