dilbert_cartoon_powerlessnessWhere are all the Organizational Change experts?

I’ve worked with many companies over the last 45 years or so who were trying to improve business performance by implementing IT-enabled change (or, more precisely, by implementing business process change enabled by IT). I’ve also worked with IT organizations who were trying to improve their performance by deploying an IT strategy or transforming their IT operating model. It was always a frustrating process, usually painful, and often with disappointing results.

Some 30 years ago, I discovered the missing ingredient. A fortuitous meeting with organizational change guru Daryl Conner enlightened me to the fact that there was a discipline called Organizational Change Management (OCM)—one that could be learned and supported by a toolkit. I learned that there was a role, that of “Change Agent” that was a focal point for bringing the OCM discipline to bear. Mystery solved. I went through the training, began practicing the discipline, and discovered that a formal, well-informed approach to managing organizational change can indeed work and make the difference between success and failure (or at least, accelerate success and “grease the skids” as it were).

I also discovered that many of my clients did not have the stomach for a disciplined approach to change, believing that, either:

  1. They did not need a disciplined approach to change—the power of the future state vision was going to be sufficient for the change to magically happen, or…
  2. They did not have the time or budget for a disciplined approach, so they’d go with the tried and tested “spray and pray” approach (even though time-testing had proven this rarely worked!)


Around the time that my small research and consulting company was acquired by Ernst & Young in 1990 (technically speaking, we merged with them) Ernst & Young was establishing an OCM practice by licensing Daryl Conner’s training and tools. Around the same time, all the major management consulting firms were establishing some form of OCM practice (most of them by licensing Daryl’s intellectual property). Meanwhile, some firms were establishing their own internal OCM practice (again often based on Daryl’s IP). Some, such as GE, with their Change Acceleration Process took the discipline and related toolkit to heart, and baked it into their management and leadership training.

Today, most large management consulting firms continue with their OCM practices, and some world-class companies continue to foster and practice OCM disciplines. There are also a number of “boutique” consulting firms that specialize in this discipline, including Omega Point Consulting, a firm I co-founded with my valued friend and former colleague Sheila Smith. But in the general population of enterprises around the world, OCM expertise is sorely lacking, and the evidence of failed or painful and disappointing change experiences is commonplace.

In the BRMI Business Relationship Management Professional® training and certification course (disclosure, The Merlyn Group is an Accredited Training Organization for this training) I teach an introduction to this discipline, which we refer to as Business Transition Management (a course module that was largely developed by Sheila Smith.)

For many of my corporate clients for this training, this OCM module is a huge eye-opener!

“Wow! This is what we’ve been missing all these years!” is a frequent reaction when client executives are exposed to this material.

How do they manage without Organizational Change expertise?

The answer is twofold:

  1. For the most significant change programs, for example, implementing a major Enterprise Resource Planning suite such as SAP, especially when the deployment is behind their own firewall, as opposed to a cloud-based solution, companies typically use one of the major management consulting firms who bring with them their OCM experts.
  2. For the rest, they muddle along, mostly oblivious to the OCM discipline.


Data supporting the poor results of IT projects and programs are not hard to find.  According to a McKinsey/Oxford study, half of IT projects with budgets of over $15 million dollars run 45% over budget, are 7% behind schedule and deliver 56% less functionality than predicted.

An IBM survey of the success rates of “change” projects finds that only 40% of projects met schedule, budget and quality goals. The biggest barriers to success listed as people factors:

  • • Changing mindsets and attitudes – 58%
  • • Corporate culture – 49%
  • • Lack of senior management support – 32%
  • • Underestimation of complexity – 35%


So, where should the Organizational Change expertise come from?

While there are many times when deep OCM expertise is essential, and when it makes sense to bring in OCM consultants, there are many times where local organizational change expertise is warranted, and where it is not feasible to bring in outside gurus. Project and program data suggest that smaller projects experience better success rates than do large ones, but even small projects are subject to “value leakage” and create more stress and confusion than is desirable. And small projects can benefit as much from OCM expertise as large projects and programs have.

As I see it, the choices are:

  1. Establish an internal OCM practice.
  2. Find an existing role whose mission is to ensure the business value realization from investments in Information Technology.


Both choices are viable, but option 2 seems to me to be the natural choice, and the existing role is that of Business Relationship Manager. Paraphrasing Rabbi Hillel the Elder’s quote, (since paraphrased by numerous politicians),

“If not us, who? If not now, when?”


Comic strip courtesy of www.Dilbert.com