A couple of weeks ago, I posed the question should change management practice undergo disruptive change. It was born of a niggling unease that change management practice was static and a belief system that change is healthy and stagnant is not.

I’ve been chewing on it a little more and wondering if my focus is on the wrong element. Yes, change management practice can improve, and yes, organisations do need to build change maturity and change capability in order to remain relevant in our hyper-connected environment. But I concede, that disruptive change might be over-doing it.

Do we need disruption at all in our organisations?

What should be disrupted?

If I think about what disruptive change looks like in today’s workplace I can think of what might be drivers of step change, but few disruptive trends in practice.

Those drivers that are evident to me are:

  •  the increasing digitisation of organisations business (the move to online commerce and provision of products and services)
  • the increasing diversity in generational employees
  • the erosion of organisational boundaries (employees as customers, and customers as employees)

The response to these three drivers seems to be moving towards an enterprise social business agenda and more collaborative and co-creationist ways of working. There’s some seriously interesting stuff being posed in the space of social business, social architecture and social enterprise networks. But while the C-suite has readily adopted the need for business to be digital, there has been a less enthusiastic reception to business being social.

I would argue that leadership are just not ready to cede control – because make no mistake, to embrace social architecture and a social business strategy is to relinquish control and embrace the potential of the unknown. When you move your business to social as the structure, you do not have control over the ideas, the thoughts, the feedback, and the communication within your organisation. Well not in the traditional way.

Any devotee of complexity and chaos theory  will tell you that rarely do you see total chaos. Within any chaotic system, there are patterns and predictability. By thinking of system attractors and self-organising properties., control just looks a little different.

But what does change management look like in an organisation that is embracing a social strategy.

  • We do away with 100 page Business Requirements Documents and create spaces for dialogue
  • We use a smaller subset of key messages to act as system attractors, and worry less about losing control of the message
  • We take a systems approach, rather than a project plan and process view.
  • There’s probably a lot of mind-maps representing the network impact.
  • Enterprise systems enable the collection of vast amounts of data and the generation of insights for change adoption
  • We see rumour as feedback and engage with it.
  • We stay alert to emerging opportunities for design, implementation and communication
  • We’re mindful that small actions could create large repercussions or a springboard for big results
  • We get comfortable with our communities of change agents translating the message in the way they want
  • As change managers our primary purpose is to connect people


So despite the concepts of chaos and systems theory being several decades old, it might be, well, … disruptive change practice… what do you think?


by Jennifer Frahm


Related reading:


Gail Severini and I work through the evolution of change management practice in three posts starting here: What are the real costs of “muscling through” change?

Gail also provides a terrific summary of the academic stoush on the theory of Disruptive Innovation in: When Harvard professors duke it out – the ugly debate on Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation

Joe Gergen provides a good summary of complexity and chaos theory and the link to innovation in “innovation through chaos really”.

Luc Galoppin provides a great e-book on social architecture

Simon Terry provides a cautionary letter to the CEO on the desire for an Enterprise Social Network



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