Change Management And The Support Of Top Management

When I first joined PMI back in 2010, I would eagerly scan each of their monthly PMNetwork magazines after they arrived into my mailbox. Over time, my eagerness subsided to the point in which they were unopened collections that adorned a coffee table or a section of my bookcase. They stopped delivering the physical copies of the magazine sometime in 2011/2012 and I barely noticed until sometime in 2015. Then I began to read them again and even downloaded all the previous issues I missed for later review. I've even gotten to the point in which I read every article, even if it is a profile on some business segment that will never impact my personal or professional life.

From our 2016 Christmas visit to Boise, six adults (two not in the picture) braving the cold to give one child a Christmas memory!

In the November 2016 article called "Change Is Brewing”, I bypassed a profile piece on project management challenges for the beer brewing industry. I assumed it would be too focused on industry particulars and I should invest my time on other article opportunities. Then I happened upon a full page picture of a project professional with the quote of: 

“I truly believe that the first step in change management is to have top management on your side. If the process owners don't buy into the idea, you won't be able to have effective change management."

Well, that caused me to hit the "page up" button on my reader and start the process of digesting the content of the entire article. Additionally, I started typing out some of my thoughts regarding change management and the topic of top management support. I found myself in strong disagreement with the proposition that top management support is "the first step". I also disagree with the statement that process owners will always be adversarial to change.

I find myself incapable of believing in change management absolutes. I think that every change management opportunity comes with its own unique personality and adapting your approach to that personality is a key component in success.

How can any project management professional in a change management endeavor tell top management that all possible next steps can only occur after you have gained their support? This is equally unrealistic as it is unfair to management. The support of top management is something that needs to be earned, it is NOT an entitlement. I feel that there are many potential steps that come before the top management support step and they are usually uncomfortable ones. 

How about a simple change in the statement from “first step” to “first critical milestone”? With that edit, it reads as: “I truly believe that the first critical milestone in change management is to have top management on your side." 

Why is this distinction important? I have heard peers from multiple projects at multiple companies complain about the support they are not getting from top management. Those individuals wouldn't try to move the ball forward because they had a fear that their efforts wouldn't go anywhere. In some of the most acute cases, I would recommend different approaches to make progress and gain management support. Those recommendations would then contribute towards those individuals adopting an attitude that I was an enemy. That seemed to lead to all sorts of conflict downstream and made for an uncomfortable work atmosphere.

Again, I find myself incapable of believing that change management has to be an "us vs. them" situation throughout the process. I feel that all efforts should be focused upon the goal of "us with them" mindset that will have its occasional conflicts to overcome.

© 2016 Dwayne Wright