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Change management: stop playing golf on the basketball court!

#NimbleVlog Season 1 Episode 8ORCHANGO’s president & co-founder Edmond Mellina uses a sports analogy to explain the mismatch between mainstream change management and the new nature of change in our era of digital transformation…


Reading time: less than 5 minutes

Change management started to pick up steam in organizations at the end of the 90’s / early 2,000’s, when the pace of change was relatively slow and controlled. And between change initiatives the dust typically had time to settle.

On top of it, change management started as a function of the PMO, which was reporting to the CIO. So these folks had a process kind of mindset.

Because of that, all the mainstream change management methodologies that are in use today – think about Prosci and the ADKAR model – because they were developed in that era, they all look as change management as if it was a game of golf.

The same way golfers progress on the golf course from hole to hole, change management progresses from phase to phase. And the change managers they have in their toolbox a lot of templates, checklists and tools specifically designed for each phase of the “change process”.

On the golf course, when the beverage cart is coming, typically golfers they slow down; they take time for a drink and some of them even light a Cuban cigar. In the same fashion, change managers at the end of a phase they slow down to prepare for the next phase.

Back to the golf course: at the end of the 18 holes, the golfers usually end up in the clubhouse where they have more drinks and even a meal. Similarly, change managers have been taught at the end of a transformation project to “refreeze” and to work on making sure that the “future state” that has now been reached is becoming the new “current state”.

So first point is that this golf-like approach to managing change has never been very successful: just look at the research data. The first research on the success rate with transformation initiatives was in the early ‘80s. And back then they found that it was only 30% – 33% of initiatives that were succeeding. Since then, that number has been remaining more or less the same, which is mind blowing!

But on top of it, fast forward to today: in this era of digital transformation, the pace of change – the nature of change – is fundamentally different from what it was in the late 90’s / early 2,000’s. Forget about controlled pace; forget about the dust having time to settle.

These days, change is fast-paced, ongoing and disruptive. That means we cannot look at it as a golf game anymore. We need to look at is as a basketball game. That means we need to be quick, super dynamic and fluid. In other words, we need to be #nimble.

And yet organizations continue to rely on the old-fashion methodologies. They keep sending their people to be certified on Prosci’s methodologies. They keep bringing golf shoes, golf carts, golf bags and golf clubs to a game of basketball. That doesn’t make sense…

A few years ago, I was talking with a client about it and the following day I get an email from her. And in that email, there was a picture. I think she found the picture on the website of ESPN. And the picture captures beautifully the inadequacy of the situation, the silliness of the situation. On the picture you had bozo playing golf on a basketball court! Doesn’t make sense…

So, a few years ago, with the big push for Agile in organizations, the most progressive of the change managers out there started to rethink a little their approach. And instead of doing big ADKAR process, they started to do quick ADKAR cycles to match with the sprints of the Agile methodology. That’s better; that is definitely better. But at the end of the day, this is like playing mini putt as opposed to doing 18 holes or a 9-hole of golf. It is still playing golf… for a game of basketball.

So, this is the fundamental question to ponder: how does your organization today deal with change, what is the mindset: is it golf or basketball? The answer to this question is directly tied to the chance of survival of your business…

Playlist with all the #NimbleVlog episodes

Headshot Of Edmond Mellina, ORCHANGO's President & Co-Founder

Edmond is ORCHANGO's president & co-founder.

He is internationally respected for his expertise in nimble change leadership and culture change. For the past 30 years, he has been executing strategic transformations, building agile capabilities, and advising clients across sectors in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

He is a former corporate transformation executive in drastically changing industries: CIO at Delta Hotels when Expedia disrupted the hotel business; and VP Corporate Development & General Manager USA for the technology business of Envoy Communication Group when design and marketing agencies started to become digital.

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