So this week Tim Creasey, Chief Innovation Officer of Prosci had a bit of a rant about the likes of the people who like to claim “Change Management is dead”, those that protest “Change Management is obsolete”. It was a good rant – the gist of it is regardless of how the environment changes (the volatility, the uncertainty, the complexity) the need to support, and enable people to deal with change, does not change. And I couldn’t agree more. It took me back to a post I wrote nine years ago, yes, nine years. In those days, the lament was “you can’t really manage change” — and I argued that meant the person saying it had a limited view of what the word management meant, and were confusing it with control. I think it’s still applicable – so hear it is here…

 Sigh. Yesterday I read another blog piece that went along the lines of “there’s no such thing as change management, you really can’t manage change, organisations are too complex to manage change. We need to find another word for change management”.

It’s a prevalent view on Linked In Discussion boards, articles, and blogs. Particularly since systems thinking and complexity / chaos science has come back into vogue in change management forums.

Well…

 Bollocks!!

You can manage change, whether it be in your personal life, your organisational life, or your community life. If you have hired a consultant who is telling you otherwise then revaluate the terms and conditions of the contract. And find some-one who can manage your change needs for you.

I think I understand where this view comes from – it comes from an assumption that managing is controlling. And if that is the substitution, yes, I would be hesitant to say change can be controlled. But that’s only part of the change manager’s role.

How do we define ‘management?’

Let’s revisit Henri Fayol’s 1949 commonly used definition of the functions of Management in relationship to organisational change: Planning, Leading, Organising and Controlling/Co-ordinating

Plan: A change manager can plan for the intended change outcome, looking at milestones, resources, stages and what it is going to take to get to  the benefits the change sponsor is looking for. In today’s project environment this usually involves project management methodology. It’s  a way of representing what the thinking is on how the change will roll out. Will everything go exactly to plan? No, never, but that’s why you hire a change manager who is sufficiently experienced and flexible to adapt the plan as new information surfaces.

Leader: A change manager needs to lead the stakeholders and key project personnel in the desired change outcomes. Many of the stakeholders will be specialists in their own field and have no idea of the principles of change, and how people react. That’s why a change manager takes a leadership role, and sets expectations of what is appropriate through stakeholder engagement.

Organising: A good change manager organises the resources, and the activities to ensure that the change goes well. When complexity threatens to drown the change program, it is the Change Manager’s role to simplify and strip out the critical path from a change perspective and wrangle the competing demands that are creating the complexity.

Controlling / Coordinating: So do change managers control? You bet. But they control by communicating, shaping, nurturing, encouraging and empowering their stakeholders.  They control by understanding that change is not a linear process and that they will have revisit previous stages and reinforce, or amend aspect of the change plan. Co-ordination requires flexibility with the changing needs.

When we use Fayol’s definition of management, then organisational change can be managed. This is of course is a nod to scientific management thinking, which is in its essence highly linear. But just because PLOC emerged from linear thinking doesnt mean it can be only used in that context. All these functions work in complex systems.

Change management and complexity

The beautiful thing about the re-emergence of complexity theory in our thinking today is as change managers we are provided with additional tools to manage the change.

  • Change resistance as an autopoetic response? Great – find the circuit breaker.
  • Randomness, instability and diversity can be resource for change. Use them, don’t lament them!
  • Identify the organisational systems attractors and plan for the potential responses to bifurcation points.
  • Don’t dismiss the potential of small changes
  • Pay attention to the stakeholders on the boundaries of the system

Babies and bathwater

Please don’t get me wrong, managing change is not a simple task. I agree there is too much jargon associated with the field, and we could all benefit from some plain English lessons. But is Change Management dead? I think not. Should it be. Definitely not.

But I also think to get rid of the term change management, throws the baby out with the bath water. Let’s do a better job of educating clients and organisations of what change management is and what change managers can do.

The tools and templates, frameworks and models are support systems, not the panacea. Organisations are complex and therefore introducing change is a complex task.

But the first step in achieving your change program benefits is hiring some-one who understands that managing change is a complex and creative endeavour and absolutely possible to do.

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