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Change Management vs Continuous Improvement

        posted by , April 01, 2013

Comparing business terms is dangerous.

There are at least two levels of comparison: philosophical & practical. If you compare things at the philosophical level you'll be accused of living in fluffy-magical-dreamland. If you compare things at the practical level you'll be accused of missing what the idea could be, would be, should be.

At the philosophical level there are few interesting differences between Organizational Change Management and Continuous Improvement. They're both management practices that change businesses to achieve strategy.

The interesting differences show up in the reality of how they operate in real businesses:

1. Change Management Jumps, Continuous Improvement Walks

Organizational change management is focused on changes that are so big that the organization is resisting them.

Change management is critical for large changes such as mergers & acquisitions, restructuring, business model change, innovative change and entering new markets. In theory, it can be applied to incremental changes such as continuous improvement. The business reality is that it's normally focused on big change.

Continuous improvement isn't necessarily slow but it's gradual — there's a big difference. Many of the world's most successful companies use continuous improvement to drive change.

2. Change Management is People Focused, Continuous Improvement is Product Focused

Change management reduces the barriers to change. The biggest barrier to big changes is resistance.

Change management focuses on the people side of change — how to motivate your people to accept and achieve change.

Continuous improvement is so gradual that it doesn't face as much resistance. It's free to focus on processes and products.

3. Change Management Is Revolution, Continuous Improvement Is Evolution

Change management may be used to drive completely new strategies. In fact, this is where it's most needed.

Continuous improvement focuses on improving existing strategy, processes and products.

4. Change Management Is Risk Taking, Continuous Improvement is Risk Adverse

Change management is often focused on an organization's risky ventures.

Continuous improvement tends to find and reduce risk.

5. Change Management Thinks, Continuous Improvement Measures

Big risk taking ventures that require change management tend to be based on shaky numbers. In many cases, a strategy makes projections that are essentially guesses.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Innovation is based on tacit human abilities such as creativity and insight that are difficult to measure.

Continuous improvement is often used to improve well-measured processes and products. Its numbers may be grounded and precise.

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