November 7

The End of Change Management

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Classically Change Management is perceived as the art of helping employees to accept and embrace (strategic) changes to their business environment. HR and Communication were the usual owners of any transformation project, but looking back at the last few years I guess that not only should the scope be widened to enclose managers and leaders of all parts of the organization, but also should the perception change that it is only the – very passive – acceptance of whatever is happening in an organization.

My understanding goes further than that. What companies need those days is the capability to adapt fast, but still in a structured and efficient manner. They need the ability to anticipate environmental changes, to adjust to the new customer needs and the evolving economical requirements. Acceptance and embracement are an added value, but they are definitely not what is going to make a company more successful.
Let us be honest, change management has become such a buzz word because managers and executives alike want their employees to understand what they expect from them. It has a lot to do about what the top management wants and seldom about the proactive management of change. Basically it has made executives become sales people trying to sell their ideas. Maybe this is because I now live in the former Eastern Germany, but I’m very sensitive to anything sounding like brainwashing and hate the idea of one group of people knowing what is good for all. How many initiatives have we seen come and go changing directions within months?

So if we don’t need change management with change leaders and change agents, what do we need instead? We need Evolving Organizations. Let me give you some ideas on what I mean by that:

  1. Clarity on your Mission and your Vision (note that nothing is being said about objectives here): well there is nothing new in that, but very often these are very rigid and limiting. Will the Chinese market have the same needs and requirements than the US customers? This is unlikely. One of the best vision remains IBM’s “A Computer On Every Desk And In Every Home”. This is clear but still flexible enough for the different part of the organization to translate that based on their capabilities.
  2. Proximity to your Customers and Competitors: your sales people, your customer services people know what is happening in the market. They are the best people to understand what is likely to have an impact on your business. Making this knowledge visible and available throughout the organization is key to an Evolving Organization.
  3. Flexibility in your Structure and Processes: While most company struggle to manage and bring stability to their existing processes, this aspect might be the most challenging aspect of all. But if you expect your company to adapt fast in these hasty times, you need flexible IT tools, but also employees capable and willing to develop to new requirements. This leads us to the last point.
  4. Dependability on your Organization: If I didn’t write down workforce, this is based on the fact, that outsourcing has virtualized the working world. Nevertheless as we expect people supporting a company to become more flexible, we need to be able to depend on their skills, knowledge and behaviors. Outsourcing doesn’t remove the personnel management responsibility from a leader.

What leaders need to do to help their company adapt fast to all the global changes is to build a more flexible and virtual workforce (including themselves!), a workforce listening to the changes happening around them, and processes making these changes visible. Recognizing the inherent knowledge of each employee and building on these strengths are the best way to get the required buy in. We don’t need regular change management programs trying to get hold of all the organizational change. What we need is a transformed thinking to help leader drive their strategy in a changing world.

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