In the late 90’s and early 2000’s I worked for a dot-com company that eventually went under. At the time we were selling CRM systems for $2.5 Million with the same functionality you can get for free with Sugar CRM nowadays. Well, even then you could but not many knew about it. Our differentiator was a really cool application builder which was essentially a combination of Scratch and Zapier.
We had a 5 person web team in the marketing division and I was the web developer. I maintained the public website, maintained the mailing list and newsletters, and wrote simple applications to support marketing campaigns. In addition to me, our team had a manager, graphic designer, intranet maintainer dude, and an application developer.
Today, those 5 jobs have been replaced by Wordpress, Mailchimp, and one marketing person is doing all the work in addition to their regular job.
Times have changed, and so should change management.
Just over a couple of years ago, I wrote a post, Change Management is Dead as a response to being pulled into a twitter argument about whether or not change management was dead. I assume it was because a friend of mine posted that it was in fact dead, and someone who didn’t know that I knew that person, thought I might be offended so he copied me in. Man, that was a mouthful. Who’s on first?
What’s Your Reaction?
Reactions to posts like that generally ranged from:
- Eye rolling - “click-bait, pure and simple”, or “that idiot has no idea what cm really is". This is basically people who’s livelihood depends on change management being frozen, yet alive, forever.
- Right on man! - “I believe what you believe therefore you are the greatest, take my money!” This is basically people who like you!
- The need to be write - “um, you made a typo…used the wrong grammar, you can’t do agile, you have to be agile” This is basically the reaction from people who don’t like you and they’ll find any excuse to try and embarrass you for something and prove you’re wrong and that they’re write. It's also people who sell a product or service that your point of view is in direct conflict with.
- Hmmmmm - “interesting points, let’s discuss…” This is the majority of people, but since they're rational, we ignore them and focus on edge cases and trolls.
The distribution of these reactions will widely vary. I’m sure some consultant could whip up a Venn diagram, or quadrant, or splatter-chart to visualize this. I’m also sure someone will comment that a Venn diagram has 3 ovals so it’s impossible to visualize 4 things in a Venn diagram. I’m sure someone who fits into #3 on this list will add a comment about why you CAN do this. I’m also sure that people who fit into #2 on this list will get a good laugh at this section because they know I like to joke around, and move on. Oh, and the eye-rollers, for crying out loud, grow a sense of humour will you?
Change Management is Dead: What’s Actually Being Said?
Plenty of other people have written about this so I googled “change management is dead” and randomly read 10 posts to see what people are actually saying since we live in a read-the-title-and-infer-meaning era. One of the posts was a 5 part series, but I think, statistically speaking, this is probably a good enough sample. If I was a researcher, I’d want to know what these people do, their natural biases, work history etc because we all skew our stories based on our experience and personal beliefs.
I broke down my insights from these posts into categories and added a count when that insight came through in the author's writing, or the comments on the post (source posts at the end of this article):
Process/Mindset (5): Yes, two different things, but this category is for insights where the author, or commenters didn’t agree with general change process models that are linear, or posts that referred to changing your approach to change. An example would be, instead of blasting out newsletters, you get people in a room to do a lean coffee discussion. You're still doing change management, but you're taking a facilitation stance, not a controlling one.
I suppose you could also label this category as using co-creation, or modern practises. This would include putting process ahead of people. This category could be labeled “Change Management is Dead, Long Live My Personal view of what Change Management Should Be”
Not considering perspective (1): This category is about urgency and how one person’s urgency isn’t another person’s urgency.
Bullshit (3): Lying to people, hiding the truth, stupid vision statements, and any other corporate BS or communication spin.
Fighting Emotion with Rationality (2): Using methods, models, frameworks to rationally manage change when people are freaked out and have no emotional outlet.
Externalizing Blame (1): It’s the process’ fault, change resistance etc.
Click-bait or excuse to sell something (2): I expected more of this, but it was relatively low.
Change is Everyone’s Job (1): We all deal with change in some way nowadays, people are being asked to do more with less and to step outside of their job titles
None of these seem to actually be saying that change management is dead, it's more that mainstream change management differs from their personal view of what it should be.
“Change Management” has always been a bit of a mystery to some. I suspect that’s why so many change consultants write about how to justify it, or how to sell it, or how to explain the value of it. We *know* we need it in certain cases, but we just don’t know how to explain it succinctly. Agile coaches, or any coach for that matter, have the same problem.
It's hard to explain or justify a position when the outcome is different way of looking at something.
These same people are likely the ones who roll their eyes when someone posts “change management is dead” because it directly attacks what they love, their ego, and their livelihood. The same reaction would happen in any profession and I've seen plenty of "agile is dead", "the death of <insert function>" and more over the years. We need these disruptors to shake things up.
The Evolution of Change Management
Instead of titling this post “Change Management is Dead Part II”, I titled it “The Discipline Formerly Known as Change Management” because more and more traditionalists are looking at agile, and for a couple of decades now, agile has promoted the idea of general specialists or T-Shaped people. That means you have broad skill in many areas, and have deep skill in one. Today more people are using the term bridge-shaped people where you have broad skills in many areas and deep skill in a few.
Full-stack developers are great examples of bridge-shaped people. Gone are the days of the 20-year experience .NET developer who really has 1 year of the same experience for 20 years in a row. Agile Coaches are great examples as well. Many know a lot about agile, and various methods/tools/approaches, but also a little bit about product management, change management, HR, or organizational design but none would have deep knowledge about all, it’s not possible.
The most skilled change agents I know are the ones who've moved to different careers over the years. They've worked in many different organizations, markets, and in all shapes and sizes. They know what it feels like to have change inflicted on them.
Change Management will always be a thing because markets will always shift which forces companies to adapt. Bridge-shaped people are more suited to facilitate change in times of uncertainty because they instinctively know change is more art than science and they know how to feel their way through it. Bridge-shaped people also, generally speaking, have a higher tolerance for uncertainty, are curious by nature and are creative problems solvers. Some people simply aren’t cut from that cloth, and their talents could be best used somewhere else.
Instead of saying change management is dead, I’d say the idea of change management, in the traditional sense, is dead. That is, the approach to change, whether you want to call that process, or mindset, will always be determined by the organizations’ foothold in their market, and the odds that what they produce, or services they offer, will be disrupted.
For organizations in the Durability quadrant, change management will be more skewed towards process improvement and project management. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s not pretend anything radical or innovative is needed here. You could say change management here is more science than art because certainty and stability are more important and change agents in these organizations are likely more focused inwards through best practises, vision statements that mean little to anyone else, operating models, and stakeholder appeasement. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, but again, let’s not pretend a mindset shift to ‘agile change management’ is needed here.
On the opposite spectrum, organizations in the Volatility quadrant, change management will be less formal, faster-paced, and more about co-creation, pull-based change, and inspiration. You could say change management here is more art than science because evolution or continuous change is all these organizations will ever know and these environments attract a certain type of person. In these environments, you’re not likely to find operating models, or change management process diagrams and frameworks, because change is built into the DNA and that cannot be replicated. Change agents here don’t need to apply agile or design thinking to change, they already get it and know that these modern techniques don't exist to "do change at people" better.
What is common between these two quadrants, is change agents in both will LOVE what they are doing, think it's best, most innovative, and right way to do things and that's perfectly ok!
When I say change management is dead I mean, if we assume there is a compelling reason for change for most, and not the corporate me-Too-Ism we see today, that is, everyone else is transforming so we should too, these traditional change management paradigms need to die along with it:
Burning Platform: I am fan of Darryl Conner who coined this term in 1993 (I think?) but this platform needs to sink into the ocean. First of all, it’s a HORRIBLE metaphor for change so stop using it immediately. I don’t care what the intent was, it’s a ridiculous term so stop it.
Urgency for Change: This is an irrelevant concept as more organizations move to flatter hierarchies and cross-functional teams where interconnectedness and shared purpose is valued over linear, top-down, and one-dimensional urgency for change. You cannot have urgency instilled in you, and you cannot instill urgency in others. You have to feel a sense of cause and purpose because you either love your organization in the abstract sense, or you love the people you work with and that's enough of a motivator. Great change agents know how to inspire, find those people, and unleash them. There will always be a group of intrinsically motivated people to guide the change….but they don’t need the title of ‘change manager’, they might just need a few tiny ideas to nudge change forward, especially because they’re in it for the long-haul.
Strategy vs Tactics (AKA: over-definition of terms): Strategy vs tactics is just an example, another is the debates about change management versus project management, but no one outside of change people care about this stuff. I believe it's important to talk about stuff like this, but let's not pretend anyone outside of CM cares at all. I can’t believe I still see people tweeting slides from people who put Websters definition of change management in their presentations to justify their position. Think of it this way. Think of a piece of software you use. Now, do you really care if the company is using .NET, or Java, or whether or not they ‘do agile’? No, you care about the job you want to do and if the software work, you like them. Another way to think about this point is to consider where your focus is. Is it on the people affected by the change, or is it internally focused on low-value work?
Dedicated Comms People: Sorry, I have friends who do this function, well maybe not after this post, but this is just an example of how specialization isn’t needed the same way it used to be. The more you try to control the message, the more it’s perceived as bullshit. No, that doesn’t mean “you’re not doing change comms right”, it means you might be focused on broadcasting, not communication. Alternatives include Lean Coffee, using anonymous questions at open forums via a tool called http://sli.do or other modern approaches for creating dialogue.
Managing Change Activities, and Clinging to a Plan: A wall of sticky notes and creating 3 new rituals (weekly planning, and end-of-week retrospective and daily standups) has more or less eliminated the need for traditional project management in many cases. With today’s technology, this is simple to do for globally distributed organizations. Work will always need to be coordinated somehow so change managers who are more or less just managing change activities should act more like air-traffic controllers, or bridge builders connecting people who are affected by the change differently. Plan more frequently, in shorter time horizons and use the feedback from the organization as input into the plan. The act of planning is useful, often the plan isn't.
Buy-in and Resistance Management: A rising ocean floats all boats. (Origin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_rising_tide_lifts_all_boats) Find the people who’s intrinsic motivators align with the change and magnify their influence. Resistance is a good thing, it is feedback. Use it to your advantage, and stop using it as an excuse.
Is Change Management Dead?
I’ve been stuck on this ending for an hour now. I’ve written 3 closing paragraphs and threw them all away because maybe this isn’t the question we should be asking. Maybe the question(s) we should be asking is:
- Given what I know now, what are the 3 most important things I need to do this week to nudge this change forward?
- Who needs to be involved in these things?
- What help and support do I need to move forward?
- How would I know these are the right things?”
The looser we are, the more likely we’ll come up with creative solutions to complex problems, and isn’t that really what facilitating change is all about?
These are the posts I read to find patterns:
https://www.torbenrick.eu/blog/change-management/change-management-might-be-dead-lets-go-and-have-a-nice-funeral/ 2018 (Sorry Torben, I like your work, but it looks like you completely ripped this off from Leandro!)