The Importance of Current State Analysis During Change

The Importance of Current State Analysis During Change
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Do Not Skip Current State Analysis During Change
While it may be tempting to begin important organizational change efforts by looking ahead to the desired future state, do not underestimate the need to understand and agree upon the current state before you embark on a change initiative.

In fact, a recent McKinsey Global Survey pinpointed “Completing a comprehensive, fact-based assessment of the business to identify opportunities for improvement” as one of the most important steps to take because it sets the tone.

For change management to succeed, you need a complete picture of the context of changes you wish to make before you can thoughtfully design, communicate, and implement the new ways of thinking, behaving, and working.

Without a strong foothold in reality and a view of the “whole board,” it is difficult for change leaders to create meaning, encourage positive thinking, and align stakeholders amid the inevitable uncertainties and ambiguities of large scale change.  A complete picture starts with conducting a current state analysis during change so you can actively involve and effectively communicate the why, what, when, who, and the how of change to those most affected.

Without an Understood Current State Analysis During Change
Just think about it.  Without an accurate, systemic, and agreed-upon picture of the current state, how can you expect to make better informed, more creative, or more impactful decisions around the desired future state?

Those affected by change tell us that an unclear current state during change creates four major problems:

  1. The impetus for change, rational for change, and urgency for change are not clear or aligned enough.
  2. The opportunities and implications of the new changes become ambiguous and diluted.
  3. Key stakeholders are not ready, willing, or able to support and execute the new vision for change.
  4. Faulty assumptions and incorrect root causes lead to inevitable frustrations, rework, time delays, budget overruns, and unmet expectations.

A Roadmap for Organizational Change
Just as with any important journey, organizations going through change need a clear and compelling road map to get from the current set of circumstances to the ideal (and hopefully better) future state. It is critical that you clearly establish where you are now in order to plan the best path to where you want to go.

In our change management simulation, this starting point is what is called the “As-Is” or Current State.  Getting the current state analysis during change right allows you to understand, agree upon, and quantify root causes, not just symptoms.

Characteristics of the current state that you need to get right include a common understanding of the current:

If you skip doing a thorough current state analysis as part of your change initiative, you could become a failed change program research statistic.

Gartner studies suggest that 75% of all US IT projects are considered to be failures by those responsible for initiating them with half of the projects exceeding budget by 200%.  A Standish Group study found that 31% of projects were cancelled outright, and Bain found only 12% of change initiatives achieved or exceeded their aims with over one-third failing miserably.

Investing the time to create current state clarity allows you to enlist those most affected by change and to create alignment with key stakeholders by sharing an honest assessment of the current state.  While it may feel like a time consuming step in the change process, in our experience it sets the stage to co-create the desired future together and drastically speeds up the “hearts and minds” portion of the change process.

5 Common Traps of As-Is Analysis
In addition to being so anxious to get going that leaders overlook root cause and current state analysis, here are five additional current analysis traps to avoid during change:

  1. Conducting Undisciplined Feedback Sessions
    Though it is helpful to gather feedback from all those who will be affected by the change, leaders need to guard against these meetings becoming a free-for-all. Be clear at the outset that the purpose of the meeting is to gather current state information, not to provide solutions – at least not yet.  Capture any potential quick wins in a parking lot and move on.
  2. Ignoring the Iceberg of Ignorance
    A well-known study by Sidney Yoshida in 1989 found an “Iceberg of Ignorance” exists in most organizations. The study posited that 100% of an organization’s true problems are known to front-line employees while only 74% are known to supervisors, 9% are known to middle management, and only 4% are known to executive leadership.

    While those percentages seem a bit extreme, there is no doubt that perspectives from the entire organization are required to get an accurate picture of how work gets done.

  3. Failing to Acknowledge the Way Things Actually Get Accomplished
    While many systems and processes are documented or known, users typically have found better, different, and sometimes unconscious ways of accomplishing their tasks. Current documentation or cursory discussions do not always reflect reality.  It is important to uncover how work actually gets done on a day-to-day basis before the organization undertakes improvement efforts.
  4. Misunderstanding Matrixed Workflows
    A huge pitfall of current state analysis is misunderstanding or overlooking various points of integration. Work typically flows through a variety of methods — some automatic, some manual.  Carefully observe each point at which one system/person/department/function feeds another so you understand the interdependencies (or silos) between different areas.
  5. Ignoring a Major Obstacle
    Sometimes an obstacle to change looms so large (or is so political at work) that no one will acknowledge it. Avoidance may be due to a lack of resources, politics, risk of looking bad, or simply denial that it exists.  To set the stage for meaningful change, call it out and gain what insight you can from why it was ignored.

The Bottom Line
Change experts recognize the value of creating a common understanding of the current state before launching a comprehensive change initiative. Misunderstanding the current state creates incorrect perspectives about the changes to come.  Incorrect perspectives about change cause friction, swirl, and faulty decision making.  Do you have a holistic, accurate, and agreed-upon map of the current state?

To learn more about successful change management best practices, download the 5 Science-Backed Lenses of Change that Leaders Too Many Leaders Get Wrong

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