Mark McDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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The three C’s of effective change adoption and how you keep them in balance

by Mark P. McDonald  |  March 9, 2011  |  2 Comments

A while back I wrote a few posts about how the “Changing nature of change” and it discussed how traditional change management techniques were evolving in the face of new models and ideas about personal participation and responsibility.  Change used to be driven top down with the idea that if I lead enough, communicated enough and persisted things would change.

That approach is based on the underlying premise that leaders know what’s best and all that is required for you to see our wisdom is a little marketing and soft coercion.  In the earlier posts, I discussed that change is a choice that each of us make and that is central to the success of the types of changes we face.

While the nature of change is changing, that is not to say that the fundamentals of change do not remain the same.  In my travels working with business executives, three things remain critical to a successful enterprise change.  These three things are: context, content and course of action.

  • Context – The reason for the change.  It answers the question – Why do we need to change?
  • Content – The substance of the change.  Answering the question – What do we change into?
  • Course of Action – The pace of change describing the How and When of the change process

The three C’s are not new and effective leaders have always understood the connection between why, what, how and when.   Leaders keep the three of these together and in balance – illustrated by the triangle below.

The three are interrelated and leaders sense the need to accelerate or back off of one or the other depending on this relationship.  In general, slower progress against the course of action requires either increasing the focus on context to re-emphasize why it’s important, or to take another look at the solution, which may be too complex or difficult.  Likewise, a weak understanding of change may require the project to go slower or become simpler.  Increasing complexity in the solution requires either more time or a significant boost in the solutions rational.

I mention the triangle and the need to keep each of the three C’s in relative balance, because too often project teams and organizations adopt a linear approach that puts one of these in front of the other. The figure below illustrates the triangle turning into a straight-line relationship.

Making change a linear process reduces its effectiveness and robs leaders the ability to adjust their approach.  Change then breaks down into either a Project, Team or Business Centric view, shown in the figure below.

The fact that we are investing money in change causes most initiatives to adopt either a Project or Team view  — making the schedule or the work more important than the context.  In these views the Project or Team can be successful as they have either build the solution on time and budget or built the right solution.

Unfortunately, only the business view is the one that can be counted on to deliver results as results come from the business making a change.

IT organizations face the need to deliver a rapid series of changes as part of their enterprise.  When executing change initiatives, both large and small, keep the three C’s in mind and in relative perspective.  And please consider the fact that change no longer comes exclusively from the top down.

The three C’s are just one dimension in which the nature of change is changing.

Related posts:

The Nature of Change is Changing

Is it time for the CIO to lead from the front.


Category: Change on the cheap Leadership Tools     Tags: , , , ,

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