Change with Confidence

Posted on: August 13th, 2013 by bobmorris

Change w: ConfidenceChange with Confidence: Answers to the 50 Biggest Questions That Keep Change Leaders Up at Night
Phil Buckley
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand

To paraphrase Sun Tzu, every change initiative succeeds or fails before it is launched

I agree with Phil Buckley that knowing the right questions to ask is one of the most important yet least appreciated skills that an executive can develop. This is what Peter Drucker had in mind when suggesting, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” The best business books are evidence-driven and that is certainly true of this one. Buckley has identified “50 of the biggest questions that that keep change leaders up at night,” based on wide and deep experience with change initiatives. I phrase it “50 of” rather than “the 50” for three separate but related reasons. No executive is unable to sleep because she or he is struggling to answer 50 questions; more likely, 3-5. Also, with all due respect to Buckley, if you were ask any ten experts on change initiatives — such as Clayton Christiansen, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Jon Katzenbach, John Kotter, James O’Toole, and Chris Zook — to list 50, you would get significant differences between and among them. Finally, some questions must be answered before others can be. Change is not a destination; rather, a continuous process. My own rather extensive experience with change initiatives such as process improvement (e.g. reducing cycle time, increasing first-pass yield) is that changing how people think about change is the greatest challenge of all.

In any event, all of the “Buckley 50” are worthy of serious consideration. He carefully organizes and then presents them – and his response to each of them — within four Parts: Figuring It Out (Chapters 1-10), Planning for Change (11-26), Managing Change (27-42), and Making Change Stick (43-50). His focus throughout the narrative is to address questions about planning, communication, and getting results. My own opinion is that he could have selected 50 questions for each of the four Parts and not exhausted the inventory of candidates. But here’s a key point: Whatever the sleep-killing questions may be for an executive, Buckley’s primary objective (in my opinion) is to help each reader to develop a mindset that will enable her or him to obtain the information and (in most instances) resources needed achieve the achieve the given objective(s). He devotes sufficient attention to the “what” of change but most of his and his reader’s attention to devoted to the “how”: How to get one’s head around what to accomplish; how to create a plan that outlines what needs to happen, by when, and by whom; how to maintain momentum throughout the process by effectively managing the dynamics of the project; and, how to embed the specific changes within regular operations while ensuring the commitment to necessary change is sustained.

These are among the questions Buckley addresses, provided to suggest the thrust and flavor of his approach:

o How do I identify what needs to change? (#2, Page 7-11)
o What do I need to know before I commit to deliverables? (#7, 32-35)
o How do I get the budget approval to do it right? (#12, 56-58)
o How do I get the best people to join the project team? (#18, 81-83)
o How do I get more resources if I need them? (#30, 143-146)
o What do I do when I don’t know what to do? (#40, 187-189)
o How do I prevent the old ways of working [and thinking]? (#43, 204-206)
o How do I document [and disseminate] lessons learned? (#45, 211-213)

I commend Buckley on his skillful use of several reader-friendly devices. They include “Thumbs Down, Thumbs Up” sections in each chapter, based on real world experiences that reveal the major do’s and don’ts that change agents should keep in mind. Also, a “What Works” section (also in each chapter) that suggests specific action steps for the reader to consider when accumulating documentation throughout the change initiative’s duration. As an immensely important value-added benefit, Buckley also inserts several “Lessons Learned Summary” sections that, together with the other sections, will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.

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