Achieving Sustained Change Results: The Importance of Yin and Yang

There’s so much attention on change management these days that we’re saturated with people’s ideas, tools, techniques, plans, approaches, and strategies for every type of change imaginable.  With all of this intellectual property floating around town, we should have lots of success stories coming out of all of these efforts.

But change management has never been about intellectual property. Google searches do not an effective change management approach make!  In fact, great strategies do not an effective change management approach make either!  It has always been more complex than that.  One has to operationalize ideas and experience successes (and failures!) in order to learn what it takes to achieve real sustained change results.

My change management experience to-date has taught me that no two projects are ever really alike. Many of my projects have had similarities for sure, but that’s just a starting point.  The ones I’m really thinking about these days are the ones that finished strong.  They all had something in common. They all applied Yin and Yang (the concept of duality forming a whole) to their major change initiatives.  By doing so, they achieved greater harmony across complementary concepts.

Here are some examples:

1. Determining the right expected outcomes requires both strategic planning and operational translation

Yin:   Significant effort goes into strategic planning in most organizations. In the current climate, strategic decisions are being made to move organizations in entirely new directions. These decisions have profound effects on both the work processes and people within organizations.  Only by successfully planning (and communicating) clear strategic direction can we determine the right expected outcomes.

Yang:   Significant effort is simultaneously being exerted on operational implementations. With organizations moving in entirely new strategic directions, the onus is falling on operational teams to translate strategic ideas into operational reality.  Only by successfully converting (and implementing) clear strategic direction into operational reality can we determine the right expected outcomes.

2. Achieving expected outcomes requires both project management and change management

Yin:  Project Management is the careful oversight of activities and milestones throughout the delivery of a project and its objectives.  As a discipline, it concerns itself with the technical steps required to achieve expected outcomes.  It focuses on business cases, charters, schedules, milestones, constraints, risks, processes, resources, budgets, procurement, and project dashboards. Only by successfully implementing the right technical steps required can we achieve expected outcomes.

Yang:  Change Management, on the other hand, is about managing the people in a project to ensure they are willing, able and prepared to sustain the project changes and objectives.  As a discipline, it concerns itself with the tactical steps required to achieve expected outcomes.  It focuses on organizational and cultural factors, assessment tools, leadership, sponsorship, people management, communications, engagement, feedback, coaching, special tactics and resistance management.  Only by successfully implementing the right tactical steps required can we achieve expected outcomes.

3. Achieving sustained change results requires a change management approach based on both conventional wisdom and organizational customization

Yin:    Change management, as a discipline, has been around for more than 30 years.  It is a field abundant in information, research, proven methods, and bench marking. We have available extensive dos and don’ts, rights and wrongs, and lessons learned to guide our current change management efforts.  Only by applying conventional wisdom to our efforts can we effectively build the best approach to manage our people to achieve sustained change results.

Yang:   Change management is also the effective management of people through a transition.  And since every organization is made up of different groups of people, every organization requires a customized approach.  In order to customize an approach, an organization must assess itself – i.e. organizational attributes / cultures, change characteristics, and stakeholder impacts.  Only by considering and responding to an organization’s unique change requirements can we effectively build the best approach to manage our people to achieve sustained change results.


One of the greatest challenges of change implementations is to sustain the changes over the longer term.  In order to achieve real sustainment, we must achieve greater harmony across complementary concepts.  We’ve discussed three today, but this is far from an exhaustive list.  Future blogs will feature more ideas on this topic.

It’s no wonder everyone is focused on working more horizontally and in a more integrated manner.  When we do, particularly during major change initiatives, projects are delivered more on-time, more on-cost, and more on-scope.  Given the large number of projects going on, there’s real value to be derived through the achievement of improved project results.



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