Friday, June 4, 2010

Nature of Change

There is a new pattern of change emerging driven by information and communications rather than leadership and vision. This is a new cycle. It is interesting because it is qualitatively different from what we all know about change management. The traditional pattern for change rests on:

  • Problem – something is wrong, the problem is defined, given shape and the need for change is communicated.
  • Solution — the actions you take to address the problem either wrapped in the term initiative or program. The assumption is that there is a solution to each problem. The assumption is that the solution, properly applied, will solve the problem, if it did not then why go to the effort of implementing the solution.
  • Adoption — the acceptance of the solution by the workforce. This is the change part of the change process as people are assumed to discontinue old ways of working in favor of new approaches. A well-executed adoption process will ensure the solution is applied properly in order to solve the problem and raise performance.

The logic of Problem/Solution/Adoption to change gives the whole process a mechanistic or programmatic approach, show in the figure below. Follow the steps properly and you will get the intended results. Its interesting that when people encounter difficulties in the change process and they ask for help, the answer is that you must not have done the steps right.


This view is advocated by change experts, for example John Kotter in his book Leading Change comments, “Successful change of any magnitude goes through all eight stages, usually in the sequence shown. Although one normally operates in multiple phases at once, skipping even a single step or getting too far ahead without a solid base almost always creates a problem.” (p.23)

This view is the hallmark of a technical process that equates changing the way you work with how you make a roast beef dinner. True there are steps to follow, but change is a social process that resists mechanistic answers.

Change is a social system that requires a social process

New change processes reflect the social nature of change. The logic of Dissatisfaction/Transparency/Choice and Change is not neat or clean, but it is inherently social. It recognizes that every problem cannot be solved by an initiative and that things will naturally evolve. This is the changing nature of the change process with a pattern based on the following cycle:

  • Dissatisfaction – there is a feeling or evidence that the status quo is no longer acceptable. People know things are wrong and they ask for information to prove otherwise.
  • Transparency – the demand for information creates a move for transparency either as a proposed solution or as means to rebuild trust while solutions are being implemented.
  • Choice - armed with the information created by transparency people start voting with their voices, dollars or feet. Before transparency I either did not have a choice or I did not know how different my options are.
  • Change – people change in the face of clear information that drives active choice rather than passive submission. The change creates dissatisfaction that drives the energy and cycle of improvement.

These activities occur continuously in a cycle, shown in the figure below. It is important to note that companies using this cycle never really ‘solve’ a problem rather then are always working toward improving processes as one solution or changes in the marketplace create new issues requiring choice and change. The ability to use transparency and choice to adapt gives this approach greater flexibility than the more programmatic approach to change that rests on a premise of holding the world constant while we execute the change initiative.


The nature of change is changing because the flow and control of information has become turbulent no longer flowing top down, but flowing in every direction at all times. This means that the ability to manage and lead change is no longer based on messaging, communication and traditional sponsorship. Rather it is based on processes of informing, enrolling and adapting that is significantly more disruptive and difficult to manage for executives and leaders.

The changing nature of change is symptomatic of broader changes facing enterprises and their leadership teams. This post seeks to put the changing nature of change on the table with a brief description of the differences and the process. Subsequent posts will talk about what these activities mean for the enterprise and IT.

1 comment:

Eshan said...

Change management is a structured process that will communicate the status and existence of changes to all affected parties. Thanks for share with us!!!