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Is the Term Change Management Still Relevant?

horse for courses - change managementJust as a “starter for 10,” when you type in “Change Management” as a search string into Google, you get in excess of 2 million hits.

I have published many of my previous articles, because the issues I have tackled all seem to be the subject of continuing debates on LinkedIn and this one is no different. In my article called Project Management vs Change Management, I said Change and Change Management are widely recognised terms, but unfortunately misunderstood ones… therein is probably the subject of another article.

So, here is that article.

First of all let’s go with a few definitions (as usual) but I am not going to quote some of the better known sources; e.g. Prosci rather I have chosen some lesser known sources at random:

  • From a “Happy Manager” article — Adopting processes for managing change that are appropriate to the nature, characteristics and context of the change being managed, that take people with you and are focused on achieving successful outcomes.
  • From a “Tech Target” article — Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with change, both from the perspective of an organization and on the individual level.
  • From a “Mind Tools” article — Change management is a structured approach for ensuring that changes are thoroughly and smoothly implemented, and that the lasting benefits of change are achieved.
  • And finally from “Practical Management Skills” they offer a definition of both “Change” and “Change Management”
    • Change … the process of moving from the current state to a vision of the future.
    • Change Management … managing this transition from the old position to the new.

It seems that although they all define the term differently, they all have essentially the same/similar message:

  • Moving from Old to New.
  • Achievement of Success and Benefits.
  • People and Individuals.
  • Structured and Systematic.

Expanding on the last bullet, the Change Management “NO” fraternity will argue that–yes, you guessed it–change cannot be managed! Well, I kind of agree and disagree. Why? Because:

NOTE: It is arguable that these should form part of a Change Management Risk plan!

So for me, there are two sides of Change Management… the hard side and the soft side. Whether these can be managed by a single individual is the key issue. I have made my view on this subject abundantly clear in the PM vs CM post I referred to earlier.

But let’s move on to the wider debate of what can we replace the term with!

There are those that argue their case for Change Leadership… 900,000 + hits on Google by the way.

Forbes published an article by John Kotter in 2011 called Change Management vs. Change Leadership — What’s the Difference? in which he distinguishes between the two:

  • Change Management is a set of processes and a set of tools and a set of mechanisms that are designed to make sure that when you do try to make some changes, A, it doesn’t get out of control, and B, the number of problems associated with it—you know, rebellion among the ranks, bleeding of cash that you can’t afford–doesn’t happen. So it is a way of making a big change and keeping it, in a sense, under control.
  • Change Leadership associated with putting an engine on the whole change process, and making it go faster, smarter, more efficiently. It’s more associated, therefore, with large scale changes.

Interesting that he differentiates between the two yet I think he is also saying that the two go hand-in-hand … that’s my take anyhow.

Then there are those that would go with Transformation Management (note the use of the word management). Just let’s complicate matters for a short while by referring you to the following article in The Change Leader’s Network in which they talk about:

  • Developmental Change.
  • Transitional Change.
  • Transformational Change.

Started to get a headache yet? Yes? Good!

And just to make matters worse let’s talk about Transition Management which the Business Dictionary explains as the “Systematic planning, implementing, and monitoring change in an organization.”

Wait a minute have we now turned full circle because we are talking about change again!

Sometimes I associate things with music and all of a sudden I have started singing the Beatles song “Help” in my head … note the use of the word “changed” in the lyrics! Sorry a slight digression… let’s continue.

So we have Leadership, Change, Transformation and Transition. It is interesting when you run these words through the “MS Word” Thesaurus:

  • Leadership – management, control, guidance, headship, direction, governance.
  • Change – alteration, modification, variation, transformation, revolution, conversion, adjustment, amendment, difference.
  • Transformation – alteration, change, conversion, revolution, renovation, makeover.
  • Transition – change, changeover, evolution, conversion, shift, move, switch, alteration, modification.

What this tells me is that Change, Transformation and Transition really all mean the same thing but Leadership is a bit different although you will note the words management, control and direction.

Finally …

I think I may have used this phrase before … “horses for courses”. That to me sums up this whole debate. If you, or an organisation, feel comfortable with the words Change Management then what the hell, carry on using it. Equally so for the words Leadership, Transformation and Transition!

Me, I am a Change Manager, always have been and always will be but I can be a leader and I can also get involved in transformation and transition work.

In reference to the term Change Management, another Beatles song has just come into my mind … “Let It Be.”

About Ron Leeman

Ron Leeman has been involved in “change and process” work for more years than he cares to remember. He has worked extensively across the UK, Europe, and globally--and has an enviable track-record of delivering organisational change and process initiatives across a wide cross section of industry sectors. In 2012, Ron was bestowed with a “Change Leader of Tomorrow” award by the World HRD Congress “in recognition of my remarkable progress in initiating changes enough for others in the same industry to follow my example”. Ron is firm believer in knowledge transfer and now wants to share his vast knowledge with those who are considering getting into or at various stages of “change” and/or “process” work or those working on specific Projects wanting to gain practical insights into “how to” type situations. You can connect with Ron Leeman on LinkedIn here, where you can view his 85+ Recommendations and in excess of 800 Endorsements from clients and co-workers alike to give you an indication of the quality of service that he has provided and can offer. Ron is also a document author on Flevy. Browse his frameworks on Change Management, Process Analysis, and Program Management here: http://flevy.com/seller/highwayofchange.

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  • haykantonyan

    Great post, many things the way I have come to understand. And new insights as well. Many thanks.

  • Robert Yeldell

    Great post; the content and context. In working with my clients on Change, I make the distinction, early in the disccusion, that “change” is reversible while “Transformational change” is irreversible. The depth of leadership and personnel commitment, therefore, must be deeper when undertaking a Transformational Change effort. Change management is just that, managing the change process, be it”change” or “Transformational change”.

    keep the great work… keep us thinking.

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