Back to the not-so-basics of managing change

A medical device company undertook a large transformation that included integrating several business units to create one unified organization and culture. This was no small feat; at any given moment, the team, like many teams, had 100 or so projects running to execute the integration.

Managing change in these situations often feels extremely difficult, if not impossible. With thousands of employees and multiple rounds of simultaneous changes, how can top teams ensure everyone is adopting the new ways of working? This company’s experience highlights three critical lessons on successfully managing change.

Focusing on operational success lowers the bar

Often when project plans are built, they are geared toward executing the project workstreams themselves and achieving operational success rather than achieving the bigger-picture outcome the project is intending to accomplish, or “Ultimate Success.” For example, we’ve seen teams focus on setting up a new inventory management system rather than setting up a new inventory management system and ensuring people regularly use it. While this may seem like a nuance, the difference between the two is tremendous; the former could lead to neglecting the communication strategy during and after launch, which is critical to achieving the desired outcome and capturing value from the new system.

In the case of the medical devices company, the first thing the team did was identify the Ultimate Success in each project and ensure that each line of the project plan tracked to that goal. This exercise involved going from confirming the team sent an email to verifying that somebody read it.

The most basic activities can make—or break—a change program

While projects usually require changes in mind-set and behavior, some changes are more tactical in nature. Regardless of the type of change, a strong foundation in basic change-management activities—such as building stakeholder lists and communication plans—is critical. Unfortunately, these not-so-basics are often overlooked or assumed to be in place. Moving forward on a change effort without completing these activities is like building the walls of a house without a foundation; both are destined to crumble. As the company revamped its process, it built a detailed list of basic, non-negotiable change-management activities to execute, ensuring nothing would fall through the cracks.

As changes become more complex, the basics are still needed, but they become insufficient on their own. At this point, companies should work to uncover mind-sets, utilize the influence model to shift mind-sets and behaviors, and embed health to achieve Ultimate Success.

Change plans should evolve over time

Projects often feel like a game of Chutes and Ladders (with many chutes and virtually no ladders). Any time the project evolves or runs into an unforeseen roadblock, the team slides down a chute and goes back to square one in managing the project. But teams frequently have static change-management plans that are separate from their dynamic project plan. As soon as a change-management activity is finished, they check the box and move on to the next one.

When the medical devices company’s project scope changed, the project plan was quickly adjusted. But since the change-management activities were allocated to a different plan, the team didn’t, for example, recommunicate with stakeholders, as that box had been checked long ago.

Moving forward, the company created one integrated change and project plan, tying the change-management activities to project milestones and creating a living, breathing document.


Change is hard, and it’s easy to get caught up in its complexity. However, at the end of the day, focusing on the not-so-basics can bring your transformation to a whole new level.

For more on leading successful, large-scale change programs see our book, Beyond Performance 2.0.

The authors wish to thank Andreas Frohlich, Kritvi Kedia, Martin Kramer, and Taylor Lauricella for their practical insights.

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