"Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch"

A couple of weeks ago I saw an amazing presentation by the CIO of Caterpillar, who keynoted at IBM’s Impact event. His presentation was riveting because you could see glimpses into the company’s manufacturing-focused, earth moving/engineering, “git ’er done” culture.

He also talked about business and IT transformation, and the depth of Caterpillar’s partnership with IBM. When he finished, I thought, wow, customers like that are worth their weight in gold.

But the most striking thing I heard is that one Caterpillar exec has a framed copy of this sign in his office: Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch.

Wow! This truism grabbed my attention because Claire Schooley and I have just completed a signature research report on business change management, titled “Effective Business Change Management Requires More Than A Wait-And-See Attitude,” to be published next month. We will also present this topic at Forrester’s IT Forum 2011. The full title of our presentation is “Cut Through The BS To Tackle Change Management For Customer-Centric BPM,” and we are currently planning a business change management keynote panel for Forrester’s Business Process Forum 2011 in Boston on September 22 and 23. I guess this means we are really taking business change management seriously!

For a long time, we’ve steered away from these “soft” topics because they are so squishy and hard to get your arms around. But the trouble in pinning this topic down only underscores the fact that business change management is a tough issue for business process professionals, particularly if they are driving business transformation or business process improvement initiatives throughout their organizations. And it is so true: You can set a strategic direction, envision a new future, transform your processes, and so forth, but your existing culture can completely eat your new strategy for lunch.  To overcome this very real problem, you have to take concrete actions to change the culture. And that’s a tall order for any business process executive.

Some of the highlights from our research efforts:

  • 70% of process initiatives fail because of poor business change management.
  • Several methodologies can help, including John Kotter’s research, ADKAR from Prosci, and the Four Disciplines from Franklin Covey.
  • However, there’s no silver bullet — the trick to making change management stick is picking an approach and staying with it from start to finish.
  • It helps to have a dedicated change management staff that draws from HR and other disciplines.
  • Business change management should be aligned with project management but remain separate, because the two have different goals and objectives.
  • The real gotchas in business change management are:  failure to communicate up and down the organization throughout the duration of the initiative (which may span years) and tackling too much change at once.

Claire and I are really excited to tap into this vein of research.  The members of our Forrester Leadership Boards Business Process Council tell us that change management is one of the biggest causes for business process failures. We plan significantly more research on this topic, starting with best practices and several case studies. We’ll keep you posted as we go along.

And speaking of networking and learning opportunities, Claire and I will attend the 2011 ACMP Global Conference cohosted by Prosci in Orlando, Florida on May 1-4.  Let us know if you plan to be there.

We’re also eager to continue the dialogue about business change management. Please feel free to reach out to us if you would like to share your experiences, and take a look at the business change management discussion on our community site. We’d love to hear from you.