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Harry Hertz

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Are Change Management, Continuous Improvement, and Innovation the Same?

No, but all three should harness the minds and energy of employees

Published: Monday, January 19, 2015 - 17:38

Call it semantics, but I think there is benefit in distinguishing among change management, continuous improvement, and innovation. By understanding the purpose of each, as well as management’s responsibilities for them, organizations have a richer set of tools for becoming better.

My comments are occasioned by a recent McKinsey & Co. commentary, “Build a change platform, not a change program.” In it, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini assert that continuous improvement requires change platforms rather than top-down, leader-managed change programs.

I agree that continuous improvement (and innovation) require leader-inspired environments or platforms that encourage intelligent risk taking, local improvements, cross-organizational collaboration, and the sharing of best practices. However, that’s different than strategic change management, which is leader-driven and initiative-based. Here is where the confusion enters in the McKinsey blog. They discuss social media such as Facebook and Pinterest as examples of change that can’t and shouldn’t be managed by leadership. These are innovations, not examples of change management, and the two concepts shouldn’t be equated or confused.

Let me briefly explore continuous improvement, innovation, and transformational change management to provide some definition around each, so as to encourage the use of all three in your organization.

Continuous improvement involves ongoing improvements to processes and products that result in incremental improvements, cost savings, and productivity enhancements. Continuous improvement is part of everyone’s job in a high-performing organization.

Innovation involves discontinuous or breakthrough improvement of products, processes, or performance that result in new dimensions of organizational performance. Innovation can result from brainstorming, research and development, outside-the-box thinking, serendipity, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Innovation can come from anywhere in the organization but requires a supportive environment set by senior leadership—an environment that encourages intelligent risk taking and recognizes that there will be failures in pursuing some of those risks.

Change management is a leadership-induced process that involves transformational organizational change that leadership controls and sustains. It requires dedication, involvement of employees at all levels, and constant communication. Transformational change is strategy-driven and stems from the top of the organization. Its origin may be from needs identified within the organization, and it requires active engagement of the whole organization.

All three activities should harness the minds and energy of employees. Change management is episodic and disruptive to the organization; innovation and continuous improvement should be ongoing and constant sources of building competitive advantage. For innovation and continuous improvement, senior leaders are enablers and cheerleaders. For transformational change management, senior leaders are the chief agents.

Sometimes lines among these concepts may blur, but the construct as three different concepts provides a framework for recognizing that different types of opportunities exist and all should be considered in seeking organizational performance excellence.

All three concepts are embedded in the newly released 2015–2016 Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence.

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About The Author

Harry Hertz’s picture

Harry Hertz

 Harry Hertz retired in June 2013 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) where he served as director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 1995. For more than 15 years he was the primary architect of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, responsible for expansion of the Baldrige Program and Award to healthcare, education, and nonprofits, including government. Hertz serves on the Advisory Group for VHA’s Center for Applied Healthcare Studies and on the adjunct faculty of American University. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and a Ph.D. from M.I.T.

Comments

Interesting article

Thank you.