Disrupt

Just over a year ago, I gave a presentation on the Past, Present and Future of Change Management. In reference to the future I predicted we would see more of neuroscience influencing change practices, more use of social media and gamification, consolidation and centralisation of the change management profession, and increased change maturity of organisations (via building change capability).

Gotta say, I’m not seeing much movement towards this future state…it’s fair to say the shift is incremental if glacial (in a pre-global warming kinda world). I have the feeling that the field of change management is quite stagnant. It’s quite at odds with much of the talk around the need for “disruption” in business, and obviously innovation. And it has me wondering what are the disruptive forces to take effect in change management. Will there be disruption with change management? Many will tell you there needs to be – and they will cite that 70% of change management projects consistently fail. Therefore we need to radically overhaul and disrupt our practice.

While I vehemently argue against the 70% myth, I happily concede we can certainly improve on a consistent understanding of the need for change, and the considered application of change management principles and tools in advancing our organisations.

The Change Management Institute and PROSCI both put forward 5 level models for understanding change management maturity. Both these models detail the progression from adhoc application of change management, to an optimised state where change management is part of the organisational DNA. Most of the organisations we work in today are operating somewhere between level 1 – 3 with best practices evident. A few have made the move to a common methodology, but often this is leapfrog from level 2 (isolated projects using change management practices to level 4 (the selection of a common methodology which is measured and tracked). And the notable omission is the recognition of Business As Usual (BAU) change. Most change management occurs within a project methodology under the auspice of project funding, leaving a huge black hole in the arena of business based change. We have far to go in making change BAU.

Technology is slowly taking more of a role with the use of collaborative platforms, mobile, and cloud based applications, in our practice. Slowly, but surely change managers are getting on-board and realising the transformative aspects of using these technologies as opposed to the old tried and true tactics. But gee whiz, it’s a struggle! I can’t say I understand why it is that change practitioners are so averse to learning new things. It is indeed one of the great occupational paradoxes. I have long suspected that change managers go into the field as they are not so good with change and seek to control it. I guess plumbers’ houses have leaky taps too. Perhaps it should not be so much of a surprise that change managers are resistant to change in tools…

Neuroscience is increasing its influence in change – but we’re not talking more than the SCARF model in most organisations. I’m not hearing about gamification in practice, though it did make its way onto this years ACMP Global conference program. But maybe I’m off the mark? Maybe these are flash in the pan trends – not the future of change management?

And the politics and commerce of centralisation, accreditation and world domination of the change management profession within CMI, ACMP and the like have kept the profession in a state of flux. No forward movement on that score, more fun to debate and argue the merits of do we need it, who should do it, and what should it cost, than actually do anything progressive. Most experienced change practitioners I know tend to disregard the debates. Until these bodies start working out to collaborate and share power, there is unlikely to be any quantum leaps in progress here. Which I do think is a shame – there is much transformative power in working together. In the mean time, clients and recruiters continue to ask, “How do you identify a real change manager?”.

So it all feels quite incremental. A little bit ground hog day. Not necessarily transformative. So it poses the question for me, what is it that requires disruption? Is it the way we change or what we change? Do we need disruption at all? Will we be good enough with what we have, if it is just consistently understood and applied?

What do you think?

24.06.14 Update – you will see in the comments Secret Agent Provocateur Joe Gergen has weighed in with some incredibly insightful thoughts. He’s upped the ante with this post – pop over and let him know how you intend to light a fire!

related posts:

If not change, then what?

Of Change Agents, Best Practice and Next Practice

 

 

mm
Dr Jen Frahm – Author of Conversations of Change: A guide to implementing workplace change.

8 Comments

  1. Joe Gergen says:

    Nothing like tackling the heart of the matter early in the morning (for me anyway). So much to say, so little time.The way I tried to gain perspective on this was to think about how another unrelated discipline might approach a desire to progress. Like say, science (of which I claim to know nothing).

    Science is always breaking new boundaries. Granted, there are academics who sit around and navel gaze at all they currently know and see if they can redefine it or break theories.It’s probably a fascinating exercise but probably doesn’t help the rest of us move ahead on a day to day basis. We don’t have time to question the foundations of math and science.

    Instead, innovation occurs where scientists are trying to solve real world problems or real world desires. And in identifying what you are trying to achieve you can focus in your probing. Because asking yourself what would you do if you could do anything is just a paralyzing position to put yourself in.

    So go back to the beginning. What are you trying to achieve, what are the desires that companies and consumers and people have? You can begin by asking why the current solutions aren’t working or what limitations they have and what needs they aren’t fulfilling.

    I think you’re looking in a good place when you ask what are collaborative technologies and social medias able to do for us. But these are just tools so we still need to ask what we are tying to achieve and how can these tools fill gaps or open doors or what have you.

    Another trick from science might be to ask how other disciplines are using these technologies, like chemistry stealing advances from biology. You can see that happening with the neuroscience and change management example. We need more of that but again we need to view them as tools not answers.

    Now back to the idea of disruption. The sense I get from people who talk about disruption is that they want a a lot of certainty with their disruption. Like if we’re going to disrupt this, I want to be sure something good is going to happen. So this goes back to your idea that change management people are just as uncomfortable about change. Totally spot on.

    Disruption is good. Certain, not so much. Change management works in very complex system filled with thousands of variables that we know of and don’t know of. The idea that you would have great certainty in the outcome of messing with a few variables out of a thousand is comical at best.

    So if you want disruption to work you have to take your best educated guess and be wiling to fail. Just like in science you have to run experiments. Lots of them fail.

    So is the challenge at the end of the day inward and not outward? Are we complacent, afraid, skeptical, arrogant, paralyzed by analysis?

    What was the questions again?

  2. mm Jen says:

    So much awesome in one comment Joe! I’m not quite sure where to start in response – but here are the three things that have resonated most and stuck with me during the day.

    You ask: “What are you trying to achieve, what are the desires that companies and consumers and people have? You can begin by asking why the current solutions aren’t working or what limitations they have and what needs they aren’t fulfilling?”

    Thank you. I’d leapt to an assumption that disruption in change management was necessary without making explicit why. In chewing on this over the day I think there are two responses – one egocentric and the other organisation-centric.

    1) I get bored easily. And I like learning and playing with new ideas. I get lonely when my peers aren’t interested. Not a good enough reason to put an organisation through the risk of disruption.

    2) Organisation centric – I think this is the concern I have over organisational change maturity in organisations progressing at the speed of a crippled crab. If we (those who understand change and work with leaders) don’t help them to build their change maturity, we are stuck in a state where we come in, do the tactical change work, and leave. THIS is the problem that requires a step change in change management practice. And if this IS the problem I was writing the post for, the neuroscience and gamification etc are non-sequiturs.

    And then you say: “Now back to the idea of disruption. The sense I get from people who talk about disruption is that they want a a lot of certainty with their disruption. Like if we’re going to disrupt this, I want to be sure something good is going to happen. … So if you want disruption to work you have to take your best educated guess and be wiling to fail. Just like in science you have to run experiments. Lots of them fail”.

    3) This so resonates — it’s like every companies that hires an innovation consultant and asks for proof of where the innovation has worked before. The minute it is replicated it is not innovative. And I think the idea of willing to fail leads to the idea of being willing to give up control. And wouldn’t this be the ultimate disruption in change management and organisational life? I suspect there is another post coming on…

    Joe, thank you. You’ve fulfilled the ego-centric need noted above. I don’t feel so lonely! I can get back to the organisational centric purpose…

  3. Joe Gergen says:

    Well, boredom is the mother of invention. Or was that something else. Anyway, when I’m bored I always get in trouble. And trouble leads to change one way or another, so maybe ya got that going for you.

    Lots to say about all this. Trying to decide what theme to use. Should I go with “The Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd” theme, The Beatles, “So you want a revolution” theme or the “chicken and the egg” theme. OR maybe a combination.

    More to come.

    • mm Jen says:

      The Nymphs reply to the Shepherd is a bit harsh! Can’t wait to read tho! If you want to write it as a stand alone post on your blog, I’ll update this post to include the reply with hyperlink.

  4. Joe, hands down it’s “Revolution” http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/revolution.html

    Now that’s a earworm for the day.

    Great post and comments!

  5. Maren Granlien says:

    Great post and great Comments. Thanks.

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