Honestly, can nowadays anyone in management hear the phrase Change Management without suffering a strong gag reflex? And can anyone from HR, OD or Consultancies with some expertise in the area say C-h-a-n-g-e M-a-n-a-g-e-m-e-n-t aloud without being hit in the face or, worse, without receiving a pitiful smile? And yet, board and management team meetings seem almost constantly revolve around questions on how the organization can be “changed”.
How does that fit together?
I sometimes brood over the term as perhaps been misused from the very beginning and during its “coming out” in the 80’s – as some sort of birth defect. Because what many managers, executives and, alas, myriads of consultants really meant and perhaps still mean when they talk and write on “Change Management” is: conversion. Conversion of structures, processes, business models and, most of all, people. But, as the great Peter Block says: People don’t fear change, they fear conversion.
Thus, conversion is from a sales and marketing point of view not exactly a good message. And it gives you from a How-to-manage-point of view some hard Q’s to chew on. However, Organizational Development, which might have been an alternative that has been around almost 50 years before CM came up, was not a good sales message either: old, slightly shopworn, with a humanistic background, later often hidden from top-management in HR-departments. And worse of all: OD suggested that you need time to “develop” a “system” incrementally, deal with “resistance” and “involve the people” in doing so. Change Management, on the opposite suggested: Top-Management “commitment”, which had to establish a “sense of urgency” and most of all: quick results in a turn-over kind of way.
This is, of course, a somewhat unfair exaggeration. Today’s change managers and organizational developers alike deal with both concepts and use approaches and manifold methods to balance both rapid transformation and sustainable development (such as rapid results approach, action learning etc.). But it seems that the constant, recurred change most organizations nowadays go through has by no means lead to more positive connotations of the term. The “zero trauma”-change, successful organizations should drive at, as Gary Hamel wrote some years ago, remains hard to find – especially if you don’t live in todays’ global point of focus of all how-to-do-things-right-management – the “Valley” (or, more aptly pronounced “vAhhhh!ley”).
Therefore, here’s my heart-to-heart advice to all of us supporting those processes that deal with the “change” in organizations: Shut up on Change Management! Just stop using the term, it’s always been too close to a buzz word anyway. And yes, it’s been good from a sales point of view for quite a long time – but that’s no longer the case. Stop making a fuss on the How (“Change Management!”), instead dig deeper on the What – and then start with a smart compilation of proven transformation approaches and methods, because there are certainly enough of them around.
And one last thing: If you think you’ve found the one and only, brand-new formula on “Change”, the one management has been waiting for like a Second Coming: Please don’t write a book on it bearing “CM” somewhere near the title. It won’t do anyone good