In Change Management we speak openly about scoping for those who can help in the change processes (Champions, Coaches, Sponsors..) and about tools to engage managers and employees equally to become Aware, feel Desire to learn more, become more Knowledgeable, Able and Capable of retaining new behaviors long-term (PROSCI). We also speak openly about what to do with the identified risks if they are employee or market-related. But what if they identify line- or higher management as a risk?

When change managers do their stakeholder identification- and analysis, they obviously also map higher and line management besides employees and external stakes. The possible positive or negative impact of all is mapped. When a manager’s mindset, leadership style or behavior is identified as a possible threat to project outcomes, such result is usually standing as an elephant in the room. How can a change manager, being part of the hierarchical structure, address his findings without opening a can of worms that will explode in his face?

I often get that question from MBA students while teaching Stakeholder Management at LaSalle Technology Faculty in Barcelona. I always tell them the simple truth: You can’t. He or she has the choice between being honest and taking a high risk of getting fired, or pimp or even hide the conflictive part of his findings and become part of the problem and consecutive failure.

Only very recently the Big4 started to address this blind spot in all CM methods. If managers cannot be helped or taught towards new roles and behaviors because of professional and psycho-social issues, and are therefore identified as a risk to project outcomes, they need to be taken out of the equation. It’s as simple as that, but almost never possible to do. Or is it?

How big is the problem?

How big is the problem really? Recent studies show what every change manager knows, possibly 1 out of 4 line- and higher managers constitute a too high risk to project outcome. This is one of the reasons of the new tendency of placing Change (or Transition) Management as a function (and even as a department) completely outside any hierarchical line, always reporting directly into the boardroom or CEO and with own budget and authority to engage with HR about personnel issues.

You may think this is logical and common practice, but it is not although I predict it will go mainstream soon enough due to volatile markets, digitalization and globalization to name a few business killers if not attended with high-speed changes and adjustments. Companies simply can’t walk around the elephant anymore. Allowing the CTO (Chief Transformation Officer) to act on both the push and the pull side of the equation protects his project- and change managers lifts morale and becomes a solid building block for effective change.

McKinsey, for example, now also starts to address the elephant. In the below infographic which I recently got from CM “Guru” Dr. Holger Nauheimer (thanks Holger) one can observe such shifts in mindset reading the questions they formulate. Try and answer them honestly…