Dismantling change management

It is time

Time to skip all the buzz words and lies

Time to throw out useless consultants and replace them with real people

Time to treat employees with the respect they deserve as human beings

I am talking about “change management”, one of the key consulting buzz words of the 1980s and 1990s that refuses to go away

It sounds good to good to be true, doesnt it – but that is maybe exactly why it is treated with suspicion by CXOs, employees – and even the consultants themselves.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the basic concept is that organizations need to ensure that when introducing changes to the way a business operates, it needs to ensure that stakeholders and employees understand, support and act upon these changes, and are equipped with the right skills to effectively deliver in the new situation.

Most consulting firms follow the same basic models of change management based on the works of people like John Kotter. In other words: Make a big fuzz, flash some important people, a lot of glossy buzz words that can fool people into feeling motivated, brainwash people with the corporate communication engine, bribe key people to support you, take credit for all good things and be stubborn as hell.

Though this approach may have had its moments of glory, the basic assumptions of change management are disputable, for instance:

* Top management and consultants know what is best

* Employees can be talked into believing that bad things are actually good

* Communication about change projects can be planned as one-way linear flow, and isolated from everything else

Social media has change the media landscape and massively affected communication patterns between people. So what are the implications for change management?

First of all, change managers cannot rely on gradually involving people – information about changes are spreading quickly across hierarchy and stakeholder groups.

Second, employees will increasingly expect involvement in decisions affecting their situation – real involvement and not the “weasely” focus group sort of thing that change managers rely on

Third, the wide availiability of collaborative platforms will in itself make it increasingly illegitimate to plan transformation program as top down consultant driven interventions – end users will have to be part of the process from the start, or the program will be doomed.

My best bet is that future change programs will be heavily influenced by so called “user driven innovation” programs, in which not only the way in which changes are implemented will be codetermined by the crowds – but the character of the transformation itself. This significantly changes the role of the CXOs, as well as the consultants – who have to adopt to process facilitation rather than managers of change.

The good news is that many of the typical change management problems – such as resistance to change, reversal, lack of engagement etc – will be eliminated if organizations succeed in making change a true collaborative task, rather than a question of implementation. I will elaborate more on this in my next post.

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