Over the week-end I was checking the books on change management on Amazon and there is an astonishing number. Most of them state to reveal “a magic framework” that is going to allow you to manage and lead organisational change successfully. I am very skeptical about those claims as, in my experience, there is no one size fits all change methodology. Especially nowadays.
In fact change has changed too. What do I mean? Today’s change is mainly transformational, unlike what happened 20 or 15 years ago.
This is why it is important to build change capability in your organisation, to train change leaders that have the capability to lead their organisation successfully and to manage the people side of change. In fact, what has to change and how are not enough to stay ahead of your competitors.
The type of change that characterised the 70s and the 80s was mainly developmental and transitional. It means that it was much more manageable. In fact, applying one methodology was more likely to work.
- Developmental change is the easiest to manage, as it does not require people to substantially change the way they work. Hence, it faces less resistance and even if not well managed (or not managed at all) it still can yield positive results.
- On the other hand, transitional change requires the current status (the way things are done now) to be replaced with a new way of operating. This type f change is much more challenging as it requires people to adapt to a new way of doing things. For example if a new software is implemented they have to learn how to use it and how to do it proficiently, if a new product is introduced in the line offered by the organisation they have to learn its specifications.
- The way change mostly operates nowadays is a game changer: an improvement to the way the organisation operates is not sufficient. A change of software is not going to keep the company afloat and competitive. Something more is required. Let’s think about digital transformation and the way it is shaking sectors like retail and financial services to their core. The key of this change is that it is extremely unpredictable and it is shaped as it unfolds.
For example, let’s have a look at the social media platforms, the rate at which they appear and disappear, and how they are changing people’s behaviours. What works today may be gone tomorrow and what works tomorrow may not even be around yet. This type of change calls for much more than a simple framework to be implemented. It is not just a matter of what to change and how to do it. Transformational change calls for a new way of doing things, a different culture and it has a deep impact on human dynamics.
That’s why I am very puzzled when I take part to strategic meetings and most executives simply want to implement the trendy framework of the moment, being it agile or whatever else. Successful change management requires much more than a process. It means also choosing the right framework that fits the circumstances your organisation is facing now. Just because agile worked for your competitor it does not mean that it is going to work for you. If you company is very hierarchical and controlling, agile is very lily going to fail and not because it is faulty. It is because there is a time and place for it.
Transformational change requires also the ability to deal with extreme uncertainly: this triggers fears and major resistance. What transformational change requires is often a new way of doing things. In fact, it impacts the organisation culture very heavily. Hence, the importance for the executives of being able to proactively manage the people side of change.
This explains why focusing on applying a “trendy” framework or doing what you were doing 10 years or also 5 years ago very likely won’t work anymore.