Change Management misses the point

I spent the day authoring content on Change Management trying to figure out what it’s all about. I’ve been on both sides and now sifting through articles and blogs by various authorities on the subject. My reflection is that Change Management in a traditional sense – much like Learning & Development – is a symptom of a problem, not a solution. 

Some time back I researched a cross-section of LinkedIn profiles, to work out what most people like to claim they can do. Change Management popped up quite a few times on the endorsement list. That means I’m probably being quite provocative in taking this position, but also a load of people think they can manage change effectively.

The commonly quoted statistic in the field of change is that 70% of all change projects fail. For me this bears some resemblance to the figure that 25% of training programmes have little or no impact. In any case, we know that there are plenty of well-paid people who spend a lot of time making no decisions and working productively on things that don’t matter. What I didn’t realise was potentially how prevalent this trend is in business.

Let me explain. I’ve personally been on the end of multiple re-organisations in my career. In all events there’s been a minimal amount of communication, a lot of secrecy and plenty of gossip. I could surmise from this that the problem is poor Change Managers, but my view is that the reason Change Management projects fail, is because the whole idea of Change Management is a nonsense in the first place.

The reason re-organisations have a big impact on people’s productivity is because no one tells them what’s going on: they’re victims. People don’t know whether they need to look for another job, or knuckle-down until the culling is complete. All decisions are made behind closed-doors and there’s no transparency whatsoever. The change project plan irresistibly ticks over, the percentages rising and the Excel spreadsheet goes from red to green, but it makes no difference to anyone.

The problem is not the Change Management in these cases, it’s not with the re-organisation, it’s with the idea of organisation itself. Complexity is the brain’s enemy, so we’ve come up with multiple ways to feel better about it all by creating a very organised spreadsheet of milestones. We regularly scratch our heads trying to figure out why the company can’t innovate, why the values aren’t lived and why engagement is at an all time low.

All the evidence points to the same thing. A hierarchical organisational structure where there are haves and have-nots doesn’t work. We need to trust the people we hire by letting them know what’s going on, giving them power of their own and treating them like adults. Change Management then is reduced to a collaborative exercise facilitated from the bottom-up. And is implemented by leaders who serve, not only the needs of the shareholders, but the needs of the employees that do all the work.

I see digital as being key in the shift from Change Management to a democratisation of the workplace. Social media has shown us what can be achieved if we give people a voice – and of course what the dangers are. We in business can learn from this. Access to information and access to a voice should be seamless, not a constant battle with barriers at every turn.

Do you work in Change Management – what do you think?

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