Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Change the organization or change the organization? The evolution of Change Management. Post 2 of 3
December 5, 2013, 7:04 am
Filed under: - People Change Management

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”—David Lloyd George

Gumby change the organizationIn the last post, we looked at the costs of muscling change through with a “change the people or change the people” attitude. In this post, I have teamed again with Jennifer Frahm, and we look at the alternative.

What if our organizations became more adaptable? Would this mean more and better change management? Or would it be evolved into the competencies and culture, into the DNA, of the organization?

What does that mean—“change the organization”?

It used to be that old-school, industrial-age organizations could accommodate stepped change. For purposes of this article we will consider the mechanical approach to forcing change through (described in Post 1) to be Change Management 1.0.

However, with the rate of innovation and competition accelerating, pressure is on organizations to change far more rapidly. Consider organizations such as Kodak, Nokia, or, more recently, Research in Motion, who seem to be failing to keep up. Consider the external environmental pressures such as:

  • Legislation such as the Affordable Care Act in the US, which is prompting an unprecedented “land grab” in healthcare insurance
  • The lightning speed, and indiscriminating democratization, of information through social media, which makes issues like healthy eating a much higher priority for organizations such as McDonalds and Burger King, or GMO seeds and public perception of chemicals an issue for Monsanto, or access and quality of water an issue for Nestlé
  • The challenge of meeting multi-generational consumer bases within the same product/service strategy (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and Silent Generation), each with such distinctly different preferences for both marketing and products
  • The uncertainty of shifts in global weather conditions affecting production of raw materials and transport

There is increasing pressure on organizations to be agile, adaptable, and nimble to respond to emergent and continuous change, both proactive and reactive. Step change is difficult to scale. It is typically sequential and takes too long. More change comes into the pipeline before the last change is completed. The “re-freeze” state is vanishing.

Change Management 2.0

Many organizations are answering this call by building Change Management capability:

  • They have invested in Change Management tools, training, frameworks and methodologies. Many have even customized or built their own methodologies.
  • They have created roles either in HR/OD/Talent Management or in Program Teams. Change Managers usually work under the Project Manager on the “Change Management Work Stream.”  There are assessments, plans, and interventions designed to increase the speed and depth of adoption and proficiency of the new thing.
  • Many organizations have further created Change Management Centers of Expertise/Excellence and Communities of Practice.
  • Some organizations even invest in Change Leadership—building awareness and capability in leaders. This further raises the game. Leaders become vested in the change and participate (own it) through completion.

However, this is still pursued as a predominantly sequential and structured process.  What happens when an organization is facing a lot of change? Ten, a hundred, or a thousand initiatives? It is impossible to deploy Change Management resources to each.

Sometimes the organization offers more training and expects Project Managers to pick up those tasks. Sometimes Change Management resources spread themselves like peanut butter across multiple initiatives. Sometimes only the most important initiatives get support.

And what about that insidious notion that there is no longer a stable state between changes?

It sure seems like the appetite within organizations is growing. Is the answer to grow the Change Management complement?

Change 3.0—a look into the future

What is the answer? Do we need to move past Lewin’s (1951) popular “unfreeze-change-refreeze”? This framework was repurposed for contemporary organizations by Weick and Quinn’s (1999) review “Organizational Change and Development,” in the journal Annual Review of Psychology to reflect “freeze-rebalance-unfreeze” as a way of making sense of organizations that are constantly changing.

We simply don’t have the time to re-freeze a stable state. Yet, many of our tools and methodologies are based on a three-step approach that assumes benefits are realized after the organization has institutionalized the change and moved in to a Business As Usual. For many of us, the next change starts before we have moved our stakeholders up the change curve to buy-in. We have just begun to re-freeze, and we destabilize the group again. We need tools and frameworks that reflect a constant state of flux.

For 20+ years many thought leaders have promoted the “nimble” organization as a preferred structural imperative for continuously changing organizations. Some examples:

To push the example a bit further, earlier this year, Dan Pontefract took “Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization” on the road. Dan makes compelling arguments as to why employee engagement and heterarchy are so critical for organizational success today. These include immediate benefits, such as lower employee turnover, lower reportable accidents, higher productivity and corresponding increases in sales, operating margins, and operating income. He also maps some of the approach and techniques used at TELUS (a Canadian telecommunications company).

It is also entirely intuitive to us that these very same approaches are critical for creating an adaptive organization. Imagine a workplace with a high level of understanding of the current state (business as usual) and of the desired future (strategy), where employees are committed (not “present to,” but rather “acting in support of” and “having a voice in”)  the success of the organization.

The idea is not without precedent. In 1993, Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace” details how he used increased principles of openness, transparency, and industrial democracy to manage the wild fluctuations of the Brazilian economy. Employees were upskilled in business acumen in order to make financial decisions and given the option to use company assets in entrepreneurial spin-offs. They were engaged.

These are the key ingredients to rapid and iterative change. There are many more, of course, but the point is that the dominant thinking around hierarchical, command-and-control structures just doesn’t scale to rapid change. Considering the current rate of change, which is still accelerating, and the damage to employee well-being and performance, surely we do need to change the organization.

Or is the question more about why, after 30 years of evidence and thought leadership, don’t we apply this more? What is SO STICKY about command-and-control, forced change?

Next up: where does this lead us? Will Change Management, as we practice it today, become obsolete? More on this in the next post. Don’t want to miss it? You can subscribe top left.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related posts:

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