- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

The alternative Post-mortem of failed change programmes. (1 of 5): There were too many people involved, and too much debate. Not the opposite.

This five part mini-series (!) is not glamourous. It tries to uncover some inconvenient truths via a reverse engineering of failure . The failure of change and transformation programmes. A poor track, collective management record of about three quarters failure.

Now, visualize for a second: 75% of the time your IT system is down; 75% of the time, your recruitment process fails to appoint the right people; 75% of your forecast is wrong. Get the picture? Yes, heads will roll. But in this mythical area of multi-million Big Consulting change, 75% seem to be an acceptable rate. They are not dismissed, they get an extension of the contract.

Let me unpack five reasons usually given, unpack five arguments, uncover one or two fallacies.

(1) For the prosecution: stakeholders were not properly involved, so no wonder it failed.

My experience it’s the opposite. ‘Everybody and their uncle’, as the idiom goes, seem to have been involved: users, super-users, focus groups, project teams, steering committees, endless cascaded workshops and off-sites looking for a ‘democratic’ answer. As far as I am concerned, we involve too many people,  not too few.

Debates and deliberations about what is to be deliberated in the first place, the format of the deliberation, who should be involved in deliberating, the deliverables of the deliberation and the naïve belief that deliberating at scale means change at scale, dominate corporations air time.

There is a pseudo-democratic, uncritical, naïve, default, very entrenched management practice position that proclaims that over-inclusiveness is good. Cascade workshops, myriad of focus groups, roadshows and big binders, will be the mechanism to engage people. And if we did that, then we will be successful. Nobody possessing this naïve view of organizational life should occupy a leading position in HR/OD/L&D.

Very often, those who challenge this are accused of authoritarian, non-inclusive promoters of culture dictatorship. It’s a sign of the typical bipolar illness that we suffer from in corporate life.

Pseudo-democratic crowdsourcing of everything is an alibi for bad leaders who relinquish their responsibility. Not involving some key people in some key initiatives, particular those who could block them, is leadership arrogance. Not understanding the the key to change lies on a small number of highly nfluential individuals, is not understanding organizational life. Yet, organizations are no very good at getting the dose, the time, the sync and te geography of change  right.

Massive involvement of ‘everybody and their uncle’ also has unintended liabilities

  1. It delays unnecessarily the timely launch of decisive action, sometimes for months, if not years
  2. It raises high expectations in the crowd. ‘Be careful what you are asking for, you might get it’. Those who are delighted to be asked are often the same who expect their input absorbed and prominent in black and white. If not, the disappointment is massive and next time you ask, they won’t be there.

Who needs to know?, who needs to be involved?, when do we stop asking? who will block this? who really needs to be behind? These are magic questions

I repeat, it’s not lack of involvement that kills projects, it’s too much of it.