Is Change Management Dead?

November 28th, 2022
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I have come across many organisations, including consulting firms, and countless articles that state that “Change Management is dead”. We have even gone through SWOT analysis in our own team, where we clearly identified managing change in the traditional sense as a Threat. At least for the old, tried, and tested plan-driven approaches that focuses on executing operational change activities.
Reflecting on my journey as a change consultant, I recall my first few projects were focused on ensuring each phase and action was detailed out in a tab-heavy excel spreadsheet. Walking up and down between desks, trying to follow up in person and sending countless follow-up emails. Then we would roll out the change plan, and everyone was expected to follow orders and meet all agreed upon deadlines. Surprisingly, at that time, it worked well for the most part. Today, not so much.
In Jason Little’s article, “Change Management is dead”, he showed why he believes traditional change management is dead, and how to help people in organisations navigate the gigantic hairball that is change, especially suited for today’s world of disruption. Before we think of the how, it is important to recognise the fundamental differences between our world then and now.

  • Most companies today are undergoing a digital transformation, ensuring they remain ahead of the curve, and doing it virtually, add more complexity to the process.
  • Digital transformations mean changes in structures, which impact people’s roles directly.
  • Digital transformation can also mean trans-organisational changes, like mergers and acquisitions.
  • Resistance is harder to notice – just because people show and say that they’ve bought into the change, doesn’t mean they are going to do anything about it.
  • It is a lot harder to enable people to change in a “hybrid-working-model-world”, when you are looking at initials on a screen, with little-to-no engagement, and hardly seeing body language or expressions of any sort.
  • People are tired, burned-out. They do not hate change – they just hate to continuously get changed by other people.

However, it was Benjamin Disraeli who said: “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” If ‘Change Management’ is dead, how do we help organisations manage this complex change in an ever-transformational world?
Now more than ever, it is necessary that organisations stop clutching on to organisational change management like a security blanket they had long outgrown but refused to give up. Business and teams need to start focusing on the facilitation of meaningful change. This means that discussions start at a strategic level and strategic thought about people sits alongside strategic thought about profits.
A few key things to consider when you realise there is a big need for strategic change management:

  1. Strategic change starts with the FUTURE vision, ensuring all leaders are aligned to the north star. Your vision must be something that may not yet exist – not one that is only a tad better than the one currently happening in your business.
  2. Principles and practices of strategic change management and organisational development (OD) can be integrated to enhance an organisations long-term performance and will be better positioned to meet the challenges of an increasingly dynamic business world.
  3. Strategic managers must become more sensitive to and skilled in dealing with the human elements of change; this can come about only through broader formal education and experience.
  4. Overlooked OD and engagement practices I come across daily, across various industries, which are critical to the success of your strategic changes and transformations include the following:
  • Alignment to organisational culture will enhance the strategy execution.
  • Collaboration, collaboration, and collaboration – ensuring that what you are building is both worthwhile and achievable.
  • Embrace disagreement – it brings creative thinking and energy to the table, and it increases psychological safety within the team.
  • Dance with resistance – the most important part of dancing with resistance, is to become aware of resistance first.
  • Psychological safety and trust are THE most important concepts.
  • Lastly, be prepared that Strategic Change looks different than you may be used to – it can be rolled out via informal networks and change agents, with a lean approach, rather than communication plans, excel spreadsheets and broadcasting channels. These all do have their place, but a lean approach means we can be flexible and adapt to business needs and changes rather than spend more time updating the plan than executing it.

In summary, though some of the basics of what we perceive change management to be are still true, it is clear that command and control is no longer king in business and is becoming extinct as the years pass. Any transformation, re-organisation, restructure and more, is social change and that cannot simply be “change managed” in the traditional sense.
Even though our new way of doing things, in a more collaborative fashion and starting at the strategic level, may feel messier and like there are too many cooks in the kitchen, it really is an invitation for a revival in people, culture, and creativity.
Traditional change management might be dead, but the work of Organisational Development Consultants and change agents is very much alive.

Why not give them a go with your next big change in your workplace?

Author: Moné Clay, Senior People Advisory Consultant at IQbusiness

Get in touch with Moné on LinkedIn here.

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