Time to Euthanize Change Management?

change management

If we had leaders at every level…

Imagine an organization filled with leaders at every level who excelled at aligning staff with change strategy. Key change programs become priorities for them, they work hard at understanding the big picture, handle conflict assertively, yet gracefully, motivate and align staff, communicate with affected stakeholders (say customers), skillfully facilitate cross-functional, or cross-cultural teams, facilitate local strategy development and planning, and challenge unhelpful behavior. Would we, if such superstar skills existing throughout the business, need change management?

… there might be fewer change fires to put out

On major projects, change managers are often called in to sprinkle change pixie dust on recalcitrant groups and make people problems go away. Their efforts are directed at persuading, involving, and communicating in order to align people with the change. However, this is a bizarre circumstance, for is it not the manager’s job to persuade, involve, and communicate? Are not change managers, and their tools, a Band-Aid to cover up managerial insufficiency? (In the same way that consultants are sometimes called in to do jobs that more capable teams might well accomplish on their own.) This specialist discipline, practiced by experts (often internal or external consultants), is used to provide tools, models and expertise that (mostly) ought to be part of every manager’s day job.

Winning hearts and minds, and changing behaviors is the job of leadership, therefore to some extent, change management is used to shore up shortfalls in leadership, and to bring skills that are far distant from business education.

The change leader’s new role is to create a change-agile organization

Following that line of reasoning, I believe that it is time to euthanize change management as we now think about it, and replace it with change-agile organizations, and change capable leaders at every level. There will still be need for change management skills and knowledge, but those will be widespread, and not concentrated in a few hands.

Leading and managing change is too important to be left to specialists.

This is a short excerpt from The Science of Organizational Change, published by the Financial Times Press in May. It takes many controversial positions, and takes aims at many of the unchallenged change models from big name gurus including Kotter and Christiansen, which, in this authors view, need to be updated (not the authors, the models). Its aim is to create a new paradigm for change management that is a better fit for 21st century organizations and the VUCA world.


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