The Future of Change Management

At the Organizational Change Network on LinkedIn, Ron Leeman posted an article on the continuing argument about traditional Change Management being “old skool” and that it needs a re-think, an overhaul, some fresh ideas etc. He researched CM methods currently being offered by a handful of leading consulting organizations. His conclusion was apart from how new digital tools can help with some aspects of Change Management, he didn’t think there is a lot of new thinking out there. Rather it looked like just a regurgitation and/or re-naming of previous approaches.
I replied what if there was an emerging change practice that wasn’t a regurgitation but quite different as per the following:
  • What if a change practice emerged that treated all organizations as complex adaptive systems? It would mean escaping the dominant human-imposed Engineering paradigm (faster, better, cheaper)  and setting aside age-old tools such as reductionism, benchmarking, future state visioning, cause & effect analysis, linear road mapping, surveys, and yes, even metrics to a certain degree.
  • The change practice would be built on an Ecological paradigm applying ideas and words such as Anthro-complexity, Cynefin, Liminality, Morphogenesis, enabling constraints, managing the evolutionary potential of the Present.
  • The change practice would be informed by Natural science – what we have learned from observing Nature in action: Messy coherence, Homeostasis, Natural Resilience, Mutating containers, Exaptation, Biomimicry.
  • The change practice would leverage real world Complexity phenomena: Emergence, Diversity, Viral Butterfly Effect, Non-linear Tipping Point, Self-organization, Stigmergy, Pareto Power Law Risk (fat tail).
  • The change practice would recognize people are Homo Narrans: Dialogic sense-making, Distributed ethnography, narrative fragments, Thick Data, Disintermediation.
  • The change practice would understand the concept of Homo Faber – use of tools to shape a complex environment: Distributed cognition, Chaordic teaming, Safe-to-fail experiments, Weak signal detection, Obliquity, Asymmetric co-evolution, Scaffolding, Nudging, Fractal management.
  • The change practice would recognize humans like to play creative games (Homo Luden): Pattern recognition, Strange attractors, Non-hypothesis abduction, Wicked problems, Serendipity.
  • The change practice would be pragmatic: Conceptual blending, Adjacent Possible, Satisficing, Heuristics, Phronesis, Praxis.
As many of you know, what I outlined was the complexity-based approach to implement change during unpredictable, constantly changing times.
As Dave Snowden explained, you can view the real world in terms of 3 basic systems: Order, Complex, Chaotic. The 20th century was dominated by Order system thinking. Many change practices are  designed for a work environment that is stable, consistent, and where cause & effect relationships exist. The future is deemed predictable and possibly extends from past history. The popular image of jigsaw puzzle parts being put together is apropos. If a change project fits in this environment, one can confidently carry on using a linear step-by-step command and control mindset.
In a complex system the puzzle parts are constantly moving or even missing. Furthermore, a complex adaptive system will see humans adapting by evolving relationships and adjusting emotional interactions. If your change project faces uncertainty, unpredictability, ambiguity, think twice about using Order system CM tools. They really aren’t built for uncontrollable turbulence and volatility.
In 2000, Stephen Hawking stated the new century is the Age of Complexity. It’s getting close to two decades. The time is ripe, perhaps overdue, to update the Future of Change Management.