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Presentation Recap: Change or Get Left Behind: Why Organizational Change Management Is Imperative Now

By Nancie E. Celini                                                                                  Oct 19 , 2021

I had the honor of presenting at the PMI Virtual Experience Series 2021 on 6-7 October, a global event attracting more than 42,000 attendees. My presentation, “Change or Get Left Behind: Why Organizational Change Management Is Imperative Now,” focused on the premise that organizations don’t change, but people change organizations, and examined how there are exciting ways to manage change more efficiently and effectively and to help people adapt. I am responding to a few questions posed during my presentation.

Question 1: Organizations, generally speaking, seem to have good capability to incorporate new trending technologies, but why is it so hard for a majority of organizations to learn from other organizations and learn & implement how to improve operational effectiveness?

Life science organizations have few forums to share internal information safely, legally, and compliantly. That’s the short answer but let me provide some additional detail.

The industry has limited ways to discuss their inner workings of their organizations as openly as they may like with our sponsor organizations. There are legal restrictions of what employees can say and conference presentation content is screened carefully by legal, compliance and other functions within the organization. This makes the work of PMI valuable to allow organizations to share work that has been implemented and to hear from other organizations comparatively. But there was a time when organizations shared more openly and actually sought answers to common challenges. Let me share one that worked really well.

Years back, I was very active in special area interest groups through several professional associations. With pre-screening from their organizations, participants drove what seemed like a less restrictive setting to exchange insights between organizations. Some of these groups were highly successful. As a chair of one group, collective work resulted in producing a free, open, technology-agnostic model for how bio/pharma organizations could establish an industry-driven taxonomy for electronic document management systems (EDMS). This work was done with the understanding that this would result in a model that all were welcome to leverage. In a non-completive manner, organizations were eager to share their pain and lessons learned of configuring their repositories. This work grew and a second industry group would leverage this work into the TMF reference model.

Given the complications that organizations are facing now in 2021 post-pandemic, we might discover a renewed interest to collaborate more vigorously so that everyone can share best practices for resolving some of the new challenges confronting our industry for what may be years to come. And this open exchange can be done without violating corporate policies if the rules are clear about what can be shared and boundaries are established about intellectual property.

Question 2: Execs sometimes even believe they are “open.” How do we convince someone who does not know that he does not know!?

 Changing “beliefs” can be very complicated, so this question needs to be deciphered a bit more, but let me suggest one idea.

A character on a television show in the 1950s, Sergeant Joe Friday, would remind people undergoing interrogation to provide “just the facts”. This is a good reminder about having your facts and figures before changing minds and influencing outcomes. 

Putting aside pure ego, when you are trying to convince someone to change their mind or, in the case of executive leadership, organizational direction, compelling insight is required. All too often, passionate project leaders mistake presenting “soft issues” or a limited set of generic benefits to executives and key stakeholders as compelling facts. This doesn’t work. And the real hardship comes when solid data is required, and none exists.

So, let’s be sure that we are not talking about being egotistical or rigid in thought in this question. When asking someone to change their thinking, a strong business case is imperative. Consider the data points or “metrics” that will be needed. This takes a lot of lead time and good planning as well as the resources who have the data you need.

Leverage relationships with other professionals who collect data, for example, finance and regulatory. If you are building a case for lower costs, you will need cost data and determine how you will use the data to influence a change. If you are, however, creating a case for greater efficiency in a specific business process, you need a before or “as is” business case that may include direct as well as indirect costs along with other business metrics such as number of resources, time and opportunity costs.

Building influential business cases is no easy task, but there are resources likely right within your organization who have the data and know-how to provide the case! And while an organizational change management (OCM) professional can help with the key messages, OCM is not the source of this type of data; however, a new era for OCM is starting to unfold.

OCM to date has not been a data-intensive discipline, and while interviews are a key aspect of OCM methodologies, they fall way short of gathering the types of data that can be used for a compelling business case. And often, the change impacts that are collected are not assessed correctly so they can be converted into the metrics and data needed.

Fortunately, “data-driven OCM” is underway with emerging platforms and tools coming onto the market. While still nascent, in my humble opinion, technology will facilitate OCM efforts to gather data that decision-makers will value. The lack of technology to conduct data-driven assessments has been a drawback as new tools evolve; this will allow OCM to provide more compelling insights about the impacts of not changing.

Question 3: Are you saying that we should be both the PM and the OCM? Or that there should be two different people for these roles?

This is a clear NO! I believe that project managers, and their team members can all be powerful agents for change; however, being qualified as an OCM professional, skilled in methodology and the deliverables required for complex projects is another matter.

Project managers (PMs) spend years mastering both the art and science of how to manage projects end-to-end. I see them as the “conductors” of the orchestra. But the team typically has many players on the stage, especially in complex projects. Each role must “play their part” clearly and in harmony with the others. Given the sheer amount of work that a PM must navigate, placing additional burdens on them for communications, stakeholder management, resistance interventions, change impact analysis and executive engagements, weakens the PM’s ability to manage the project and puts it at great risk.

Let’s be clear that OCM is a complex discipline that is often misunderstood. The very notion that a PM can also perform the OCM role underscores this misconception. OCM professionals require certification and training, years of hands-on practice and behavioral insight that is not typical of a PM’s skillset.

While some skills may overlap, PMs and OCMs also need to have clear-cut roles (i.e., project governance), so they can work closely to integrate their expertise. This may mean talking things out and writing things down in the absence of clear guidance. We’ve all heard that old expression of too many cooks in the kitchen….in this case, it will indeed spoil the meal!

Bottom-line is that OCM attempting to manage the project is equally as dangerous as PMs attempting to manage the requirements of OCM.

Question 4: Does OCM include planning for training and training environments or is that PM role?

In full disclosure, I draw a very clear line on this topic from my vast experience in both training and professional education and OCM, and seeing too many failures. Failures may range from training left to last-minute attempts, not included in the project early on, inadequate training, and content not accessible for go-live.

The simple answer is OCM should always have an oversight role as part of change readiness. Training is a substantial aspect of this assessment that should be conducted by OCM. But the role of OCM in relation to training must focus on priorities such as key messages to end-users (early and often), the timing of the training deliverables and events, expectations and required outcomes (i.e., completion of training to get system access). The OCM lead should be a facilitating role, not authoritarian. Like the relationship between the OCM and PM, the training lead needs to be included early and have a seat at the table.  This is where projects get into trouble when they lack clear-cut roles and responsibilities, so RACI, or whatever method is used, is critical to delineate who does what and when.

Failing to consider training as a change readiness requirement is planning a failure. Don’t wait until you have training that is inadequate or not ready for “prime time” when the system must go live

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