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It’s no secret that organizations have put extra emphasis on change, change management, and change adoption. For over 100 years, change management has been studied, observed, and hypothesized. From the early anthropological observations of Arnold Van Gennep, to Lewin’s unfreezing/refreezing model, to Bridges’ neutral zones and new beginnings, to Kotter’s Eight Steps to Change in the mid-90s, the practice of change management has continued to gain momentum in the modern sphere. The formalization of this practice has yielded greater structure and replicability, and organizations continue to find ways to enhance their adoption of change projects year in and year out.

Even with a century of evolving practice and discipline, most of change management falls on the shoulders of organizations’ technically savvy Project Management Office (PMO), some also chartering change-specific project management teams (CMO). Most PMO/CMO develop or license integrated change management processes and tools which provide outcome-oriented success indicators. These are critical to the success of change projects, but successful change management is much more than having a peripheral employee group following processes and tools.

With such a rich history of research, and the stand-up of the change management discipline, it’s puzzling to learn that 70% of change initiatives still fail. Why?

The PMO Lacks Influence

In my experience, senior management expects the PMO will handle the blocking and tackling of transformations. Executive leaders see the future – they concoct new strategies and subsequent organizational re-modeling that will position their organization to succeed. While with best intentions, at this point, they see their work as done and believe it’s time for the organization to execute. Executive sponsors of the transformation put the onus on the PMO to manage the change holistically. A PMO should be an agent of worth for a change program. A PMO needs sufficient visibility, influence, and power to increase cooperation across the business. Without it, the organization will perceive the PMO as a peripheral support resource rather than the strategic driver of the change. Executive leaders should empower the PMO and reinforce the critical role the PMO plays in the success of their organization’s strategic aspirations.

Successful change happens when leaders are involved in the process and articulate successes along the way.

Change Capabilities Are Insulated within the PMO 

PMOs possess incredible skills, techniques, processes, and management capabilities. During change projects, these groups put into place an integrated change management model that will help the organization move through various stages of the change journey. These capabilities, models, and processes are critical to meeting objectives, but they’re not enough to effectively change people’s behavior throughout the business. Functional leaders, cultural ambassadors, highly influential contributors, and executive leaders need to possess change skills and capabilities. Everyone, not just the PMO, needs to embody the mindsets and skillsets necessary during times of change.

Relieve Your PMO of Change Burden 

Everyone in your business should have a role in activating strategies during times of change. Imagine the possibility of having a robust structure of change management in your PMO in concert with skills and capabilities throughout the organization. Imagine the agility of the organization that embodies change capabilities just as strong as those in the PMO.

Your PMO is savvy, diligent, and hardworking. But they alone cannot bring an organization through a change. Your people within the business need to have the mindsets and capabilities to lead their people through change. Take the burden off your PMO and empower your people with the skills that are so critical for change to stick.

Three Skills That Everyone in Your Organization Should Embody during Times of Change 

  1. Create a Safe Zone for Truth Telling

Employees in your business need to learn how to overcome the fear of speaking the truth. We recognize that in most organizations there are three places where we tell the truth: the hallway, watercooler, and bathroom (or in today’s remote world, text messages and Teams). We need to break this norm. As a team leader, it’s important to create a safe zone. Team leaders need to provide a platform for their teams to share their challenges, realities, and reservations. Vulnerability is a key linchpin in creating a culture of truth telling. Your team leaders need to be vulnerable so that their teams can feel comfortable enough to come to them with their challenges. Knowing where everyone is emotionally can create alignment and ultimately inspire accountability.

  1. Create Shared Meaning

As a team leader, creating shared meaning will further clarity, drive, alignment, and accelerate change. If your team leaders aren’t creating a common mental model for the specific actions and behaviors that are required, teams will continue to operate independently and without direction. When team leaders understand the role they play in translating complexity for their teams, they can begin to lead the meaning-making process and create shared ownership for change.

  1. Storytelling

Team leaders need to understand why stories are an effective way to get people excited about the path forward. Have you ever read a PowerPoint presentation to your kids or grandkids? Likely not. Why? Because it doesn’t have the same visuals or storyline that create engagement. Effective storytelling showcases success and creates excitement for the change. Your people need the skills to share stories with their teams to drive adoption of the change. Change is hard, it takes time, and it doesn’t come without some heroic efforts. Without successful storytelling, teams will be lost without purpose, connection, and inspiration, and this leads to burnout. They need to see themselves as a part of the story. A good change story can rally a team and inspire an organization to bring change to life.

Breaking Free from the Traditional Approach to Change

All this to say, successful change occurs when you empower a group of people to help lead the change. You need every person in your organization to have the capabilities to drive change, and it starts with your team leaders creating a culture of truth telling and shared meaning and articulating the current and future state of your business in a compelling way. If you’re interested in breaking free from traditional approaches to change and curious to hear what’s working well with your peers, let’s chat.

November 15, 2022

More deeply rooted thinking

Healthcare/Life Sciences


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