Bugs Bunny - Change Agent

By Scott Franklin

In addition to his long-running acting career, Bugs Bunny was also a driving force in Warner Brothers’ early business success. As Mr. Bunny was assisting the company in making the change from three-minute comic clips into syndicated half-hour episodes, he needed to ensure that the rest of the organization understood the size and scope of this type of change and planned accordingly. To set the stage early, he opened the first planning meeting with the now famous, and slightly mangled, change management directive:

“It’s time for a Stragety!”

In many organizational changes, the technical challenges are usually easy to understand – maybe not simple to solve, but at least easier to grasp. The people issues, however, may or may not be apparent. In fact, Prosci’s 2009 Edition Best Practices in Change Management Benchmarking Report, including 575 organizations, found that the number one factor in changes failing to meet the time, budget, or business objectives is the ineffectiveness of managing the people side of change . In many, if not most, of the changes that run into problems, trouble comes from foreseeable and avoidable resistance to change.

Surprisingly, numerous studies of organizational changes over the last 10 years have shown that only around 30% of the transformational changes undertaken are considered ‘mostly’ or ‘completely’ successful. Imagine you are a member of a team that is climbing a mountain and the day of the climb, the leader addresses the team with “Just to let you know, based upon previous climb statistics, there is a 70% chance that either we won’t summit or some of you will be injured or killed.”

This is good information, but can’t we do something to nudge those numbers a little more in our favor? At least we can start with what we know. Before you start planning the climb, think of the two most critical pieces of information that you would like to know. If you are like most, you would want to know “How big is the mountain” and “How experienced is my team”. For example, an experienced team ascending Mt. Hood has a greater chance of success than a team of amateur climbers attempting to summit Mt. Everest. If you are on the amateur Everest team, Bugs Bunny’s advice to develop a ‘Stragety’ deserves careful attention.

In organizational terms, we are going to base our change management strategy on two primary factors – “How Big is the Change” and “How Resistant is the Organization”. In evaluating the size of the change, the following factors are considered:

  • the degree of change to processes
  • organizational structure
  • roles
  • relationships
  • number of employees affected.

When determining organizational readiness, the subsequent issues are evaluated:

  • the impact of past change efforts
  • perceived need for change
  • organizational change competency
  • change capacity.

The strategy for a large change in a change resistant organization is going to be different than the strategy for a small change in a change-ready organization. In fact, for the most part, the strategy for a small change in a change-ready organization can be largely reactive – i.e., address issues as they arise. For large changes in a change-resistant organization, your strategy should be much more proactive. The two major considerations in this type of change are:

  1. Do I have the right team in place to sponsor and lead this change – i.e., is the sponsor high enough in the organization to effectively lead the change and is the team itself staffed appropriately to see this change through to completion?
  2. Have problem areas been identified and mitigation plans developed? This can include identifying critical managers who struggle with change, individuals/groups that feel safe resisting the changes, and how competing initiatives will be managed.

Regardless of how much pre-planning you do, unforeseen obstacles will arise. The important part is that there are many more that, with proper pre-planning, are foreseeable and can thereby be minimized, reduced, or avoided altogether. Avoiding the avoidable then frees up resources and time to address the true surprises. While his persistent anti-establishment attitude precluded a career in the organizational change community, Bugs did have a strong survival instinct and some good advice. So when failure is not an option, remember to start with a ‘Stragety’.

(Note – A structured assessment tool for determining Change Characteristics and Organizational Attributes is available from Prosci in their Change Management Toolkit and their Change Management Pilot Professional online tool. For more information regarding the complete Prosci change management training, contact www.LCE.com or Prosci at www.change-management.com)

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