Change Manager Standards

Two new standards announced

The effective change managerIn the last few months two organisations have announced standards to define the role of the Change Manager. We wait for years for the role to get a formal definition and then two turn up at once.

We believe that these standards are an important development in the maturity of managing change as a subject and especially for the role of the Change Manager. They indicate an increasing awareness of the need for the role and the need to define it professionally.  Below I work through the importance of these standards, their context, and the dangers they may present.

Formats and professionalism

The two standards are:

  • From the Australian Change Management Institute comes the Change Management Body of Knowledge (CMBoK); (see cover above) which sets out to define the knowledge that a Change Manager needs to be effective.
  • From the US based Association of Change Management Professionals comes The Standard for Change Management; which “includes a common lexicon; the knowledge, skills, and abilities expected of YOU, a professional change management practitioner; and the processes and practices that apply to most change management engagements”.

The most immediate and disconcerting part of both of these is the use of the definitive article implying there is only one standard or body of knowledge; yet we clearly have two. The basic format for both publications (yes they are intended to be money making publications) is a catalogue of knowledge (which includes skills, processes, theories, practices, etc) required by the professional Change Manager. Both of the organisations are seeking to establish themselves as international professional bodies with professional standards, accreditation and examinations. The Change Management Institute started in Australia, it does have a UK chapter. The UK already has an Institute of Change Management which is not involved in any of these activities. The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) is US based and has close links with Prosci — a consulting and training company. The ACMP held a conference here in the UK last year. So quite a minefield of professional opportunity! I doubt there will be any reconciliation for a while as these two bodies have quite different approaches to doing change — which is reflected in their respective standards.

Association of Change Management ProfessionalsThe ACMP (and Prosci) have an approach to change that is based around the project. They don’t have anything to say about how to do project management, in case you ask. The starting point is that projects should include change management activities (sometimes also roles) to ensure that the projects are successful in delivering change in organisations. There is little about the scope of change — strategic or local; big impact or incremental.

The CMI come from the programme approach to change which focuses on strategic change; involving the deployment of projects and specific change roles which when combined will ensure the organisation changes successfully and achieves benefits. I know that people in the UK made a significant contribution to the CMBoK. This macro approach to organisational change somewhat leaves local, incremental and project based change out of scope.

To be fair to both approaches there is huge overlap and consistency of philosophy; especially about what doesn’t work in most organisations and what they need to do about it.

So now you know a little about these two ‘standards’ what are the arguments.

Advancing professionalism

The Change Manager role is well described in the UK Government supported Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) guide to strategic change. However, when training this subject I am disconcerted by the number of organisations that implement change across their organisations without this role. So any thing that raises the awareness of the Change Manager role, what it does and why it is so important is not a bad thing. Perhaps as a compensation, when I talk about roles in MSP I make the Change Manager the most important role in delivering successful change.

These professional standards bodies will enhance the status of the role. The bodies are campaigning to establish the role in organisations, obviously to get new members. I believe that Change managers are essential to successful change; it is a well defined role and it is not a programme manager or a project manager bolt on.

So if helping to create more, and more professional, change managers is a good thing about these standards; what is the down side?

The focus on a role is too narrow

This is my sting in the tail. Whilst an effective change manager is necessary for a successful (strategic) change in an organisation; it is not sufficient. There are two very important constituents for successful change which are outside the role and are just not included in either of the standards (by definition) which are essential for successful change. Ask any change manager who has done all the right things and still failed, the answer is:

  1. Senior management support throughout the change
    Without support from senior managers, throughout the change, there is usually not going to be a change. Most change kicks off with oodles of senior manager support. But if it is not there when the going get rough then it is tough work keeping going. As the senior management support ebbs away those managers are busy plotting the next round of changes which will scupper any existing changes.
  2. A culture that supports change in the whole organisation
    Change is not an option in most organisations so the organisation culture needs to be supportive of change. That means it must challenge the implementation of ideas and strategic directions; but once there is a way forward the culture must embrace change.

My fear is that the new standards, with the professional accreditation and qualifications based on them, will provide a false indicator of guaranteed success. It will be setting up people to fail because the context of the role is more important than the role in success.

Finally I ask, what is special about Change Management? Isn’t it just good management applied to delivering change? So should the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) have a say in this debate? I can’t resist it: CMI vs CMI!

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