Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


Exclusive Preview: “Exploring the relationship between OD and CM” Wiley publishes Oct 19th

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”—Audre Lorde

Practicing Organization Development 4th Edition cover

Beneath the surface of professional dialogue there are a few hot “political” topics.

A while ago I stumbled onto an online discussion between Organization Development (OD) practitioners.

This suddenly explained the guardedness that I experienced in conversations with “them” around Change Management (CM).

I wish I could find the link to share with you but it basically went like this:

  • “CM is stealing our lunch”
  • “Change management is only about tools, process and short term applications – they do not really effect organizational change.”
  • “You’re right. We were here first. How have we failed to get the message across that we are the experts in change? How do we get OD back in the game?”

Similarly I often see discussions and presentations that posit “Change Management is Obsolete” even while they support many of the issues dear to Change Management professionals.

What’s going on here?

The debate

About 18 months ago in the LinkedIn Group “Organizational Change Practitioners” an excellent  discussion was facilitated by a member, Tim Paul: “Change Management and Organizational Development and Change – How to distinguish the two?” (you have to be a member for the link to work).

This was an opportunity for many of us to hear the perspectives of others and, if we were brave enough, to examine and discuss our own.  My thinking has been influenced by the excellent contributions of members in that discussion.

The invitation

About 6 months after that I was invited by Roland Sullivan, one of the Editors, to collaborate on this topic for the upcoming 4th Edition of “Practicing Organization Development: Leading Transformation and Change”.

I was thrilled … and a little apprehensive.

Roland assured me that the co-contributors were open and willing to explore the topic.  I knew Tim Creasey, Chief Development Officer  at Prosci Learning going in but neither of us knew Bill Rothwell (another Editor) or Dave Jamieson.

Well, as you might expect, we came into the discussion with quite different points of view. We were brave tho and shared our thoughts with candor.  We started by clearing the air with “how do OD advocates describe CM?” and “how do CM advocates describe OD?” In that process I developed deeper respect for Tim, Bill and Dave.

We all realized that our own experiences shaped our thinking.

“Where you stand depends on where you sit”―Nelson Mandela

We all come to our chosen professions from different places and with different mindsets:

  • Some might have come straight through career paths – perhaps starting in a call center or branch office, working one’s way up even to an operational leadership role – through the School of Hard Knocks.
  • Some might have chosen an undergraduate or graduate degree in psychology, behavioural sciences, business administration or even in engineering or medicine.
  • Some have found their path through project management.
  • Some have not made a conscious choice but rather found themselves in the midst of an organizational change as a leader, agent, target or advocate.

It is not rocket science to suggest that where we came from shapes our perspective.  If we “grew up” inside of one organization then our understanding of how change happens is skewed by that.  If we studied project management then our views are defined by that. If we placed all our resources behind behavioural sciences then this may be our bias.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that each practitioner (independent of their professed discipline and training) practice in quite different ways.

There is a bigger reality – all of these have a role to play in orchestrating change.  Some may even expand on this view by taking a systems thinking approach.

The model: same but different

Back to the chapter … as we worked through our definitions of OD and CM and discussed application in case examples it became clear that these domains are different and they overlap.

It was a breakthrough!  We proceeded to explore the continua and settled on:  scope of application, focus of effort, and level of engagement.

We build a model to illustrate the relationships.

Rather than tell you how we got there, I am very grateful to our Editor at John Wiley and Sons for permission to share the chapter with you here:

Exploring the relationship between OD and CM Watermark

Where do we land?

As a team of four here’s where we landed:

“The key take away should be that both OD and CM support successful change, and the question is not“OD or CM?” but rather “When OD and/or CM?” With a better understanding and foundation of each discipline, practitioners can better identify when each provides the greatest value and addresses the issues they are facing at a given point in time.”

For me, I cannot do my work without both. I can no longer think about them as one or the other.

Your opinion and experience may be different.  I respect that.  Let’s continue the discussion below or in the OCP Group discussion.

Truly honored

You might have figured it out when you heard “4th Edition”, this book is remarkable. It is a collection of 33 amazing chapters written by names you will recognize (including Ed Shein, Warner Burke, Marshall Goldsmith, Kim Cameron, Robert Crosby, John Scherer, Alan Weiss, Linda Ackerman Anderson and many more) and some emerging thought leaders.

On the Wiley site you can read additional excerpts, including the Table of Contents, and you purchase a full copy.

I’d also like to share some info on our fabulous collaborators:

  • Roland Sullivan – Roland is a Change Agent extraordinaire with 40+ years of deep, broad and global OD and CM experience.  Roland is known for thought leadership in Whole Systems Transformation™ and is considered to be in the original 100 change agents.  Generous, insightful and kind he is true to his stated goal “is to be great at helping an internal or external change agents transform themselves to be extraordinary”. Roland’s LinkedIn profile is here.
  • Dr. William (Bill) Rothwell – Bill had 20 years of full-time work experience in HR in both government and business before he became a consultant and university professor 18 years ago.  He is responsible for administering a Masters and a Doctoral program in Training and Development/Human Resources at Penn State University and is a frequent speaker or keynoter at conferences and seminars around the world. Bill has authored 70 books, and coauthored, edited, or co edited more than 300 books, book chapters and articles. His LinkedIn profile is here.
  • Tim Creasey – Thought leader in Change Management.  Tim is constantly advancing and deepening Change Management through his role as Chief Development Officer at Prosci Learning.  He had overseen the production 8 longitudinal studies on change management over 16 years (the “Best Practices in Change Management” benchmarking study). Tim is in demand and speaks several times a year at industry and corporate events.  He also develops and publishes intellectual property through Prosci’s Portal.  Tim’s LinkedIn profile is here.
  • Dr. Dave Jamieson – Dave is a career OD consultant and academic.  He has run Jamieson Consulting Group, Inc for over 30 years.  He also serves as: Professor & Department Chair, Organization Learning & Development, University of St. Thomas; Adjunct Professor, American University MSOD Program; Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Benedictine University; Chair, OD Education Association; Board Member, Human Systems Dynamics Institute; Associate Editor, Journal of Management Inquiry; and Editorial Board, OD Practitioner. Dave’s LinkedIn profile is here.

Now you know why I am entirely humbled to have had the opportunity to be a small part of this tremendous thought leadership.  Thank you again to Roland for your prescience  and courage to sponsor this piece of work.

I hope that you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed working on it with Roland, Bill, Tim and Dave.

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Change Whisperer by www.gailseverini.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you for sharing this insightful chapter. As a CM practitioner (my roots are in an SAP implementation over a dozen years ago), my understanding of what defined OD has always been a bit fuzzy. This helped to more clearly frame-up the picture as well has lay out the differences and places for synergy and collaboration. There is clearly a need for both.

On a related note, I attended Prosci’s session in Toronto this past week where Tim Creasey presented. We got a peek at the change management scorecard chapter that Tim authored from the same book. Looking forward to its release.

Comment by Gwen Alegre

Gail – such a rich message – what a wonderful opportunity you had. I met Roland back in my early early days of doing OD work (in rereading your post, I remembered he wrote some very encouraging words to me in the original edition of Practicing OD) – it is an interesting dialogue and so encouraged that the place that was landed on was not one or the other, but both/and!

Comment by Tricia Steege

Thank you Gwen and Tricia. Roland has taken a chance including this chapter – it is not a popular point of view but I believe that he is prescient in promoting it.

I am grateful to have worked with Tim, Dave and Bill – all outstanding practitioners. I believe that, rather than each of us defending our camps, our best value comes from collaborating.

I appreciate your comments here and ask if you would share it with your networks so as to further these ideas.

Best regards. Gail

Comment by Gail Severini




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