Management loves measurement. As managers, we set our targets and measure our progress relative to our success criteria. We always hope the numbers look good.

There is a relatively high degree of predictability when we manage a steady-state environment. It’s business as usual. But when there is change afoot, there is also a fair degree of uncertainty and unpredictability: managing an organisation through change is no easy or simple task.

So how do we do it? What’s the received wisdom?

You establish your purpose (what you’re trying to achieve and why?), your vision (what you want to look and be like at the end?), identify your stakeholders (who will be affected by the change or have the power to influence the outcome?), and develop an incremental plan that will get you there through clearly defined steps, in an acceptable time, and at an affordable cost.

And when you implement, you measure. Are we meeting our targets? Is the plan working? Are the outcomes what we expected? Do we need to tweak our plan?

All good questions – but are they the best ones?

Here’s something to think about. We often measure or progress against our change plans – against the targets we have set ourselves. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this BUT we must understand one critical reality.

We don’t succeed at change because we are successful at our change plans: we succeed at change because we are successful at the change process.

Do you get the significance of that?

As a manager you may develop wonderful change plans, but how good are your people at negotiating the change process? What strengths do they have? What weaknesses exist? How do these weaknesses threaten the success of your change plans? How should you shape your change plans to account for their strengths and weaknesses? What support can you provide to build up their capacity for change? How will you measure their progress against the change process?

If you mainly (or only) measure progress against your plans, you may very well be missing the most important things that deliver success.

Dr Steve Barlow