Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Change management – three fatal flaws

I have been researching change management for a chapter in our new book with Alan Hall. I have always had a bit of a problem with change management as a separate discipline. In my view if it is not changing it’s not management. If it is just running a stable state then it is administration.

Having said that I, like many people, have absorbed the change management literature and used some of the tools in my past corporate career.

In our work on virtual, matrix and digital transformations We are often asked to contribute to change management efforts.

Having spent quite some time researching change models and really thinking about how these are applied I have been left rather dissatisfied in a few areas, here are 3 of them

  1. We don’t know the end point.

Most change models assume a known endpoint to the change where we will refreeze and bed in a new state of being. I don’t think this holds true anymore. Particularly in digital transformation, not many organizations have a view of the end state, if indeed there ever will be one. But they do know for sure that they need to get started and evolve as they learn.

Change is a continuous process, so it is more about building a change capability and expectation than it is about managing a change project with a fixed end.

It’s also about maintaining a healthy change dynamic rather than freezing into an illusory steady state.

  1. It is not a grieving process

You do not have to get very far into your research on change before you find the ubiquitous Kubler Ross change curve. I am sure you have seen it describe how people undergoing change go through periods of rejection, anger and even depression before starting to recover and grudgingly accepting the change.

This model was developed to explain the processes that people may go through when they lose a loved one. It is rarely used now by bereavement professionals as it was found not to do a great job in that field.

So why do we still cling to it in the corporate world? Those of us who have been at work in the last decades have experienced constant change. If we were constantly surprised, angered and depressed about every change, we would never get anything done.

Look at the example of the COVID global lockdown. People understood the need and rapidly adapted. Organisations enacted change that would normally take years in a matter of days.

Hopefully, we will now have raised our collective expectation about how change can be initiated and how we can evolve our way of working to cope.

If we expect grieving and depression we may well create it rather than accepting change as a normal and healthy process of development

  1. Do I have to resist everything

A lot of the change management literature is about overcoming resistance. The recommendation is that we do this through constant communication and reinforcement of the change messages. And watch out for those middle managers, they are always a problem.

I don’t know about you, but if I get constantly told I’m wrong and the same messages are repeated, that may well cause me to become resistant. I do not know any organisation that had a perfect road map of a major change and executed it without any development or evolution.

Rather than pushing against resistance, shouldn’t we be harnessing that energy to improve the change and the learning?

My concern about making change sounds scarier than it is, is that we train people to expect negative reactions and prepare them to be resistant. Instead I think we need to train our people to understand that change is natural and normal, that plans evolve and change and that is perfectly healthy.

Expect more on this theme in the book

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