Interview with Scott McAllister, CEO at Prosci Inc., conducted by Kamila Czerniak

Let’s start by telling our readers what Prosci Inc. is. It started out as a pure research company, right?

We were founded in 1994 by a curious engineer from the famous Bell Labs Innovation Hub in California. And he saw many great ideas that won in the market and some that didn’t. He was curious, why do some ideas win and some not? Sometimes it’s not the quality of the idea. This led to extensive research, consistently pointing back to the challenge of the “people side of change”. It wasn’t solely about the technical solution; sometimes, the market didn’t adopt it as intended.

Prosci was founded by Jeff Hiatt as a research organization. For over 25 years, we’ve been researching what works, what doesn’t, what the trends are. Our story is one where we’ve been listening to the customers. So, the customer said: “We need more than your research and toolkits, help us figure out how to apply this”. The customers really dragged us into the classroom to help them learn how to implement our methodology. And over the years, customers have also said: “The training was amazing, but it’s really challenging in practice, come and help us practice this”, and that was the origin of our advisory services practice.

Today, we offer clients a holistic solution for successful change outcomes, built upon our research findings. This typically involves a combination of role-based training. So we know from research that we need different behaviors from the senior executives that are sponsors of change, from the leaders of the impacted teams who have to make the change, and from the specialist role we call the change practitioners.

And then our advisory practice aims to get you from Knowledge in our ADKAR model to Ability through coaching and support. Our mission is focused on helping individuals and organizations build their capabilities for successful change. With all clients, we aim to impart both the knowledge and ability to replicate this approach for their current change agenda but also to whatever comes next in the future.

Fot. Piotr Kierszka The event was dedicated to Prosci workshop graduates and change management enthusiasts
organized by Silfra Consulting on September 14, 2023.

It’s indeed a holistic perspective to think about change. The ADKAR model is well-known in Poland. What about other countries?

It’s fascinating that ADKAR is a bigger brand than Prosci around the world. As a global organization, it’s been fun to watch the rest of the world gravitate to parts of our portfolio more than the whole thing. In my old days in the consulting world, when I came to Prosci to get certified in the methodology I thought it was three days of ADKAR training. And in reality, ADKAR is only a small part of this training.

So, while Prosci offers much more, we bring the world’s most widely adopted individual change framework in ADKAR. And the reason it’s so popular is because ADKAR works. I’ve seen it work to get the in-laws to move out of the house. I’ve seen it work to help a hundred thousand people in an organization adopt the new technology when the pandemic hits. So it works in both professional and personal frames and I think that’s part of its popularity.

Fot. Silfra Consulting

When I think about ADKAR, I immediately picture glasses branded with the word ADKAR, which are becoming very popular.

We’ve just published a brand new book on ADKAR and it talks about seeing the world through this new ADKAR lens. We use this metaphor akin to wearing glasses, and I have my own pair of ADKAR glasses here for when it’s time to view the world through this lens.

Back to the basics – what is change management and how does it differ from project management?

At Prosci, we specifically define change management as a process and a set of tools that are designed to help drive adoption to produce a business or organizational outcome. I also view change management as a leadership competency applicable to all individuals in an organization.

Compared to project management, change management is a less mature discipline. Project management has at least a 50-year head start on change management. Project management focuses on the technical side of change: how to design, develop, and deliver a solution. In this context, change management and project management are two sides of the same coin. If you have the technical side, the other side would be the people side of change.

We use a zipper analogy: ideally, we bring these two together with a focus on achieving successful outcomes. However, I’ve seen legacy project managers very focused on schedule and budget, often at the expense of achieving successful results. Simply going live on schedule and budget isn’t enough; if nobody’s ready to adopt and use the solution, we don’t get the benefits we expect.

We emphasize with the project management community that we’re ultimately aiming for the same outcome: return on investment and value for the organization. Each brings strengths, and hopefully, we can work together. But sometimes, it’s about who gets to the individual first. It’s a bit like learning how to write. You write with one hand, and it’s your strong hand for the rest of your life. It’s hard to write with the other hand, so it’s interesting to watch change managers try to learn project management or vice versa. In the beginning, you can sometimes find a little bit of clumsy footing.

To sum up, we can say that change management and project management are like one team with one goal.

We say we’re after a unified value proposition, and sometimes project management is the lead actor. We always joke that change management wants the award for the best supporting actor. The project drives the change, but its success depends on people, making us a support resource or enabler for the outcomes.

Fot. Piotr Kierszka

How has change management evolved during the last few years? What are some of the trends when it comes to different markets?

Each of our global markets has a different level of maturity, so there’s no single approach. However, before the pandemic, we were like the crazies in the corner, starving for attention, saying change management is important, but a lot of leaders weren’t really seeing the value.

Through the pandemic, organizations worldwide shared a very similar experience, and leaders worldwide realized they’re in the people business irrespective of their industry. So, I think the pandemic actually helped to put the discipline of change management more into the spotlight. I challenge our discipline members: it’s our time to shine, but this window won’t stay open forever, so we really have to demonstrate value. However, I think more and more leaders now understand that just knowing the right answer is not enough. We must bring our teams along on the journey, even if we’re unsure of how to do so. But more and more leaders are starting to realize the value of adoption, contribution to business outcomes, not just having the strongest technical solution.

A few years ago, change management was often considered the younger sister of project management. Even now, some project managers argue that if you’re well-organized, you don’t need a change manager. However, isn’t there a trend toward increasing the significance of change management?

We’re still an emerging discipline, surrounded by many misconceptions. I remember when I was first introduced to this, I thought, “I don’t sing songs and I don’t give hugs at the end of my meetings, so I don’t need much of this”. Many perceive change management solely as communications and training. While project managers include such milestones and deliverables in their plans, the content differs. Project managers mainly communicate updates on status and progress. In contrast, change management emphasizes not just the details of the change, but also the rationale behind it, its necessity, importance, and the risks of not changing.

These are the architecture of a good Awareness message in the ADKAR model. While technical training is necessary, we’ve got to build Awareness and Desire before focusing on Knowledge and Ability. The role of change management is to guide people through a process of change, rather than treating change as an event where an email is sent on Monday for training on Tuesday because the new system comes on Wednesday. We know from research and a lot of lived experience that individuals go through change in a very unique way.

There’s no “one size that fits all” and so we’ve got to bring space and a process to this journey that lets all the individuals go from their current state through an individual transition step to an individual future state, so in Prosci we believe there is no such thing as an organizational change without lots of individual change occurring and this is really where the ADKAR model shines a light.

Fot. Piotr Kierszka

To look for further similarities – could you give us an idea of the role of the change management office (CMO), especially in relation to the PMO. Can they work together and how?

We began with all of these questions from a research perspective exploring where this function resides, what organizations call it, and its size. Research has shown that organizations with low change management maturity typically don’t start with a change management office. Instead, they gradually develop a formal change management footprint as their maturity grows.

But we focus on where the change originates and when we go live where it’s initiated. In many situations, this is through a PMO or what is called a transformation office. Sometimes, we need this to secure a seat at that table and say we need to plug into your existing way of working, rather than creating something new and different. As we continue to prove the value that change management brings, more organizations see the benefit of bringing structure, process, and some infrastructure to support it, allowing for standard ways of working.

But many times, a CMO mirrors what a PMO would do. We create an intake process to gauge the size of the change and how much change management resources are appropriate for the change. From data, we know that many CMOs act more like a center of excellence than a fully staffed function. Not all change managers in the business always report to a CMO. Many organizations find value in driving standard methodology and tools through the change management office, but the resources that make the change happen often have different line reporting relationships. In terms of size, we typically see CMOs ranging from 1 to 5 individuals. It’s rare to find them with 50 or 100 individuals; usually, they operate more like a small center of excellence.

Additionally, we examine what such a center of excellence provides to the organization, including commonalities such as the use of a standard set of tools and methodology, and understanding reporting relationships and data dynamics to provide senior leaders with comprehensive information.

It’s almost your 10-year anniversary working at Prosci. Congratulations! Could you say a few words about your role and career path?

I’ve been working in change management for around 25 years now. I started in management consulting, focusing mainly on process improvements such as Lean and Six Sigma. We graduated into strategy practice and our focus shifted to strategy deployment rather than creation. We built an innovation practice to provide clients with a repeatable methodology for advancing new ideas, all of which included a people component. Alongside these three  technical areas, we established a change management practice. I feel like I’ve been a practitioner of this work since the early days in my career. I still remember attending my first training program in 2001, led by Ginger Evans, which changed my life forever. It taught me about human dynamics and how we adopt new ideas. I also learned about leadership and the DISC model, which helped me understand different personality types throughout my career.

But joining Prosci in 2014 was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever had in my career. Our team comprises individuals with a deep passion for our work. When people ask me about the secret sauce at Prosci, they expect me to mention the ADKAR model. While it is great, what truly sets us apart is our team’s collaboration, passion for the discipline, and drive to advance it. We’re not content to sit on what we know works today; we’re constantly researching to understand how things are changing and how we can play a role in bringing change management to life. That’s what gets us out of bed every day.

When I first joined, I was privileged to start the advisory services practice, allowing me to partner with clients in the field. A significant focus of mine was on translating theory into practice and supporting clients in successfully applying what they learned from us.

And to this day, my greatest joy comes from working directly with clients, helping leaders recognize the value change management brings to their success. During my last trip to Poland, I had the honor of networking with over 100 change practitioners in Warsaw. I still derive a great amount of joy from working with clients and passionate individuals out in the field.

Fot. Piotr Kierszka

Speaking about this event in Poland, what was your impression about the Polish market when it comes to change management?

The first thing that stood out to me was the community’s passion. I was very impressed by how people leaned in. The event started at 6 p.m. after a long workday, and I wondered how many would show up. And despite working a long day, people stayed for the entire 3-hour event and continued sharing experiences outside the building afterward.

The passion was the first thing that stood out. The other notable aspect was the market’s maturity. Many believe the US is the most mature market, but we are seeing rapid growth in maturity worldwide. The maturity in Australia, Central, and Western Europe is very different today than it was just five years ago. The gap between first movers and others is closing quickly, which has been fantastic to see.

Coming back to the event, it was held by Silfra, with whom, as a magazine, we have had a collaboration for a few years already. We can see they are truly committed to promoting change management and the ADKAR model.

Absolutely! Silfra has been a Prosci partner for more than 10 years. We’re very proud of the relationship we have with them. The passion of the people stands out, especially if you’ve met Krzysztof and Piotr. They share a deep passion for this work and should be immensely proud of the impact they are making on the Polish market.

I feel like they were one of the early adopters when they were still the crazies trying to make a seat at the table. They have done an excellent job expanding the market’s knowledge of change management and being thought leaders in Poland. Our partnership with the Silfra team has been tremendous, and we look forward to it continuing for many years.

Fot. Piotr Kierszka

How do C-level managers at large/global companies perceive change management and project management? Do they recognize the distinction between the two, especially considering their limited time? Do they prioritize project or change management?

Most leaders, especially at the C-suite level, find that their issue is not the lack of change management but the lack of achieving desired results quickly. If we look back from sustainable outcomes, value creation, and return on investment, we’ve learned that both the technical side, driven by project managers, and the people side, driven by change managers, are essential. One without the other is insufficient to achieve the desired outcomes.

And so again, back to this concept of a unified value proposition, we need to ensure we have both the technical side and the people side to get the organization ready to embrace, adopt, and use the solution. This combination is necessary to achieve the results and outcomes that executives seek. More and more leaders are understanding there are two sides to this coin. And they might have been growing one muscle much earlier, much stronger, typically project management goes first, but now they’re seeing that good change management amplifies the impact of projects.

I believe it’s essential to see our disciplines as complementary rather than competitive. My hope is that the change management community develops a stronger appreciation for what great project management can do to amplify the success of the changes, while project professionals also recognize the value of effective change management.

And I think one of the curses of our discipline is the term “change management”. If you ask any leader around the world: “Do you know change management?” they’ll have something come to mind immediately. However, if you ask a group of leaders within the same organization, they rarely have the same idea in mind. One of the things we try to do with clients early in the journey is to get very clear on what change management means when we work together. Having a clear understanding and common language goes a long way in creating accelerated outcomes.

You mentioned the new ADKAR book that has just been released. What’s new about it? I’ve heard that a lot has been rewritten in this edition. Can you share more about this new version of ADKAR?

Jeff Hiatt wrote the first ADKAR book over 20 years ago, which was groundbreaking at the time. Since then, ADKAR has become the most widely adopted change framework worldwide. Fast forward almost 25 years, we’ve learned a lot about how ADKAR works in practice and in different contexts.

We see how ADKAR works differently in a waterfall project management approach than an agile change management approach. We’ve seen how ADKAR blends with project management as a capability which wasn’t available to us when Jeff first authored the model. In many ways this book stands on the shoulders of the giants that have come before us, but instead of discussing what ADKAR is and why it’s used, the focus of the new book is on how to apply it with real-world examples.

Our new book The ADKAR Advantage is an extension and amplification of how ADKAR can be applied in a real world to produce outcomes. Karen Ball, the primary author of the new book, worked really hard to collect stories from across the globe featuring over 20 stories from 20 different countries around how ADKAR works in practice in both professional and personal contexts. I believe both books are highly complementary, one is not designed to replace the other but over the last 20 years, we’ve learned a lot and we felt obligated to share these insights to people. 

Fot. Piotr Kierszka

We’ve touched on your close collaboration with top management. Could you offer advice to project managers on effectively preparing their projects to demonstrate value to C-level executives? Imagine you have just 10 minutes to present your results to these busy individuals. How would you make the most of this time?

The first thing I would say is that we need to speak the language of the audience, not the jargon we grew up in. Instead of focusing on schedules or deliverables,emphasize the project’s risks and their role in enhancing its success. Highlight the value creation and ROI, and really anchor on that because as Jeff Hiatt used to say, executives speak three languages: finance, finance, and finance. And if we’re not able to translate all of our activities into the results and outcomes they expect, we’re going to have a short window at the table and not get invited back. Far too often we’re not talking about the big picture and framing our work in terms of achieving results and outcomes, return on investment, and value realization. However, if we can adapt our language we’re more likely to capture their attention and delve deeper into the details.

The second piece of advice is that we need to be more evidence-focused. We need to bring data to the table with our leaders and say: “Here are the measurements we have in place, here’s what the data tells us, and here’s what we need to do to course-correct to deliver outcomes”.

Lastly, we need to help leaders understand that they’re in it with us. Typically, these leaders play a role we call the sponsor. We have clear research on the expectations of the sponsor’s role. We need our leaders to be active and visible, to build a coalition of support for the change. We need them to be a key part of the communication with the impacted groups. There are specific actions that we need from leaders to make our project successful. I believe that coming with a very clear ask of what we expect from them, and making it clear what we can provide in return, is something we’ve seen work quite well.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

We’ve all had experiences, particularly in the IT space, where we invest in an expensive system, customize and configure it perfectly, ensuring all the buttons work. However, when we turn the system on, no one changes how they do their work. In many situations, we don’t just fail to gain value, but we often end up with less than zero value, we have a negative outcome. To avoid such situations, we need to make sure that we not only design, develop and deliver the solution, but also bring people on the journey to embrace, adopt and use the solution. I believe change management and project management multiply their value when they work together.

Sometimes, when we work against each other, we undercut the value that both sides can create. So, my advice to the project management community is this: take some time to spend with the change managers and understand the nuances and differences when we talk about training and communication and sponsorship and resistance management.

The same thing is true for our change management community. We need to become better acquainted with the project management and understand that sometimes we need to adapt our approach to align with how the project is already run, rather than expecting the project to always adapt to the change management approach.

I see them as both valuable disciplines that can really help each other to be more effective and more valuable to the organizations we serve. Therefore, I hope the leaders on both sides can maintain an open mind and recognize that there’s room for both of us in this play.