Good Change Management is like Good Music


I recently wrote about how far the Change Management profession has come in Change Management – It’s Come a Long Way Baby!.  Now it’s time for the “but” portion.  While we have come a long way, we have a ways to go yet.  In addition, I’ve seen several negative consequences from the steps we have taken.

“But” #1 – Change Management is much more than a set of tools and templates or a specific methodology.  These are good building block but they do not guarantee a solid delivery.

In the prior article I talked about the positive impact of the adoption of a set of CM tools.  The “but” is that I also observed large gaps in understanding change fundamentals.  I also observed significant gaps in execution ability. 

Change Management had been “dumbed down” to focus on Communications and Training.  Awareness had been built around the basic concept of Change Management.  What was missing was a solid understanding of the nuances of Change Management and the psychology, human behaviors, and neuroscience behind it.  There were also significant gaps in understanding when to engage practitioners and how to integrate them effectively into project teams. 

Yes, Communications and Training is a portion of Change Management but it that’s not all.  Yes, tools are helpful, but they don’t solve problems or drive change by themselves.

“But” #2 – Change Management practitioner is not a one size fits all title.  There are a myriad of different skill sets – from beginner to expert.  At this same client, individuals who had been through a 3-day Change Management training program were deemed ready to be “Change Management practitioners,” able to support all the organization’s Change Management needs.  While they certainly knew more than they did prior to the 3-day program, it wasn’t enough for them to be able to successfully drive the necessary changes. 

But what is Change Management?  I’ve been thinking about the analogy that good Change Management is like creating beautiful music. 

Tools, templates, and methodologies can be viewed as the notes and musical arrangements.  The practitioner as the player.  Individual practitioners translate the notes on the page into music for the listener to enjoy.  How they sound varies based on the instrument played and the skill of the individual playing. 

Some music players have basic training, know the process, and have some technical proficiency but lack artistry.  Some musicians may have a high level of artistry in their music without years of training.  For them, it’s an innate skill.  Others are skilled at more than one instrument. 

At my client, the individuals who had been “certified” had learned several musical scores, but did not the practice and experience that they needed to play with the Symphony. 

But how do you tell “good” Change Management?  Outstanding musicians don’t need the sheets of music in front of it – they know it.  That doesn’t mean that they never have the musical score up, but rather they know when they should have it up and when they don’t need it. 

Musical virtuosos not only play the notes on the page, they adjust it.  They make it “come alive” for those listening. 

To further this analogy, the same note, a middle C, sounds different not only based on the instrument played but also a variety of other factors.

The best artists have both form and function.  Lessons, practice, experience and artistry – some artistry taught while another portion innate.  They “feel it” and sense it.  They make adjustments as they play.  The make adjustments based on the instrument they are playing and the environment they are playing in (e.g., a room or music hall).  They move to different locations on the stage, sit or stand, and wear different attire depending on what emotions, messages, and originality they want to convey.  They adjust their playing based on who is listening, what they are playing, where they are playing, and why they are performing.

Those that are at the top of their game, the virtuosos, fine-tune their performance based all the factors above.  Each performance is unique, never to be duplicated.  It can’t be.  This variation is not bad, it simply is a result of both experience and the dynamics of the situation. 

Sometimes the differences are based on whether the artist is “on” that night or not.  Sometimes the differences are driven by external factors that the artist has no control over.  Cell phone interruption can’t be blamed on the performer…  All performances might be outstanding, but it is likely that some are slightly better than others.  Which was better often depend on the individual listening.

A single performance is heard and interpreted differently by the various audience members.  This variation comes from differences in expectations, their backgrounds, their individual musical ability and even their individual moods. 

It’s also about two sides of the situation – the person playing and the person listening.  A person who is tone deaf won’t notice the missed notes and errors as much as an individual with perfect pitch.

In conclusion…

Value how far we have come, but don’t but understand we have a long way to go. 

  • “Certification” does not mean the individual is a skill musician.  Notes and musical scores by themselves are simply not enough.  
  • Change Management practitioner is not a one size fits all title.  There are different levels of skills from beginner to virtuoso. 
  • Not everyone playing is an artist – some are just learning the notes. 

Great music is often difficult to describe, but you know it when you hear it.  The same goes for great Change Management practitioners and their efforts.  They might be on a street corner or playing in a music hall.  They might be chatting in Linked In or doing a large scale change effort.  You just know what you are hearing is great – it moves you in some way, connects you, brings your emotions out, and perhaps changes you in some way…hopefully for the better.   


  1. Luc Galoppin says:

    Simply love the equivalent with the musical metaphor – and I warmly recommend putting it to practice literally by observing musicians and their ways of working.

  2. I could not agree more with your caveats above. Particularly the note about “certification.” Most CM training providers offer a test of knowledge of the material taught, and “certify” the individual based on those results. In my opinion that certification is only recognition of apprentice status, attesting only to the knowledge component of competence. Experience is crucial; further examination by scenario or case study may be used as a surrogate for observation, but evidence of experience must be provided.

  3. Faith Fuqua-Purvis says:

    Thanks Stephen. The challenge I see how to help the “buyer” to discern the differences. To understand what the certification is…and is not.

    I believe one step in this process is related to helping us identify/better clarify different “levels” of skills. There are a myriad of issues surrounding this – from defining the architecture to determining how to quantify and qualify the skills. I’ve been noodling on the idea of applying to talk about this as a break out for the next ACMP conference. Trying to decide how much I want to bite off.

    I personally liken this issue to what I observe in the PM world. You can have great PMs that are not “certified” and are not formal PMPs. Others, have received their “certification” but don’t really understand program management. They use the tools well, but have difficulty applying analytics. Understanding the why of the various PM tools. When to use them and just importantly when not to.

  4. Awesome Post Faith! I did some piece some time back called orchestral symphonies in change managements where I compared the orchestra and role of the conductor to that of the change manager. I find analogies are so great at explaining change and music comes up time and time again.

    I’d also support that certification does not a master craftsman make!

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