Since many of my PM colleagues know I am in organizational change management (OCM), they will call me now and then to ask whether I could help. Or, they will call me to see what kind of change management resource they should get for their project.

Often their instincts are right and their situation does need someone dedicated to OCM. However, that is not always the case. There are four situations in particular that I come across now and then that don’t. This does not mean that you don’t have to do some change management activities for that project. But it does mean that you don’t need a dedicated resource.

Maybe this advice seems odd coming from a person who makes his living through OCM services. Why would I turn down a potential work opportunity? But I have learned that these situations only lead to problems.

Like in life, if you take medication that is not intended for whatever ails you, you will either get no relief (and then you may ask why you spent the time and/or money on the pills). Or worse, the medicine actually makes things worse.

So here are the four situations where it may look like you need extra OCM help, and what you should about it instead.

1. Projects in smaller companies

These are companies that have fewer than 100 employees, or fewer than 50 if they are professional services companies like a law, consulting or audit/accounting firms. In companies this size everyone knows everyone else, and everybody knows who “the boss” is. So that means that that individual should be able to get everybody on board with any change. Through loyalty or fear people in these organizations will “toe the line” once the script has been read out to them.

If there are problems with end user adoption in a company like this it is due to one of two reasons: either you haven’t engaged “the boss” properly, or you have but they are avoiding making some tough calls. So the solution is not another resource. The solution is getting the key individual to act like a true sponsor and leader of their own business.

2. Projects in a large company that impact only one department or division

This is similar to the small company example in that everyone knows who is in charge, and should be following their lead. The main difference here is that you need to really make sure that other departments or business units are not impacted.

For example, changing the system that a finance department uses to manage general ledgers usually means that other departments need to change something about how they submit their data. So that does not count here since it impacts stakeholders in other departments. However, replacing a homegrown application that the finance department uses to prepare reports that with an OTS (Off-the-Shelf) package probably fits this example.

If there are issues with end user adoption here, the causes are the same as in the small company example. And the solutions are the same as well.

3. Projects that primarily concern external stakeholders

Some projects are more or less routine changes for the employees, but may be of big concern to a local community. In one example, we were called in to advise on a project that involved the physical move of a police department to a new head office. Usually you would not call in a change management consultant to help you move. We don’t have the brawn that professional movers tend do have.

But in this case they were concerned about how the community would respond. They anticipated having to answer questions how police calls would be handled during the move, how security would be handled with arrested perpetrators, and so on. These are all legitimate risks and issues that need to be tabled and mitigation strategies developed.

In another example, a bank vice president was concerned about growing negative press related to a merger they were undergoing. It turns out that reporters had called different people in the bank for comments and had received different answers. That made news. “Confusion in the bank” was the theme of one headline. “Merger proceeding without a clear vision” was another.

They didn’t need change management in either situation. In the first example, the police chief and his executive did work thorough the risks and mitigation activities. However, they needed to get the politicians onside. For the second, the bank needed more consistent messaging to be shared with management (whom reporters would call) and regular press releases.

Both of these are the realm of corporate communications departments or public relations firms. In the first example, the police chief hired a firm to help them with community outreach. In the second, the bank vice president replaced their corporate communications director.

4. Weekend systems or applications upgrades

These are not weekend go-live cutovers that are part of major ERP implementations. These are periodic, often maintenance related, upgrades to current applications and systems. When one of my colleagues calls me about this kind of situation it is usually because the upgrade is to a more sensitive system. This technology impacts a larger group of stakeholders, or is very visible to senior management. So the stakes are high.

However, that still does not mean that you need a change management resource. I understand that added anxiety, but the standard maintenance protocols should be enough:

  • Make sure you have everything backed up
  • Make sure you can revert back to the old system if things aren’t ready by e.g., 5 am Monday morning
  • Let the end users know that you will be doing this and whom to call if they experience something unusual

Basically, that’s not change management, that’s just good IT management practice!

What should you do?

First of all, take quick stock. If your project falls onto one of the above categories you can apply the solutions recommended for each one.

And if you’re still not 100% sure, reach out to someone whom you trust who knows about change management. If they are experienced enough they will not want to be involved in any of the cases listed above, and will give you good guidance on how to handle your situation.

Good luck with your project!

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