There are increasing numbers of Change Management Offices (CMOs), especially in the larger global organisations. But they are also starting to appear in smaller organisations as well. Given the value that a CMO can add to an organisation this is a great trend to see. One thing that quickly becomes apparent to anyone who studies CMOs is that their performance varies significantly.  

I have worked with CMOs made up of dynamic teams who are widely held by the organisation to be a critical business function, and a source of future leaders. But I have also helped CMOs which have felt moribund and have hovered on the edge of being disbanded with executives not seeing the value or need for the team.  

In this article I will outline five key factors that differentiate a successful from an unsuccessful CMO. What are the key Change Management Office success factors?

1. Quality of the CMO team

The first success factor, which I could probably say about any team in any organisation, but is one that is certainly true for CMOs, is the quality of the CMO team. Great people, with a deep understanding of change, familiarity with a broad range of change tools, who are engaging and enjoyable to work with, are the foundation on which any CMO can be a success.  

Specific aspects of high quality CMO team members are:

  • The ability to perform the role of change manager
  • The tendency to develop trusting relationships on projects and with the stakeholder community more widely
  • The perception of reliably doing high quality work

When a CMO is founded, there is often an immediate rush of demand. This can result in the habit of staffing up as quickly as possible and taking into the team anyone with an interest in change, (and sometimes anyone who happens to be available). This habit should be resisted, as whilst it may give short term relief to the pressure to fulfil demand for change managers, it will hurt you in the longer run.  

In the short run, if you do not have quality staff, hire experienced contractors and consultants, with an explicit part of their contract to be to help build your capabilities and to do high quality handovers as you recruit permanent staff to replace them. In this way you can buy yourself the time to find and recruit the best quality team.  

“... it is not just change management knowledge that makes a great CMO team. It also requires the right behavioural skills.”

It should not need saying, but always remember that change management is in the end about people. Sometimes change managers act as influencers convincing individuals to adapt to change, on other occasions change management can be a tough area to work in, for instance when dealing with downsizing. For these reasons, it is not just change management knowledge that makes a great CMO team. It also requires the right behavioural skills. The skills that enable individuals to engage and influence others, but also the attitudes that allow individuals also to push forward with difficult business choices.  

Having said all of this, no team is perfect. There are always compromises. When there are compromises, two rules of thumb have always held me in good stead:

  • Select team members for attitude and behaviour more than technical change management skills. Someone with the right behaviour and attitude will learn change management, but someone with the knowledge may not acquire the behaviours!
  • If you are squeezed, go for fewer better team members than more less able.

2. Clear CMO role and remit

Another important factor in successful CMOs is a clear role and remit for the team. I am thinking of the straightforward clarity over what you do and don’t do, but I am also thinking about clarity in areas like how the business engages the CMO to support them with change initiatives, and also how your work is paid for.  

It is best if the CMO leader agrees this role and remit with a senior leader who will act as the team’s sponsor.

The role and remit should answer questions for anyone wanting to use the services of the CMO:

  • when should I engage the CMO?
  • what sort of initiatives does the CMO support?
  • what sort of fees will I have to find from my budget to gain access to the time of change managers?
  • who do I first talk to when I speak to the CMO?
  • if I engage the CMO, what will my role in change be?

Precise clarity is always helpful. However, there is a balancing act. Whilst clarity of role is important, it is also important to have a degree of flexibility. The world and your business changes quickly, and the needs for and demands on the CMO will evolve. No one is thanked for inflexibly sticking to a defined remit when needs change. The ability to flexibly respond should, naturally, be within the mindset and culture of a change team.  

3. Engagement of key stakeholders

Stakeholder engagement and management is a central aspect of change management on projects. It is also an important part of a successful CMO more generally. A successful CMO has a broad group of stakeholders amongst the leadership, middle management and project delivery communities.

Stakeholders should:

  1. Understand the value of the CMO
  2. Support its requests for budget and direct headcount
  3. Allow their teams to support the work of the CMO, for example by joining change networks
  4. Share insights into stakeholders, especially at an executive level
  5. Share general information on status and changes across the organisation
  6. Help the CMO perform its role, especially in areas like wider stakeholder engagement

To some extent the engagement of such stakeholders will happen naturally as a result of change managers being involved in change initiatives. But it is also worth CMO leaders investing a significant proportion of their time talking to stakeholders, making sure they understand the role and value of the CMO.  

4. Perception of value adding

As change managers know perception is all. CMOs are often looked at a little sceptically, in a way no one does for many other departments. That is either because those departments are seen as a “given”, such as HR and finance, or because their value is apparent and widely accepted, such as sales.  

It’s not so clear cut for the CMO. Few people trust the CMO by default. In most cases, CMOs have to prove their value, and continue to prove it over time.

The most successful CMOs are perceived to be highly value adding, and this does not happen by accident. It happens firstly because the team does visible value adding work on change initiatives and across the change portfolio. But it also happens because the CMO leader invests time in engaging stakeholders and making sure they are aware of the work of the CMO and the successful initiatives it has worked on. It also happens through developing trusting relationships with key stakeholders. Stakeholders who in turn will evangelise on behalf of the CMO.  

5. A CMO Leader with a vision

Finally, the success of the CMO also depends on the CMO leader. Like any role running a team, there is a part of it which is simply about effectively running a team. But a CMO is not like any other team. Many of the team members spend most of their time working on projects and programmes which are not directly under the CMOs control. These change managers can effectively disappear into the intense world of a project, and feel more allegiance to their project “home” than the CMO. Such change managers need to be regularly engaged by the CMO to participate as full members of the CMO as well as part of change projects.  

Then there are all those internal processes like budget and people management that just have to be done. Try to create processes which are easy to understand and easy to participate. These processes are important, will not on their own lead to success.  

CMOs are still evolving functions, whose role is not universally understood or supported. To counter this, a good CMO leader is someone who has a vision for the CMO and is able to communicate this is a compelling way to the stakeholder community. What is the role of change management in this organisation, and how can that best be achieved? That vision also should be driving forward the development of the CMO, the CMO team and the change approaches being used.  

In summary

There are many factors that contribute to the success of a Change Management Office. In this article I have describe five of the most is important success factors for CMOs:

  1. Quality of the CMO team
  2. Clear role and remit
  3. Engagement of key stakeholders
  4. Perception of CMO value add
  5. A CMO Leader with a vision for change management and the tools to achieve it