Are your change initiatives positioned to realize the full benefits you promised to deliver? Or are you simply installing a solution and trusting that the results will follow?

This is the fifth in a series of articles focused on classic elements of change management content, updated and augmented with my own perspectives and experience. In the first post, Strategic Risk Factors, I have provided some of the history behind this series. The series is primarily written for change management practitioners, but I hope it will also be useful for others who are interested in making organizational changes more successful.

Today’s Focus: Change Realization

When I was first introduced to the terminology and concepts described below (in the late 1990s), it was used to help leaders in information technology understand why so many of their initiatives were not achieving the desired results. In about 2001, ODR published an article called The Leader’s Challenge: Installation or Realization that articulated the concept more broadly, and the installation/realization distinction became a cornerstone of preparing leaders and change agents to succeed in executing major initiatives. The material in the “Classic Model” section below is excerpted from this article and used with permission of Conner Partners (formerly ODR).


Change Realization: Classic Model

Installation and Realization

Most organizations do a relatively good job of figuring out what must be done to solve their problems or exploit their opportunities. The problem is this: most organizations unwittingly apply their resources toward installing new solutions rather than realizing the anticipated benefits. Installation occurs when a new solution (new technology, reorganization, updated processes, etc.) is introduced to the organization. The process may include announcing the project, providing new equipment or software, training, and a host of other related activities. Realization, however, is achieved when the organization goes beyond just deploying the change and reaps the full business benefits that were anticipated when the resources were allocated to accomplish the initiative.

Installation  When change projects are first introduced into a work setting, they are deployed but have not yet achieved their ultimate intent. Installation is about placement: managing the tangible aspects of inserting a new initiative into the work environment. It is an essential part of the overall implementation process, but it is a two-edged sword. With it comes the potential for either furthering the primary purpose of the intended change, or actually preventing it from ever truly taking form. For this reason, we make a distinction between two forms of installation: beneficial and dysfunctional.

  • Beneficial Installation: Installation is a phase all change endeavors go through where attention is focused primarily on physically inserting projects into an organization. Installation is an asset when decision makers: 1) see it as a critically important step in the overall implementation process, and, 2) realize that much more work is involved to fulfill the true purpose of their investment.
  • Dysfunctional Installation:  Installation is dysfunctional when it becomes an end state, not a phase in the sequence of necessary action steps. When this happens, people within the organization engage in self-protective behavior that results in the appearance of change without the substance. Employees participate in the farce by saying all the right things, going through the motions of complying, disguising old habits with new rhetoric and fabricating the intended outcomes. While all of this is taking place, the real goals of the effort are being completely bypassed.

Realization  Realization takes place when the key purpose for an initiative (e.g., confirmed cost savings, measurable increases in customer loyalty, documented productivity gains, etc.) is actually achieved. Once installation has taken place, the necessary elements are in place to ensure that the installed solution is fully utilized.

Change Containers

Because of its elusive nature, change requires tangible “containers” that allow it to be transported into an organization and be recognized. But these packages actually only carry the seeds of change, not change itself. Examples: A well-crafted sales training program exposes participants to the elements needed to develop effective customer relationships, but the course may or may not foster the acquisition of the desired skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will actually lead to more productive relationships. New, enterprise-wide software may create the possibility of sharing information across departments, but it will not necessarily create the mental and emotional shifts needed to create the environment of trust, openness, and collaboration required to truly achieve the potential synergies.

Many leaders confuse the containers that hold the potential for change with the actual change that is desired. Once the seeds of change have been planted, the true purpose of the endeavor can only unfold if the surrounding human landscape has been made ready to absorb the inherent disruption. Human landscapes are the breeding grounds for resistance because all initiatives designed to bring about change, by definition, interrupt the status quo. The greater the promise of change, the more disruption required. Despite wishful thinking to the contrary, most people are reluctant to disturb the routines that have formed in their lives. We are a species addicted to our established habits, and we often cling to them even when doing so is unproductive or, worse, self-destructive.

What Leaders Need to Know

Many leaders deal rather peripherally with or ignore altogether the people dynamics associated with the major changes they attempt to implement. Why? Much of the time, it’s because they have not fully grasped that leadership involves more than making the right decisions about “what” should be done. Senior leaders must also know “how” to orchestrate the human infrastructure to ensure that there is enough support from the key people involved in a change effort to actually achieve the true purpose of the endeavor.

For important initiatives to reach their realization potential, it is usually necessary to call into play two disciplines: project management and change management. Project management deals with the logistics of implementation (functional milestones, scheduling, training, cost control, etc.) Change management uses behavioral science research and techniques to deal with the dynamics that unfold within the surrounding human landscapes (developing commitment, minimizing resistance, fostering resilience, etc.). It is best when these two disciplines are integrated into a single implementation methodology. This allows the logistic and human components to be seen, as they truly are – two equally important and interdependent requisites to successful change investments. If change management is ignored or applied in a superficial manner, there is little chance of going beyond installation-type outcomes.

Leaders don’t need a deep expertise in the psychology of change to deal with human landscape issues, but a solid, working understanding of the dynamics involved is essential. For change promises to be realized rather than installed, leaders need to know enough about how change unfolds to provide the proper guidance to their organization. They need to attend to the following:

  • Sponsor Commitment: Will there be sufficient resolve demonstrated by management (through public rhetoric, private pressure, allocation of resources, consequence management, time and attention, etc.) to drive the desired behaviors and attitudes required by the initiative and to ensure that this leads to achieving the overall desired change?
  • Target Resistance: Have the views of those being affected been taken into account to: 1) identify reasons why they might be reluctant to support the ultimate desired change, and 2) develop action plans that either relieve the constraints identified or address how to deal with those that can’t be resolved?
  • Corporate Culture: Is the culture (i.e., patterns of beliefs, behaviors, and unconscious assumptions) that surrounds the change aligned with what must happen for desired change to become reality?
  • Remaining Adaptation Capacity: Are there sufficient resources (physical, emotional, and intellectual energy) available among the people being affected to adjust to the desired outcome?
  • Implementation Architecture: To what extent are sponsors and agents of change prepared to use a structured, disciplined approach as opposed to relying on intuition and good intentions when managing the human aspects of implementation?


Change Realization: Linda’s Commentary

As usual, I have a few thoughts and perspectives on this model from the vantage point of nearly 20 years.

First, I have to say that I enjoy watching people’s faces the first time they encounter the installation-realization distinction. There are usually a lot of “a-ha” moments as leaders and change agents think about the fact that the organization has focused most of its attention and energy on installation-related activities, and see how this language can help them understand the gap that change-management activities are designed to close.

The idea of “change containers” really resonates with me as well, and brings to mind two elements in what we used to call the “napkin speech” (a diagram that is used to tell the story of how change unfolds—look for it in a future blog post): the solution and the desired state. The solution is the container—what we are putting in place (new technology, a new organizational structure, etc.). The desired state is the way we want things to be in the future (including the mindsets and behaviors we want people to internalize, the business results we want to achieve, etc.). Vendors typically sell solutions to organizations, with implicit promises about the results that will be achieved, but often their implementation guidance and planning stops once the solution is installed and activated. Unless someone within the organization takes ownership of managing activities and tracking progress all the way to realization of business benefits, that aspect of implementation is often insufficiently staffed and funded, and project resources are on to the next initiative before they have truly finished the last one.

In training leaders and change agents on this model, one of the tests I often give for whether they are focusing on installation or realization is “what are you calling the initiative?” If it’s the “sales training” initiative, it’s probably installation-focused. If it’s the “build loyal customers” initiative, there’s a better chance that it’s realization-focused.

A second test for whether an initiative is installation- or realization-focused is the measures that are being used to evaluate success. Installation measures (which are very important too) might include numbers of people who have completed training and/or successful deployment of technology functions and features. Realization measures might include shifts in customer experience that are linked to new staff behaviors and/or increases in revenue or profitability linked to the new functions and features. There are several things that make realization measures harder to formulate and track:

  • The outcomes that are being sought are usually linked to multiple inputs, so it’s hard to claim that a single initiative was responsible for the shift.
  • Realization outcomes can sometimes be more subjective (e.g., customer satisfaction or loyalty, degree of shift in employee mindsets and behaviors) and more challenging to measure.
  • Realization outcomes unfold over a much longer period of time and often involve gathering data that has not previously been collected, or gaining access to data that is owned by other divisions or departments.

One way I’ve seen people think about realization measures is in the form of a realization map, which takes the idea of a strategy map and adapts it to identify outcome measures for each area (the most common ones I’ve seen are financialcustomerinternal business processes, and learning and growth) and articulate the anticipated linkages among them. A simpler format for this kind of thinking is found in a benefits map.

Would I make any adjustments to this “classic” model today? Maybe a few. I don’t have much to add to the conceptual distinction between installation and realization. I do think that as written this model assumes a “waterfall” approach to planning, where all the desired outcomes are specified in advance and the project plan & change management plan are designed to get to those outcomes. That’s still a very common model, but I’ve become convinced that an iterative, exploratory approach may often be better for getting engagement and traction. From that perspective, both installation and realization are a good bit more evolutionary—we try some experiments, and see what is working, and then continue to expand on the fruitful experiments, measuring key outcomes and adjusting our goals and plans as we go. Such an approach would place no less importance on realization, but would require a substantially different way of thinking about how to plan for and measure it.

How are you approaching the issue of realization? What insights, models, and approaches do you find most helpful?