Assessing the Organizational Change Management Process in the Passage of the 2021 Bylaw Amendments

On August 31, 2021, the USA Fencing Board of Directors convened to discuss a number of sweeping new bylaw amendments to overhaul the current Governance Structure of USA Fencing. I previously posted an assessment of the amendments based on a Board Maturity Model, but today’s post will focus on the shortcomings of these changes from an Organizational Change Management (OCM) perspective.

First of All, What’s Organizational Change Management?

In a presentation I delivered to the 2019 Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), I defined Change Management as: “the act of enabling, inspiring, and supporting individuals to think and behave in new ways that help organizations achieve their goals.”

The operating principles and philosophy of a good change management plan including envisioning an experience that inspires new emotion and empowers new action, meets people where they are (not where they need to be), builds the right motivation, and reinforces ownership of the change.

So to cut through the business speak: change management is how much your customers/end users are aligned to a change imposed by an organization.

How do you Measure “Good” Change?

The industry standard for Change Management certification is Prosci, a methodology developed by Jeff Hiatt and Tim Creasey. Hiatt and Creasey believe that organizational changes fail because “employees don’t understand the importance of getting on board the change and how to successfully make the change.”[1]

They developed what is known as the “ADKAR” model, which outlines the barriers to adoption that organizations must help stakeholders overcome for a change to be successful. Spelled out, these are:

  • A – Awareness: Of the need to change
  • D – Desire: to Participate and Support the Change
  • KKnowledge: On how to change
  • AAbility: To implement desired skills and behaviors (aka training, if necessary)
  • RReinforcement: To sustain a change

Without taking stakeholders through these steps, a change is destined to fail. Perhaps a change fails due to lack of awareness, or lack of executive alignment. Perhaps it’s due to a lack of understanding of “what’s in it for me.” Perhaps it’s due to poor or improper training. Perhaps it’s due to lack of user adoption. Or perhaps it’s due to an organization believing that the launch of a new process without corresponding reinforcement activities means the change is “done.”

For the Change Management process leading up to the bylaw proposals, it was a combination of all of the above, which I’ll spell out below.

What a Change Approach Could Look Like for USA Fencing

For future change engagements with USA Fencing, I created a list of potential change activities in order to make future changes like the bylaws stick with membership, align dissenting executives, and manage potential resistance.

Because this is for a Fencing organization, I had no choice but to align these activities to different phases of a typical fencing sequence. Forgive the puns.

Potential USA Fencing Change Approach

What Change Management Should Have Looked Like for the Bylaw Proposals

I developed the following change curve to articulate the phases membership needed to go through as part of the bylaw amendment process. Change curves are a way to articulate where stakeholders are in their personal change journeys. In the case of USA Fencing, an ideal target end-state would be members evangelizing the benefits of the bylaw changes.

USA Fencing Bylaw Change Curve

What Could Have Gone Better – Pre-Work Exploration Phase

In order to successfully implement broad changes in the future, USA Fencing must develop an Organizational Change toolkit to better understand member attitudes, identify and assess change risks, and better outline business cases to membership.

Prior to the launch of any future changes, USA Fencing must conduct the following activities:

  • Stakeholder Analysis- Assess the current level of commitment from key stakeholders and members to capture the commitment needs required for a successful change to occur. The stakeholder analysis will help the Board figure out actions to close any potential change/commitment gaps while also identifying engagement strategies for influential member constituencies (e.g. CyrusOfChaos, Parents Blog)
  • Change Estimator- Pre-work assessment to quantify overall change risks, informed by changes to people, process, technology, and cultural changes associated with the bylaw shift
  • Strategic Communications Plan- Organizes communication and engagement needs into a central spreadsheet to identify vehicles, timing, audiences, and key messages. To my knowledge, the only communication to membership was a posting on the USA Fencing website. This must expand in future engagements.

There was one additional significant gap in the pre-project change activities: lack of executive alignment. President Burchard was clearly opposed to the proposed bylaw changes which trickled down to his supporting constituencies. Without the President’s alignment, discord among Board executives ensued, leaving sponsorship to the Board of Directors minus its top two executives.

In future change engagements, it is suggested to schedule executive sessions closed to the public to hash out any differences and disagreement prior to taking such changes to membership. From my professional experience, the #1 reason a change is doomed to failure is due to a lack of executive sponsorship.

The discord between Mr. Burchard and the Board is clear, and with three years remaining on his term, Mr. Burchard must find more common ground with the Board in order to benefit membership. 

What Could Have Gone Better – Awareness

On July 12, 2021, per USA Fencing’s bylaws, the organization posted an announcement 45 days in advance that included a link to the Governance Task Force Report, a red-lined copy of the bylaws, and a clean copy of the bylaws. To the layman, the content required a close reading and deep dive into the bylaws to understand the material impacts of the bylaw changes.

While it was effective to include these changes (and required by the bylaws), in the future, it is suggested to schedule a series of “Case for Change” style Webinars with membership to better outline and clearly articulate the changes coming to membership. A Case for Change should include the following components, and delivered by an executive sponsor of a change (e.g. the CEO and/or the Chairman of the Board, and/or a member of the BoD):

  • An articulation of the challenge the Board is trying to solve for
  • Overall objectives of the change
  • A walkthrough of anticipated changes from a people, process, and technology standpoint associated with a change
  • Anticipated benefits to membership
  • High-level communications plan and engagement model with membership (e.g. roadshows, town halls, email reminders to attend meetings, “office hours” with members of the BoD to solicit feedback)
  • Timeline for implementation
  • Next steps
  • Time for member Q&A

A Case for Change is necessary to set expectations with members in a clear and compelling way, while opening the floor for initial two-way dialogue and feedback.

Posting the bylaw amendments on the website is simply not enough to build initial awareness. For changes to be successful with members, the Board must create more comprehensive engagement activities with members in which the Board members lead and engage.

What Could Have Gone Better – Desire

With such a drastic change being imposed upon membership, change metrics were necessary to capture member buy-in and to understand desire of membership to adopt to the change.

Following a Case for Change session, attendees must be surveyed with a change readiness assessment to ensure baseline metrics are captured with regards to membership alignment to the vision and approach, identify member pain-points, and ensure that key messages are resonating with membership. 

In previous change readiness assessments, I have designed questions aligned to the various components of a change curve to quantify stakeholder engagement (as opposed to throwing darts at a board). Questions for a change readiness assessment from the Board could have been captured as follows:

Please Rate Your Level of Agreement with the Following Statements (1 – 6 Rating, From Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree):

Adoption Assessment/Readiness Questions

In the August 31 Board Meeting, a lack of transparent change metrics presented confusion and discord between membership and the Board regarding how bought in membership was to the changes.

We as The Fencing Coach presented a well-circulated petition with 800+ signatures to the Board, which was not quite accepted as valid proof of member discontent. Change metrics better allow organizations to justify their case for change and provide proof of adoption, which in turn helps dissenters move towards adoption and commitment.

By surveying membership in the future, the Board has an opportunity to capture baseline metrics pre-implementation and improve their overall communications and engagement approach based on member feedback.

What Could Have Gone Better – Knowledge/Ability

Perhaps due to the presence of multiple lawyers on the current Board of Directors, there was an assumption that the legalese, both in the proposed bylaws and in the August 31 meeting itself would be consumable to the average member. In a moment of levity, Tasha Martin interjected to say: “can we please translate to our members what we’re talking about in layman’s terms right now?”

Indeed, a question of voting on an “amendment to an amendment to bifurcate an amendment” is cumbersome to membership. This was confusing enough that at one point, a member of the Board asked: “wait, what are we actually voting on right now?” In future member-facing meetings, a designee should be assigned to ensure the procedural jargon is cleared. 

While the changes associated with the bylaws had no training component for membership so to speak, as a best practice, a one page quick reference guides (QRG) should be distributed to membership in an email blast in order to clearly articulate the changes, direct membership on where to provide feedback, and link them to the overall bylaw changes themselves.

What Could Go Better – Reinforcement

While USA Fencing missed an opportunity to do an initial baseline Change Readiness Assessment, there is still an opportunity to do a post implementation adoption assessment. This set of questions could be derived from the questions listed above and sent to the members in attendance in the August 31 meeting, plus a random sampling of members not in attendance.

In order to fulfill the Board’s strategic goal of “Transparency,” adoption assessment metrics should be posted visibly on the USA Fencing website for members to see, and used as a baseline to improve upon future change projects from the organization.

Further, it is suggested that USA Fencing schedule a focus group style After-Action Review with attendees of the Board meeting last night to solicit qualitative feedback on the bylaw changes, and to directly engage with membership for additional suggestions on improving the Board-Member engagement structure and to document lessons learned from this project.

Next Steps:

With the announced departure of Ms. Jomantas, USA Fencing should seek out an individual with an organizational change management (OCM) background in addition to strong communications skills. Should the candidate not have this background, an investment in a Prosci certification or Association for Change Management Professionals (ACMP) certification should be made so that individual is equipped to conduct OCM activities.

In the interim, I offer to the Board and President Burchard to develop any change tools pro bono so that they may be used in future engagements.


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