I’m going away! (4) – Change was just a feint

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Last time, I wrote about a number of different ways you can look at change.

As an organizational consultant or manager, you should know or explore your underlying assumptions. This will expose your change-making blind spots. And also your strengths.

One way to do this is by using change recipes. These have been compiled by Palmer & Dunford (2002) into a coherent model with six images (see here).

Right or wrong?

One of the first questions I regularly get from students get is: which change recipe is right?

But that is not the issue here.

There are different perspectives and beliefs when it comes to change. For instance, scientist and consultant John Kotter’s recipe follows 8 steps for making change successful. He is convinced of the role of manager as director of the change.

A discussion between him and scientist Karl Weick makes for a great debate, because the latter is convinced of the social construction of change. In other words, change occurs through interaction between people, which allows meaning to be given to the change processes. No more step-by-step plans!

The idea of the manager as caretaker even assumes that change is of such a complexity, that there isn’t much to manage about it, contrary to John Kotter’s conviction.

One-sidedness

There is no right or wrong. However, there is indeed one-sidedness.

For instance, there are changers who work systematically and step-by-step with checklists and road maps and work their way through the organisation top-down and KPI-based. The future is malleable. As the CEO wishes it, so will it happen. It’s characterised by a clear top-down, cascade approach. Followers of guru Kotter will recognise this.

There are also changers who believe in the power of social construction. It is through giving people time and space to express themselves freely and to achieve a sense of purpose together, that change occurs with a possible planned result as the outcome. The manager/consultant assists by interpreting and in doing so translating the change into comprehensible language. Followers of Weick will recognise this.

Another type of changer is those that disguise themselves. The most common one of these is the director who disguises himself as coach. He starts working together with the employees. During interactive sessions, they are allowed to think along with the whatof the change, not with the if. The direction is already set, and the outcome too, really. It has already been agreed upon with the board.

The director-recipe is deeply rooted in our way of thinking (Homan, 2017). The question is whether it’s effective enough. It is the recipe that is ─ has always been ─ often used, in which much organisational change doesn’t come to fruition. Or worse, it seems successful, but underneath it turns out to be just a feint.

Many managers and consultants are insufficiently aware of other points of view. And that is a missed opportunity!

References

Palmer & Dunford (2002). Who says change can be managed? Positions, perspectives and problematics. Strategic Change, 11(5), pp. 243-251.

Homan (2017). TEDX juni 2017.