Change Management or Change Leadership?

September 30, 2011

Yesterday I shared some of my experiences implementing enterprise-wide software solutions. I was quite involved with the People aspects, in particular, dealing with change. My first formal exposure in change methodologies occurred when I was trained by ODR. Founded by Darryl Conner in 1974, ODR held licenses with the major consulting firms from the mid-80s to late 90s. His book Managing at the Speed of Change became a must read for ERP clients.

So that we have a common understanding, let’s use Wikipedia’s definition:
“Change management is a structured approach to shifting/transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. It is an organizational process aimed at helping employees to accept and embrace changes in their current business environment.”

There were many methods, templates, charts, diagrams, and forms endeavouring to cover all avenues one would encounter in change management. As a linear, sequential type person, I felt like I had hit the jackpot and won the prize at the end of the rainbow. I was taught the who, when, where, why and hows and became a SME – subject matter expert. FYI, in the consulting world, being a SME is no longer kosher; you are now called a SMS – subject matter specialist. Why? To avoid possibly being sued by a client if big-time projects go badly wrong. Thank you, legal beagles.

Does the preceding sound like the Complicated Domain to you? Change Management was viewed as complicated yet quite manageable. Sense what’s happening using assessments and surveys. Analyze the feedback. Respond with the appropriate packaged solution. Very Ordered side.

If employee backlash or unpredictable behaviour edging on chaos arose, just steer them back on track. One of the more interesting statements I heard was: “We first try to change the person. If that doesn’t work, then we change the person.” It’s a rather subtle way of saying if you don’t get onboard with the program you’re terminated.

What does this mean for CE practitioners who might find themselves involved in a change initiative? I have a couple of ideas to share.

Manage Things, Lead People
I first heard this from Stephen Covey and it’s been a real favourite of mine. It recognizes that non-human objects (inanimate and living) adhere to logical cause & effect rules. Flip the switch; the light goes on. Press the button, the motor stops. Stimulus-response amoeba behaviour. Simple Domain stuff.

However, when dealing with humans, it’s an entirely different ball game. People have the ability to think, make choices, and choose to behave accordingly. Since we cannot manage/control people, that leaves leading them. Conceivably, they may choose not to listen and go their own way. As leaders, we hope to influence their choosing by giving them positive or negative consequences and acting as models of desired behaviour.
Unpredictable behaviour, no understood link between cause and effect? Sounds like Complex Domain to me. Consider Probing as a Stimulus. Sense behaviour changing and patterns forming. Respond by accelerating or dampening stimulation. Rinse, and repeat (sorry about that…)

Change Leadership
We have been playing around with the Cynefin framework by creating model variations and testing resonance with clients. One such variation advocates the Ordered side is Management and the Unordered side is all about Leadership. It’s having the desire to get “out of the box” and courage to declare “Enough is enough!” But it’s also having consideration and respect for others who are quite comfortable doing same old, same old. All the more reason why I feel small safe-fail experiments are much more tenable than massive change efforts.

We’re also putting out the notion that most of the time one wants to be on the Ordered Side where life is stable, predictable, easily fixable, and in steady state mode. When you finally come to grips you can’t solve today’s problems using present methods, you take the lead to venture to the Complex Domain As leader, you initiate a search and rally followers to find a new solution that will change the paradigm.

Change Management
I’m not throwing Change Management out of my toolkit. I occasionally do project management work for clients when the subject of change management is discussed. In this case we are talking about modifying tasks, reallocating resources, issuing change orders. You know, things that don’t think but just get moved around on a spreadsheet or Gantt chart. But if I do hear some whining or screaming from project team members, it’s a signal to shift into a Change Leadership role.

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About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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