Four Approaches for thinking about Organisation Change

I recently attended a  Change Management meet up to discuss ‘Top down, bottom up, or middle out?’ change management approach’s and think about the different ways we can implement organisation change (thanks for the invite Jude). I had also recently been thinking about how change management has evolved since I started working in the space 20 years ago and what are some of the fundamental choices people need to make when going about change, which I have broadly summarised into the following approaches.

If your method for implementing change is ‘just tell them to do it’, or ‘we are going live on this date, make it happen’, then chances are you could be in the ‘Installed Change’ world of thinking. Installed Change is not necessarily devoid of any change management activities, however the chances are that the actions will be mainly limited to one way communications and possibly some just in time training (if it wasn’t forgotten about). Installed Change can occur when timelines are tight, budgets are lean and understanding of change management practices are low. It is often justified by the belief that people will follow the chain of command and that people will ‘just do it’ when they have to. What isn’t usually discussed is the resistance, the pain and the anxiety this sort of change can cause, with the fallout potentially damaging employee engagement and your customer experience (‘let me transfer you to someone who can do that in the system’). Another common outcome of this type of change is for people to ignore the change completely and wait for the next change to come along.

Managed Change represents how people usually think about change management today. Heavily influenced by John Kotter, it is the classic senior leader driven change. If you have heard about ‘burning platforms’ and ‘guiding leadership coalitions’, you have experienced some of Kotter’s core beliefs. This change is really about convincing people through rationale argument that they need to change and having people’s leaders as the key voice for reinforcing the change.  Managed Change usually generates lots of activities to help people understand the change. It typically includes tasks such as creating a compelling future state vision of what the changed world will look like, as well as determining the change impacts that will result from implementing that vision. Managed change differs from installed change in that it spends more time considering and engaging with the people that will be impacted by the change and looking at all the actions necessary to support people through that change. Actions such as building leader’s capability to lead the change, aligning the desired behaviours for the change to employee’s KPI’s and updating the mechanisms by which this change will be embedded in the future (e.g. updates to policy, procedures and induction training) are the types of tasks you typically see in this approach.

Change Management is evolving 2

Integrated Change comes about when we truly ‘begin with the end in mind’ and change is initiated with the people that will actually own the change in the end. Therefore change is instigated through a much better understanding of what actually needs to change in the first place in order for things to improve. This has the benefit of creating stronger trust and relationships between the people impacted by the change and those who will sponsor the change. Integrated Change is often planned through open approaches such as the World Café, utilising a co-creation approach for designing and embedding the change. Integrated Change does for organisation change, what social media and activist funding has done for charity fundraising, it is about empowering people to be advocates for your cause, then providing them with the tools to bring others along on that journey.

Evolving Systemic Change actually relies on very stable systems and processes in order to make changes that are a usually a tightly scripted set of actions, with planned hypothesis on what those actions will do and tight measures as to the impact of those actions on the system that is undergoing change. This is the world of continuous improvement, Lean, Kaizen / 6 Sigma and Systems Thinking whereby change is constructed with the people that will own the change and some there are some very clear boundaries to observe the change effort. This can be very powerful and robust change, but ultimate success relies on a stable environment within which to execute planned changes.

Deciding on the sort of organisation change approach you want to take can depend on many factors, but most important is to ensure that the people involved in implementing the change are implementing a method both they and your key stakeholders have confidence in delivering on the expected change benefits.