“The moral of the parable is that humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true.” “Blind Men and an Elephant”, Wikipedia
There are intermittent, and often rancorous, debates as to whether “Change Management is Dead”, “Change Leadership vs Change Management”, “Change Management vs Organization Development” and other such challenges that pit different approaches against each other. What if we are all correct but we are speaking about different things?
Please bear in mind that this is a learning journal where I collect my current thoughts — prior posts will reflect an earlier mindset and this is a work in progress. Updates since Feb 7 are indicated in green font to alert early readers of new content.
My Journey (in progress) for context
In 2011 when I became a proud Founding Member of The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) — and The Change Management Institute (CMI) was 7 years old and The Organization Development Network (ODNetwork) was 43 years old — I had very high hopes that a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to change would emerge … an approach that might reflect how I practice and help me to expand and advance my capabilities.
As ACMP’s approach began to coalesce around, what I believed to be, a process-focused methodology for Project Change Management I became disappointed and wrote the the Board advocating for consideration of a wider perspective. This was not to be. These, and other professional associations, continue their good work in their silos without acknowledging the importance of each others’ work.
In defining it as it has been, (as tactical and project process exclusive), organizations have placed boundaries around the work that PREVENT practitioners from the necessary conversations with leaders, from the types of assessments that are essential, from the top-down/Portfolio interventions that can make more cost-effective impacts.
It is up to us, as practitioners, to do our own homework and sense making to bring this together. I have to wonder if the emergence of so much work on “agility” is a reflection of this consilience.
Different types of Change
As I was reviewing the Cynefin Framework this morning it reminded me of work I learned earlier with Daryl Conner on the differences between Incremental and Transfomational Change (Degree of Difficulty), I was struck again by how different change can be … and how all the change practitioners I know have developed their own deep mindsets , ‘toolkits’ and reference materials from many sources.
It’s worth a hard think about the different types of change. In the Cynefin Framework, which is now easily accessible in the public domain and deep additional education is available, Dave Snowden calls out four different variations of change:
There is an increasing degree of difficulty to understand and ‘manage’ each. His lexicon gives us new and refined ways of thinking about what we do.
Understanding and using a shared frame of reference is essential for this conversation because so often we speak of “change” as if there is only one variation and therefore only need for one approach. This could not be further from my experience.
Different Types of Change “Management”
Whether any of these types of change can be “managed”, as in controlled, directed and predicted is a subject of much debate and let’s park that for now with the spirit that, in many cases, we must try.
That many of our professionals practices come at it differently and believe that they, exclusively are correct, is fascinating.
How many different professional disciplines have or are developing approaches for change? Here’s a loose starting list with a lot of cross over: Communications, Change Management, Organization Development, Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Project Management, Process Improvement / Lean Six Sigma, Agile Practices, Business Analysis, Business Architecture, Leadership Development, Learning and Development, Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology, Psychiatry, Arbitration, Mediation, etc, etc, etc.
So many disciplines are “taking a crack at change” and each uses a different frame of reference and brings their own mindsets, tools and experience to the table. Each, often, debates the value of the others and usually without the context of ‘what type of change’.
Most arguments that I have heard make many assumptions (most which are not stated) and most have some merit within the context they describe.
None work in all contexts.
“Change Management” is not Change Management
I can no longer fight the global tsunami that has defined “Change Management” as a process for project-related change, as defined in ACMP’s “The Standard”. The critical mass of thinking seems to have calcified at this very basic level. I have resisted this for long enough.
I will not, however, surrender the position that the work that organizations define in projects can represent different types of change (typically from Clear to Complex and even, in cases like Covid, Chaotic) that require more than just the prescribed standard “Change Management” process / tactics. In fact, the more the change stretches toward Complex and Chaotic then the more “Change Management” methodologies, as currently defined, fall short or fail outright.
So my disappointing conclusion, based on this definition of “Change Management”, is that Change Management is not the right approach for all change. This basic level definition of “Change Management” is appropriate for clear and perhaps even small-ish Complicated changes.
Beyond that we should all be embracing approaches with our Organization Development colleagues and wider Strategy, Business Architecture, Systems Thinking colleagues.
I expect that my colleagues at The Change Management Institute may beg to differ as this organization has long defined itself on capabilities (which do apply to all types of change) rather than process. And I would agree with that however capabilities, while they position us better for Complex and Chaotic change are also are not enough.
Where to go from here? Calibrating for Clarity and Efficacy
It seems to me that we first need to do a couple of things:
- Calibate our language – get more precise about what common words mean, eg for different types of change the Cynefin Framework serves well
- Reach agreement on a shared lexicon (if only for the duration of the conversation)
- Be humble enough to recognize that few, if any of us, have actually fully understood and dealt with all types of change (that would take too many lifetimes)
- Expand knowledge of each others’ domains — respect each others’ perspective and experience
- Allow for the possibility that the world is larger than we each have considered
Leveraging all of our strengths
What might it look like if we leveraged all of the strengths of all of the professional domains … applied to the right types of change?
Here’s my thinking in progress …
The notion of the chart is to read in the direction of the arrow, accumulating the domains. For example, there will be initiatives, perhaps beginning between Complicated and Complex, where you will need Organizational Development AND Change Management … and all of the other domains preceding them. Of course this is conceptual not prescriptive — it would only be through an example or a case that we would define approach, resourcing, etc.
There are several activities / capabilities that are missing from this conversation but as I know of no formal professional domain, rather they are threads in the fabric, it is not easy to specify them. I am thinking of three in particular:
- Agile ‘ways’ of working — IMHO the best way to define this is through a culture of change ability, through mindsets, capabilities and behaviours supported by guiding principles, informed by exemplary practices and (necessary evil) some tools. I have invested in understanding The Agile Model © for this purpose
- Ongoing Re-Alignment — Often leaders begin with a shared vision of the strategy (thank you McKinsey, Bain and BCG) and conceptual solution however it is high level, disaggregated into isolated projects and rarely implementable in it’s original conception. As the initiative rolls forward (more information is gathered and insights developed) then calibrations are required — often addressed through scope change (PCR anyone?). These incremental calibrations have the affect of changing the trajectory of the solution and the target ROI, I have often seen significant ‘drift’ from original intent and the promise to the Board sometimes down right ‘shifts’ — these are usually obscured by several factors (not the least of which are the incessant drone of Scope/Timeline/Budget which often completely overlooks the original strategic intent and fears associated with career-limiting accountability). This is a low grade risk in Clear change and perhaps moderate for Complicated. Once into the Complex and Chaotic this risk is untenable. Project Management methodology is too cumbersome for the speed required, and certainly conventional Change Management lags too far behind to drive any value. “War rooms” are often established to improve information flow and alignment, and they help the working team but do not adequately engage leaders. Portfolio Management methodology is more helpful here but still nascent in many organizations. More elegance is required here.
- Decision Support — as we move into the Complex and Chaotic space, where ambiguity and active dynamics change the change constantly, there is need for a higher order capability of progressive ‘understanding, alignment and commitment’ (“Eight Stages of Building Commitment”, Daryl Conner) to develop a richer understanding of the context, the challenges / risks and the fit/evolution of the proposed solution. This trio of understanding, alignment and commitment is foundational of course, for every change, but in this realm where new information evolves or emerges every day the active engagement of leaders and Subject Matter Experts in analyzing and re-calibrating is critical and iterative. A repeatable approach (mindsets through practices) is essential to drive insights at speed. For this I am incorporating an approach defined in “Cracking Complexity” that provides a sort of structured Whole System Transformation (hat tip to Roland Sullivan) – an approach that engages representatives from around the organization with the variety of knowledge and insight to address the true Complexity of the situation, to develop/refine better solutions faster and to maintain alignment. Structured Decision Support can help with Alignment as well, by bringing the right leaders and SMEs together at the right times.
There is no curriculum that I am aware of for what I think of as “Strategy Execution” — it is compiled through a variety of disciplines, study and experience. Advancing sometimes feels like poking into the darkness. But I have also learned that there are many kindred spirits and when we share our struggles and approaches we can learn from each other.
Here is what I am thinking and planning — very interested to hear how others think about this and are planning:
- I have been expanding my studies into related areas for years but it’s time to be more laser focused. I just reviewed my own learning objectives, updated my Library list and prioritized reading/self study on deck here
- Change my branding to better reflect my approach and capabilities — I have long since down played “Change Management” in favour of “Strategy Execution” but that is not well understood. Remove “Change Management” from company name.
- Increasing networking with like-minded practitioners to compare notes