How to Save Your Change Management Program From Cancellation

Posted 09.21.2011

Tvcar60sEarlier this week, I was leading a workshop for a group of leaders in a company that’s been around for a long time. They’re at the beginning of an enterprise wide, top to bottom reimagining of the business. There’s a mix of excitement, ambiguity and uncertainty in the air. Everyone knows that big changes are needed. What’s not clear is whether or not, after years of success doing things a certain way, the necessary changes will take root.

As luck would have it, I’d just heard a story on NPR that offers a lot of clues about why change management programs fail so I shared it with the group. The story was about the annual Fall premiere week on the television networks. The Variety TV editor, Andrew Wallenstein, pointed out that every year dozens of new shows are launched in the same week and every year more than 75 percent of them are cancelled after the first season. It’s not so much a program quality program as it is a math problem. This year, for example, 58 new shows are launching during premiere week. Given that most people only have so many hours a week that they can dedicate to watching TV, most of the new shows never gain an audience.

It costs a lot of money to produce a TV show. You’d think that the networks and producers would want to improve the odds of a return on their investments by spreading out the premieres over the course of the year and giving more people a chance to actually watch more of the shows. Pretty simple fix, right? So why have they been doing the same thing every year for the past 50 years? Wallenstein offered the answer.

Back in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, the auto companies introduced their new model line-ups for the next year in the Fall. When they did, they wanted the public’s attention laser focused on their new cars. Since most of the public was focused on TV in those days and the car companies were the biggest advertisers on TV, they got the networks to launch all their shows in the same week. It worked. Lots of eyeballs were watching new TV shows with lots of commercials for new cars.

Obviously, things have changed a lot since then but we still have premiere week. The production cycles of the entertainment industry and the lure for Madison Avenue of banking a lot of revenue in one swoop are apparently too great to overcome.Which leads to some questions you and your team may want to ask if you’re trying to avoid cancellation by changing the way you do business:

  • What have we been doing for so long that it’s become wallpaper that we just overlook?
  • What are the reasons that we do what we do?
  • How long ago did we come up with those reasons?
  • What’s changed in the world since then?
  • If we were starting over, what would we do instead?
  • What are the factors that are keeping us from doing that? How do we overcome or work around them?
  • Who’s wedded to the way we’re doing things now? What do we need to do to influence their thinking or behavior?

Those are some questions to get the ball rolling. What other questions should be asked? What else does it take to keep your change management program from getting cancelled?