Finance Account Manager, Paul O’Flynn, provides with a humorous insight into the monster of Change Management.
Reading the first sentence of chapter 1, “In the Foreword to this text, we discussed the failure rate of change initiatives” Burnes (2017, p. 5), I found myself reminded of a time when, at my sister’s wedding, I asked the band singer to play the song “High and Dry” by Radiohead (a song which I was hooked on for a brief period at the tender age of ~12). His response? “There is no way I’ll play a song which starts with “two jumps in a week”, are you mad?”. While completely unrelated to Change Management, I find a similar thought crosses my mind for both cases and learned a valuable lesson that day at the wedding: why would I even want to engage in something so fundamentally negative? While I can just not listen to Radiohead ever again without repercussion (something I recommend to every, and any, body), I cannot do the same for business. We’re stuck with this monster and we better learn to love it. After all, what better way to kill your enemy than to make friends with it?
Reflecting on Change Management after seven or so weeks of study, I found myself in the same position as when I started this topic (stubborn and acting like an 80 year old man, giving out about those ‘pesky kids’, and reminiscent of ‘in my day’). I share some of the sentiments which Jay portrays in his blog post about Change Management and become somewhat frustrated with the topic due to what I consider a lack of predictability (not saying for that moment that Jay is 80 or likely to criticize kids). Coming from finance and having an academic background in IT, it gives me palpable anxiety when I am faced with dealing with something so apparently… illogical. I think maybe this is why there are so many models to help bridge such gaps (thanks, [deep breath] Lewin, McKinsey, Kotter, Nudge, ADKAR, Bridges, Kubler-Ross, and Satir).
That was until I sat down to write this blog post. During the brainstorming process I found myself reflecting on the fundamental frustration I have with the Change Management topic and why I also at the same time feel as though something intangibly valuable exists among the chaos of it all. Then it hit me; it’s chaos (or more specifically, Chaos Theory) where my answer lies. Casting back to learnings from our adjacent module in Supply Chain Management I remember reading the paper, “From successful to sustainable Lean production – the case of a Lean Prize Award Winner” by Poksinska & Swartling (2018) who refer to the idea that sustainable change requires a constant balancing act between the two states of chaos and total order so as to continuously improve the business. From this, my mind begins to understand that my professionally inherited need for control (finance is all about controlling and predictability) is creating a dilemma.
My professional experience with change up to now has been, for the most part, somewhat localized, rooted in Lean, Business Process Management, and operational level improvements which often times follow a set process or procedure and an idea of the expected outcome is already known beforehand (predictability). Scoping the problem and identifying the area of focus is relatively easy and ambiguity is limited to an acceptable human level because we are already largely familiar with the problem i.e. the unknown is limited to, say, a single parameter (which we are trying to change).
Honing in, I believe that part of the reason for my frustration comes from the ambiguity factor where, instead of trying to solve for one parameter, it is extended to be many, especially when we begin to look at big, organisational changes that impact things such as culture (mind. blown.). At this level of ambiguity, we see many moving parts which are difficult to predict due to their inherently interrelated nature. These relationships create the complexity in the system which is where the abilities of the mind begin to fail at first glance. No wonder I’m uncomfortable with the topic when it is naturally meant to be complex and rooted in chaos.
True chaotic systems aren’t meant to be understood at the granular level but instead at the systematic/holistic, level where the connections between the parts are creating the value, not the individual parts themselves (I’m referring of course to the overused word, synergy… shudders). My new way to think about change, Change Management, and big, big problems, is to accept that it is a complex system where each node is acting in line with its own rules but at the same time, having great levels of influence over many other nodes. Add in time and perpetuity and now I begin to understand why the first sentence in the text is written as such.
Therefore, after spending time to get to know my monster and figuring out some of its holistic nuances, I find myself coming around to its quirky ways and appreciating why Brown and Eisenhardt (1997) consider it an ‘art’. Much like my teenage nephew, I know it is a complex entity, I know I cannot fully understand it, and I know it is going through some “serious sh!t”. But I know it is going in the right direction and I’m fine with the guardrails I’ve put in place. On y va!
Brown, S. L., & Eisenhardt, K. M. (1997). The Art of Continuous Change: Linking Complexity Theory and Time-paced Evolution in Relentlessly Shifting Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42(1), 1–34. Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy.ub.unimaas.nl/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=9706191514&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Burnes, B. (2017). Managing Change, 7th Edition. London: Pearson.
Poksinska, B., & Swartling, D. (2018). From successful to sustainable Lean production – the case of a Lean Prize Award Winner. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 29(9/10), 996–1011. Retrieved from http://10.0.4.56/14783363.2018.1486539
Slack, N., Brandon-Jones, A., & Johnston, R. (2016). Operations Management (book). Operations Management. https://doi.org/9780132342711