Organisational Change Management – Who owns it?

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In this article we look at how in a world where ‘change is the only constant’, a broad coalition of people are responsible for delivering organisational change. That list includes CEOs, executives, project managers, change managers, line managers and impacted employees.

We have found none of them can successfully deliver on their responsibilities without full leadership support. And time and again we see leaders are critical in creating the conditions for successful change.

Which begs the question ‘who is accountable for organisational change?’. At Able and How we believe it is too easy to suggest it is ‘leaders’.

We are of the view that the individual sponsoring the change should be accountable for organisational change (the people side of change). They are best placed to influence that critical leadership community.

If you want to find out more, read on…

If you ask the question ‘are your people important in realising value from change?’ it is hard to find anyone in an organisation that will disagree with you.

If you ask, however, ‘who is accountable for ensuring people’s adoption of change?’, you are more than likely to get a panicked look.

This is the paradox. Organisational Change Management (OCM) is important. It isn’t always easy to do. However we have found that all too often no-one is held accountable for it.

I am Spartacus

It is easy to see how many people in different roles have to take responsibility for change.

Leaders have to credibly set and maintain a direction. Programme and project teams have to successfully design and implement packages of work. Managers have to continuously support their teams in balancing the demands of change and business as usual. Impacted individuals have to willingly let go and accept changes in their work.

Everyone has responsibility to commit to the change if it is to be successful.

Accountability ≠ Responsibility

However, accountability is not the same thing as responsibility.

Where the Responsible individuals actually complete the tasks and are responsible for action or implementation, the Accountable individual is ultimately answerable for the activity or decision. This includes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ authority and veto power.

Accountability is about being answerable for actions and importantly, results.

Whereas responsibility can be shared, only one person can be assigned accountability for an outcome.

Why is accountability important?

When it comes to change, it seems logical that somebody should be accountable for OCM. After all, the whole point of an organisation going through change is to realise value – in whatever form that may take.

In so many instances much of that value is locked in the people who will be impacted by the change. Those people will need to behave or perform differently. That’s what OCM does. It looks after the people side of change, supporting project delivery with timely and targeted interventions to ensure people adopt change.

So, who owns OCM?

Accountability does not sit with the line managers or individuals directly impacted by change. Does it sit with the Change Manager? Or the Project Manager, if there is no Change Manager? No. They are all responsible, not accountable. They cannot do their roles if the leaders in the organisation do not support change, or worse still resist it.

For that reason, accountability for OCM needs to be at the right level of an organisation, to influence leaders and ensure their support.

At Able and How, we believe that accountability for change sits with the Sponsor of the change. They are the individual identified with the change. They are accountable for other aspects, such as budget. So why should they not be accountable for the people side of the change as well?

Easier said than done

Organisational change is hard to do well. Anyone in a leadership role will know that. Armed with the knowledge that change, and the people delivering it, can only really succeed when a Sponsor takes accountability for people change, we should understand what is holding them back.

Two major blockers spring to mind.

  • Change comes with no guarantees. Change outcomes are notoriously hard to promise. By definition change is about breaking from familiar, well-honed business as usual processes. That can feel very risky for individuals whose career has been built off operational wins.
  • The Sponsors’ role is often unclear. The role can be hard and obscure. Securing that all-important leadership support is challenging, and can quickly become much bigger than the Sponsor thought or hoped for. It can seem like a lonely place.

There are many more obstacles for Sponsors. Change is daunting. Even for senior executives. And because it is complex, change doesn’t tolerate a lack of skill.

Pointing the way forwards

There are organisations such as the big four Australian banks (WestPac, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ and NAB) where there is a clear ownership for change. These organisations not only have a clear understanding of what OCM is, but an appreciation of what it does and its role in realising value.

This leads to a commitment to OCM where institutional capabilities are developed and put in place. And as a result, leaders have the skills and therefore the confidence to take accountability for change.

It seems as if these organisations are still in a minority. And because of that, they enjoy market leadership positions. We hear all too often that organisations are operating in an increasingly agile way where change is a constant. It should follow that organisational change capability offers competitive advantage.

In organisations not like this the first question shouldn’t be ‘who is accountable for change?’. It should be ‘what needs to be put in place to make it easier for individuals to take accountability for change?’.

What are your thoughts? Does this article resonate with your own experiences around ownership of OCM, or have you come across different views? Share your comments below, share this article, get involved and help us spread the word of OCM through organisations like yours.



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