Theresa Moulton, editor-in-chief of Change Management Review, recently had the opportunity to interview Tim Creasey, Chief Innovation Officer for Prosci to discuss how he came into the change management profession and some of his observations about where the profession is heading.
Ms. Moulton brings a wealth of more than 20 years of experience in strategy development and execution on complex change management initiatives, in addition to being a consummate serial entrepreneur. She’s also spoken at the IBM Center for Business Value, Babson College (where she earned her MBA), the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and at CFO Magazine conferences nationwide.
Tim Creasey is the Chief Innovation Officer at Prosci, a market leader in change management training and research. Mr. Creasey has compiled a database that has become known as the world’s largest body of knowledge concerning the art and science of managing the human aspect of effecting change management. Additionally, he’s co-author of Best Practices in Change Management, which has become mandatory reading for leaders in human resources, six sigma professionals, and management personnel globally. His other book, Change Management: The People Side of Change, co-authored with one of the profession’s major influencers and Prosci founder, Jeff Hiatt, is widely read by those interested in grasping a solid understanding of change management practice. As one of the profession’s contemporary thought leaders, Tim generously shares his experience and insights through conversation, public speaking, and articles. Connect with Tim at @timcreasey or www.linkedin.com/in/TimCreasey.
How did you enter the change management profession?
My story intertwines somewhat with the Prosci journey. Jeff Hiatt, a mechanical engineer, founded Prosci. Jeff and Prosci initially focused on research around business process reengineering and advanced call center management. Those initial studies, which happened before I joined Prosci, found that the human side of change was always the cornerstone of either the most successful efforts or the most challenging efforts. That was what prompted Prosci in 1998 to do the first benchmarking study in change management. 2000 was the second one. Then I joined Prosci in 2001.
My background was in political science and economics. I was ready to begin a PhD and start teaching comparative economics, but I had gotten out of undergrad early and had to find something to do while my wife finished her teaching degree. I took on a 3-month gig at Prosci and that was 15 years ago. Where it got interesting was my own transformation from that point on. I loved political science and economics because I thought they both brought unique ways of understanding how decisions were made the way they were. I started to call change management micro-micro economics. If macroeconomics is the economy as a whole and microeconomics looks at how firms make decisions, then change management or micro-microeconomics really looks at how and why people make the decisions they make. There are some curious parallels and overlaps given the end game, which is all about the people who make up the organizations we live in; the better we can understand how they experience change, the better place we are in to support and equip them to be successful.
When you entered the field, what was the primary focus of your work at Prosci?
I took the lead in Prosci’s third benchmarking study, which would have been about 2002. We had just completed that study, we had ADKAR as the individual model, and we realized a significant opportunity to contribute to the field—the intentional integration of individual change and organizational change. There was a lot of work that gave practitioners direction around communication planning and stakeholder management, there was some interesting thinking about how individuals experience change, but we had not seen this integration where supporting successful individual transitions was the outcome or the focus and the organizational change management provides the tools and approach to really make transitions happen.
That’s when Jeff and I wrote Change Management: The People Side of Change and The Change Management Toolkit, which outlined this integrated approach to driving successful individual change by using organizational change management tools and techniques.
What do you believe is the most significant thing that has happened in the change management field in the last 10-15 years?
As I laid out in my “History of Change Management,” the crux of what enabled this profession to really take off was the ability to formalize and add discipline around the intangibles and the conceptual underpinnings that had already been laid down for us. We had great concepts of individual change coming out of psychology and the social sciences and we had great concepts around starting to treat the people side of organizational change more intentionally that came out of the groundbreaking work of the 90’s. To me, the last 15 years, and why the profession has gotten to where it has, is because of the discipline. As we formalized what it meant to support people through the transitions they experienced at work, we were able to add that element of repeatability and scalability to make it something that is much more accessible and applicable across a variety of settings. I believe that’s where we started to see the shift.
What excites you the most about change management today?
At this point I get up on my small soapbox, especially during my ECM (Enterprise Change Management) Boot Camp. During the one-day session around embedding and building the organizational capability, I tell them what we do really, really matters. It’s a crucial competency for organizations going forward, given the pace and size and velocity of change we’re experiencing. If we do this right, there is concrete data that shows us that the organization performs more effectively and we get better project results when we apply good change management and, in the end, we are improving the lives of the people who make up our organizations. Because I know there’s a guy who went to work today hating his job because of how poorly a change is being implemented and when he leaves his job at the end of the day, he’s still going to hate it, and that spills over to his life outside the walls of his work. This notion of equipping, preparing and supporting people to be successful in the changes that are happening around them and to them at work—it’s not only the right thing to do from a project success and business perspective, but it’s the right thing to do in terms of treating people like people within the organization.
Over the past year and a half, I have been able to bring the change management message to folks who are not in the change management field—utilities folks trying to do customer experience work, a bunch of community colleges trying to improve performance, the Boys and Girls Club of America National Conference, the Gartner Business Process Management Summit. Neat developments in working to make change management accessible to the folks who are just trying to bring about change and have only known change management because of the pain it caused them when they ignored it.
In your research, have you noticed any change practice or tool that has been used for the past 15 to 20 years and doesn’t really work anymore?
I’m not sure about a common practice that change managers would have suggested using, but I do think what’s changing is the evolving relationship between organizations and employees and the emergence of values around engagement, accountability and ownership. We all have watched “change by decree” not work. I think there’s a growing acknowledgement that “change by decree” is just not the way to manage change in an empowered and accountable environment.
If an organization has moved into these new emergent values, it actually raises the bar in terms of how important it is to invest in the activities of managing the people side of change. I always give the comparison to my grandfather’s General Electric. He started his job there, he retired from there, and when he was asked to jump, his answer was always, “How high?” That was the value system that was incented. So values have changed in the last 25 to 30 years. In an empowered environment, we have a greater responsibility to the people who make up our organizations to support them in their change journey and how they need to process that journey.
Have you seen any change management practices that have become more important because of the current business environment?
I think one of these practices is increased acknowledgement and engagement of individuals as individuals—part of a larger movement that is happening in the way organizations are connected and behave. I think we’re seeing a heightened acknowledgement that Andy and Becky and Charlie and Rosa are individuals within the organization who have to change how they do their job if we’re going to deliver expected results and outcomes. As that acknowledgement happens, I think you will see a greater emphasis on effectively supporting and equipping those people.
There are a couple of interesting themes happening around what I am calling, “What’s your finish line?”–my punch line when I presented at the inaugural Value Selling & Realization Summit in Dallas earlier this year. The idea is really getting clear and articulate around expected results. If your finish line is looking to switch on time/on budget, we need to have a bigger conversation about how you’re defining your finish line, because that can’t be the finish line if we truly intend to create expected results and outcomes in your organization. I think you’re seeing this crop up a lot—really committing to outcomes and results. I think that the notion of focusing on results and outcomes rather than activities is going to be important not only across business, but I also think change management provides a unique catalyst in heightening the focus on actually delivering what we’re expecting to deliver.
What examples come to mind when you think about specifics within a change management strategy or plan that will bring some of those results-focused mindsets forward in a project or in an organization?
I can speak to how Prosci addresses it. We have the PCT Model, which is the triangle that has Leadership, Sponsorship, and Project and Change Management on three corners. What we put in the very center of the triangle is the achievement of the expected results and outcomes from the change. In the first chapter of the second edition of Change Management: The People Side of Change, we introduce the Five Tenets of Change Management. Tenet One is: We change for a reason. And when we go full circle, Tenet Five is: The only reason we apply change management is to deliver on the reason for the change.
It shows up in what we call our CMROI framework, which is a really an examination of a project’s expected results and outcomes. There is a real calculator, computing how people-dependent the expected results and outcomes really are.
Even in the seven-word definition of change management I have been using lately, “catalyzing individual transitions to deliver organizational results,” delivering organizational results is the outcome orientation and catalyzing individual transitions is the change management orientation—how we deliver those organizational results.
In 2009 and 2010, Prosci ran Global Conferences. At the first conference, I had the honor of introducing our founder, Jeff Hiatt, who got up on the stage and delivered a compelling charge to the audience—the reason we exist as a discipline is to improve results and outcomes in times of change. The focus was an intense, almost myopic view of the work that we do. Then, at the 2013 conference, a woman came up to me and said: “I was not sure I wanted to stay in this discipline. But that opening message from Jeff Hiatt really helped me align my focus and where I wanted to go.” It’s easier to commit to activities because: 1) they are within my span of control; 2) I can check the box that I sent out that newsletter or I can check the box that we helped at that Town Hall meeting. But committing to outcomes is scarier—it takes a bit more courage to really line ourselves up for the work and commit to the results we are setting out to achieve. That’s how change becomes successful—when we do it at that level.
I definitely agree with that. What is it really that we’re being courageous about?
I think we’re being courageous because we are committing to something that’s beyond ourselves. It’s challenging for us to commit to a system that we have to influence, not just to work activities that we get to complete. When I was analyzing the results of two or three benchmarking studies ago, there was a statement that just struck me. One organization described itself as “chronically accountability averse.” That statement stuck with me because I think that’s one of the risks. Organizationally we are averse to assigning and taking accountability. Besides courageously committing to results, a point in my talk at the Northern California ACMP Chapter speech on April 8 was what I call “the calendar conundrum.” The idea is—if we’re launching SharePoint on March 15th, we’ve flipped the switch on March 15th and have launched SharePoint. Oftentimes the project team disbands and the solution is thrown over to the business, but the benefits are not achieved until much further down the calendar than the day we flipped the switch. It takes commitment and a certain amount of energy as well as intestinal fortitude to actually stick to course and evaluate if we actually delivered what we expected to deliver.
Is there anything that you found surprising in your most recent best practices study?
In the 2016 study that just came out recently, there are a couple of areas that we unpacked and explored that, I believe, are going to advance the discipline tremendously. One of them is around change agent networks, something that has been bantered around but with no real concrete direction. We asked a whole set of questions around how to build it, how to leverage it, and what are the expectations. The result is a nice body of knowledge around change agent networks with a research foundation.
We also did some interesting work around vertical industries. We’ve created almost an almanac of the biggest changes that face about 24 vertical industries. We also collected data around the specific challenges and adaptations for change management in each of these vertical industries. For example, how does change management look different in health care than it does in a bank? We actually have some foundational data that helps practitioners adapt more effectively to the situation they are facing.
The third new piece is around culture. I have two big beefs with how I see culture treated. The first is the overly shallow treatment of organizational culture: “Here’s our three-month culture change plan.” I expect that three-month plan to be delivered by Sasquatch because neither of those things exist—Sasquatch doesn’t exist and a three-month culture change plan doesn’t exist. And the second one on culture is really a judgment and is value-laden. You see these models that are like a radar screen. If you’re on the inside of the screen, you have a “bad culture;” if you’re on the outside of the screen, you have a “good culture.” Culture is just too interesting and too complex for that sort of treatment. So we took a different approach. We said: “If I was a change practitioner, how can I better understand the culture in which I am working so that I can more effectively adapt my change approach?”
We explored a lot of the work around cultural dimensions. We picked six dimensions that we thought have the greatest impact on how change plays out, for example the level of assertiveness of an organization from very low to very high. No judgment on whether one is better than the other, but I guarantee you that change plays out differently in one organization than in the other. We collected this great set of data for each of these six cultural dimensions and where study participants fall. True to the Prosci modus operandi we say: “It’s kind of interesting to see where organizations sit on this spectrum, but it’s more interesting, given where you are on the spectrum, to see what challenges you should expect and what adaptations to your change practice you can make in order to be more effective.” We did it for dimensions of assertiveness, individualism versus collectivism, power distance, performance orientation, uncertainty avoidance and emotional expressiveness.
What advice would you give to a new change management professional who is just coming into the field and has never heard of the field but thinks it is interesting and wants to go forward? How would you tell them to start?
I think there’s a tremendous number of resources that are out there for people—free webinar replays, articles, tutorials-you could start with our Thought Leadership Library which included dozens of free resources. There’s also a pretty vibrant community of change professionals in the LinkedIn space. They like to engage with others and they’re pretty good sharers. That would be my first piece of advice—go out and seek folks who are in the space because there are so many mentors-in-waiting.
My second nugget of advice has a kind of philosophical underpinning. I’m not sure that there is one right way to do change management. I think there are better ways and there are worse ways to engage people in times of change. There’s a real risk if the community gets hung up on being perfect instead of being done. If we can just start to answer the questions we know that people have in times of change, it will get us so much further than emails on Monday for training and on Tuesday for go live on Wednesday. Rather than working hard to be perfect and not doing anything, just put yourself out there and start addressing and supporting, preparing and equipping people for the change they’re experiencing. The project will do better, the change practitioners will do better and the people will do better if we just start to engage them in the experience.