Fat School and Lessons for Change Management

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

The article in The Washington Post (5/20/08) titled Fat School got me thinking. The story profiles a residential program for overweight children. The cost: $6250 a month with a four-month minimum stay.

Although the school presents high short-term success rates, and a few anecdotal reports of kids who kept the weight off for longer periods, there is no research to indicate that this approach does a better job than anything else in helping young people keep weight off. And at $6250 a month, it seems like that might be a good thing to do.

That got me thinking about change in organizations. It does strike me how easy it is to invest in something without any real indication that it works – simply because the need is so great. Is parents willingness to invest so much in the lives and health of their children any different from leaders who spend millions on Business Process Reengineering when the success rate of such projects is so low? But, I’ll save that rant for another day.

I am most interested in the lack of support for these kids after the program ends. As Anjali Jain, a pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center said in the article, “If their families don’t change, [students] are going to be back to their old ways of doing things” once they return home.

What many changes fail to take into account is what it will take to support these changes once the program goes live. Here are a few questions that I think are worth considering. What current programs and practices will vie for attention and resources of this new initiative? And what are we going to do about that? How will we support people as they take on the new tasks? (E.g. Rewards, clear directions, training). And speaking of people, change brings shifts in power. How are we going to deal with potential turf wars? How will our customers and suppliers react to these changes? How will we make the transition easier for them? And the list goes on.

While organizations are willing to invest a lot in the front end of a change, they often don’t put money and time in supporting the roll-out. They’re willing to pay $6250 a month for tuition, but don’t want to actually change their own habits once the kids return to the land of Ho Hos.