Friday, February 13, 2009

Will we still talk about Change Management, in 10 years?

I have been using the term Change Management now for more than 15 years. At a certain moment of time, I switched from marketing myself as a project management specialist to a Change Management practitioner. Why? It sounded nice, more contemporary and it allowed me to add a people oriented component to what I did. But the way way I worked did not change from one day to another. Looking back, however, it changed dramatically. And still I use the term Change Management, as a marketing term. Hey, I published the Change Management Toolbook 12 years ago, and started the Change Management Blog two years ago.

However, when I am asked about my understanding of Change Management I usually start my reasoning by saying that in fact I don't do Change Management but Change Facilitation.

Who invented the term Change Management? When was the first time it was used by somebody? What was the rationale for coming up with this descriptor? A thorough Web research did not reveal any substantial results. But it feels that we as change facilitators are caught in a trap. The moment we are hired, many of our clients expect us to either manage their change, or help them manage their change, or teach them how to manage change. It happens to me all the time. Let me give you some examples:

Last year, I was hired to give change management training workshop to groups of Chinese middle managers of an international company. These middle managers were - like most middle managers are - frustrated, overworked, clueless about how they can manage what was expected from them. They hadn't yet made the transition from manager to leader. In this situation I came in with my message, which can be summarized in a few words: Change cannot be managed, it can only be facilitated. No wonder they did not buy into my message. Although I made the effort to give them some concrete tools at hand, the idea of embracing uncertainty, go with the flow and do everything to help their people to master change did not really resonate with them.

Another example:
A large European organization called us in to “train people in Change Management”. The situation was the following: the largest department of the organization was in the process of implementing a new analytical software which would deeply change the way people work. Management felt a strong resistance to the project and they thought that a change management training would change attitudes of their staff. We went in and conducted a round of discussions with different stakeholders and we found out that at the heart of the problem was not the software but the relationship between the staff of that department with other departments of the organization. Simply speaking, people felt not valued. So, the goal of our project shifted towards uplifting the self-esteem and pride of the people in their craft.

We organized a series of workshops based on Appreciative Inquiry and World Café in which went deep down the rabbit hole. People dialogued about what it means to do a good job; they created visions of their future organization etc. All the material that was produced was processed in further workshops, leading to concrete activity plans. At the end, the software had become what it always should have been – a tool to do a better work.

So, what is your opinion - should we strive to abandon the term Change Management alltogether and call a spade a spade? The parts of a change process that can be managed, i.e. organization of stakeholder events, setting up and running communication campaigns etc. can be labelled as Project Management within a complex change process. But what we actually do is Change Facilitation, or Transformative Work, or Process Work.

I am curious about your responses.


Diana Larsen said...

As a term "change management" doesn't communicate what I'd like it to, or even what needs to be done. However, most of the other substitutions you've mentioned don't offer enough "ooomph" or seem too soft or passive. How do we characterize what we've called CM as the focus-requiring, dynamics-perceiving, active process we know it is? What about "change leadership"? Mmm, still not there yet.

Loffer Gohl said...

I like the term change leadership. But it's different from change facilitation, and requires a different role. It is, however, what I think many practioners want to do: help people make a difference, "engaging people for change". It's an important discussion, Holger - which you helped setting up last year at the Procedere conference in Loccum.

Roberta Hill said...

Holger, I finally got around to responding. See my blog post at

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.