Kicking off the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) conference, I was struck by an off-hand comment made by a colleague. She referred to Change Management professionals as "architects of behavioral change." It's a perfect metaphor as we spend the next few days learning from change practitioners from around the world, sharing best practices, tools and techniques, and supporting ACMP's mission to advance the profession of change management.

Unfortunately, the first question I get from many people when I tell them I am a Change Management consultant is, "Oh, so you are the Bobs?"

There is some historical truth behind the "Bobs:"

  • Sometimes change initiatives result in reduction of the workforce,
  • Yes, the approach of the Bobs was the standard practice for workforce reductions,
  • And there are still some consultants who use the approach captured in the movie, "Office Space." (CapTech is NOT one of them!)

So what is the difference between the Bobs and being an Architect of behavioral change?

Architects of behavioral change are necessary to help facilitate smooth transitions for organizations. Organizations are made up of individuals, and as anyone who has tried a diet or quit smoking can tell you, changing an individual's behavior is hard. Multi-billion dollar industries have sprung up to address each of those behavior changes. How many ads or commercials have you seen that promise amazing weight loss without diet and exercise? Because diet and exercise are the crux of the behavior changes needed to lose weight, architects in this area would tell you this is impossible. Architects in this example could be personal trainers (think Jillian Michaels or Bob Harper from "The Biggest Loser").

Change Management practitioners are Architects for behavioral change for each individual within your organization who needs to change their behavior to succeed in the future state. In contrast, the Bobs are day laborers poorly executing tasks to meet a workforce number; they aren't transitioning the organization, they are cutting it.

So how do Change Management practitioners act as Architects of behavioral change?

Like Architects in the traditional sense, Change Management practitioners provide the following:

  • Design a Blueprint. Like a building blueprint that determines what the structure will look like, what materials will be used, and what resources will be needed, a comprehensive change management plan identifies the future state behaviors, the skills that will be needed, who will be impacted and who will execute each step in the plan.
  • Use logical building blocks. Architects lay out the plan that always starts with a strong foundation otherwise the building wouldn't stand (certainly not in an earthquake!).
  • Build a model. Models communicate a vision. An architect may use a model to secure funding, obtain approvals, or to identify potential design issues. Change Management "models" such as pilot groups and sponsors demonstrate observable behaviors as an example for peers and employees to follow.
  • Employ corrective action. If a zoning rule changes or a material isn't available, the architecture of a building may need to adapt to the changing environment. Likewise, Change Management practitioners need to constantly evaluate the tactics employed (communications, training, coaching) to determine which are working and which need to be adjusted to achieve desired outcomes.
  • Celebrate! Whether it is a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new building, or rewarding an individual for error free use of a new system, celebrating success is important. The former can encourage future successful partnerships with your vendors, and the latter will reinforce the changes desired and increase the likelihood of their reoccurrence.

While the building is built by construction workers, the architect is responsible for the design. The construction workers are responsible for making sure their work matches the blueprint. The architect is focused on the vision for the building and any message the building is meant to convey. Change is inevitable just as new buildings will replace old ones. So as you embark on your change initiatives, ask yourself are you a Bob or are you an Architect?