Doing more than “pure” change management?

So. You have done your course, you know what practicing change management should look like, you might have even worked as a change manager on a few projects, and now you find yourself compiling meeting minutes. Or it seems your duties appear to include business analysis work, or you’ve perhaps suddenly been given responsibility for the department’s newsletters, or provisioning users for a new software system. Sound familiar?

You’re wondering what to do in this situation. Should you make a fuss? Should you refuse, because you’re a change manager not an ‘x’? Should you do everything they ask you to do, in order to be accepted, become part of the team? The answer is no, no and no.

Here’s some thoughts to think about.

Change management is a new discipline. It hasn’t really been around long. Even the long term practitioners probably called it something else ten years ago. And these are the people IN the field. Those who work on the periphery, even your line managers or project managers, often aren’t fully across your work, even if they understand that it is important. It can look nebulous to them (as it can to change managers at times!). They may not know what the change management boundaries are, and may have unknowingly asked you to do unrelated work. It is part of your job to help them learn those boundaries.

Put yourself in the shoes of your project manager. Managing a project never falls neatly into the resources and time allocated to complete all the tasks at hand. If your work doesn’t look urgent, or you don’t seem to be producing much (in the way of documentation/ visible activities) a project manager or line manager may think of you when a new task needs to be completed. Or even if you are clearly busy, perhaps you are easy to approach because you understand the problem and/or the stakeholders, or because you just always seem to ‘get things done’. And they may be kidding themselves that it is part of your job, just because they know you’ll say ‘yes’.

Or maybe you did it to yourself. Have you found yourself putting up your hand to do tasks that need to be done? That’s understandable. Change managers are helpful by nature. They see the patterns, they see the gaps. In a project team, change managers can often be the first to see certain problems even if they are not strictly in the change space. So a change manager may find themselves offering to take on unrelated work in order to achieve the common goals as quickly and easily as possible.

At the beginning of a project, a good change manager is very aware that successful relationships within the project team will make their job, and the success of the project, much easier. In order to be part of the team, it is natural to want to help others out, it’s natural to build relationships by offering support.

The question is, how much extra work do you do?

If you can take on the extra work at no real cost to your ability to complete your work, why not say yes? There are advantages: you learn more about the project and the issue at hand (which might be valuable later on), you build brownie points with the person asking you the request, and you have an opportunity to talk to others about the change work you are doing.

If the person asking you to do the extra work doesn’t realise that it is outside your change management responsibilities, that needs to stop. Even if you can easily do the extra work and would be happy doing that work, the person needs to be clear that it is NOT pure change management work. Say yes and take the opportunity to educate them.

However, your priority has to be on your change work. If a task unrelated to change means you are dropping the ball on the change related activities, that needs to stop.

If you have become the default go-to person for every administrative task that should go to an administrative assistant or a project coordinator, even if there isn’t one (and especially if you believe this is affecting the way people are viewing your change management role), that needs to stop.

Now, how do you tell someone that you don’t think you should do the extra work?

Before you have the discussion, make sure you understand who is the final arbiter of the work you do. In today’s matrix-managed world, this isn’t always an easy question. The question of whether you do the work or not may need to be negotiated between a couple of people. So make sure your argument is clear.

Try approaching the conversation as though there is a problem that you both share, and you are asking for support. Be collegiate and professional. Don’t be adversarial or defensive, as they simply may not realise what’s going on in your world.

Provide contextual information to the person making the request. If you are too busy and your change work would suffer, explain that. Talk the person through your priorities and activities. If they are adamant and you are clear your work would suffer, in order to fulfill your obligations you made when you were hired, you will need to escalate the issue.

If you are doing too much administrative work, talk to the person that originally hired you in the role. They can perhaps provide ideas as to how to approach this issue, and negotiate with those now responsible for your work. Especially if you are new to change management this is an excellent opportunity for you to learn to stand up for the professionalism and capability that change management can provide.

At the end of the day, be prepared that you may be asked to do the extra work anyway, which is a fact of life for many workplaces. If you have informed all parties of the risks involved if your change management work suffers, your obligations are fulfilled.

Whether extra work is a current problem for you or not, keep the focus on your change management activities. Make sure you are:

  • providing regular reports (weekly) at project meetings and management meetings
  • writing impact assessments, stakeholder engagement plans, communications/training plans and keep them updated and visible
  • contributing to reports that go further up the ‘food chain’
  • educating those around you. Don’t preach about change management of course, just include education as part of your normal day to day conversations.
  • and in particular, help your management understand what change management is (and isn’t).

In time, change management will achieve the recognition that business analysts and project managers have more commonly achieved. In the meantime, be pragmatic about the situation you are in – the tasks at hand, the people you are working with, while at the same time standing up for and honouring your chosen profession.


2 thoughts on “Doing more than “pure” change management?

  1. Jude,
    Well said!
    Here in the states a lot of “change management” roles are simply replacement contractors doing training and communications. In that scenario it is difficult to break this “available hands” dilemma.
    Call out deliverables as a waste of a CM’s time too many times and you find yourself on the street.

    You are doing a service by calling this out. Anyone reading should work to get real good at making the explanation and doing only enough of the extras to engage client and stakeholders. As CM’s we are there to guide, mentor and show pathways. Recording, representing through deliverables and laying a path of evidence are the responsibility of the client.

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