change management, law of identity, usual suspects, Toby Elwin, blog

Change management and the law of identity

change management, law of identity, Toby Elwin

“OK, straight faces, that is not what I meant … “

Identity shapes how people describe their world. The range of options that someone can identify and define their view presents little issue, until collaboration. Unfortunately, most of what we do involves collaboration and different identity brings, distinctly, different expectation.

The Law of Identity, symbolically represented as A is A, means A is A and is not approximately or roughly A; represented as ~A.  Something is either different or the same, not, approximately, the same.

What is change management?

Well, that depends on who you ask – that is, if you ask, and this blog advocates you do, indeed, ask.

In our world of people, process, and technology, a single item can mean multiple things. Within change management a shared view of who and what, exactly, to change is a critical success factor around how change succeeds or fails.

What is change management?

Without a level-set of a shared term, expect the human resources department, the information technology department, and the project management department to identify change management through their identity.  Change management means different things to different groups and different things between people within the same group.

An entity can only be fully identical with itself. Any difference gives rise to a separate identity. Thus identity is whatever makes an entity definable and recognizable, in terms of possessing a set of qualities or characteristics that distinguish it from other entities.  Identity

How could one term have multiple views? Perspective. People associate words and images to their perspective.

Are any of these perspectives invalid? Mixing expectation presents a hazard of multiple, mixed expectations, so … perhaps.

What if I say, Asia? One might imagine China, another Japan, another Korea, another Taiwan, another, the continent, another still, the incredibly tepid, mid-80s, rock band.

If you began a discussion without identifying the Asia you mean then each time Asia is used mixed messages filter best intentions.

Even a view of the same item does not create a single view. Different people identify their meaning to what they see, feel, or hear.  Start a project, any project, not just change management, with a level-set of terminology.  Within project management planning stage a Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary sets direction for the team.

A is A, not B

This is most certainly not, “it is what it is”.  As that leaves room for interpretation.  The more relevant comment:  “it is what you make it”.

No matter the effort, do not assume a shared view.

At any collaboration, level-set terms and no matter the diversity of industry or profession or organization or eduction or background or agenda individuals may view something, set the conversation straight.

Whether facilitation or team planning, set the meaning.  Start with the terms in use and the way to identify and define the term.  Glass half full or glass half empty presents a small sample of variable views to the same object.

Mixed messages are distinctly not what we need more of within change management or collaborate of any effort.  Set the foundation for discussion with clear use of terms.

Without clear identification, too many assumptions arise.

This is also why buyer or community persona efforts present great value to focus on target’s motivation not designer motivation.

Philosophy can untangle confusion. Of course, some might think this too academic, but confusion is illogical.

Try to start at A and make sure A is A, before moving on to B.

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Comments 14

  1. hi Toby

    I think you are raising a useful question… not lost in many previous conversations, nevertheless a constant source of confusion, as you suggest. Is there a final solution (that is if we can define and agree on what “final solution” means!)? As human beings, probably not. We will need to define A is A every time a new variable is added to the situation or the equation. Sounds tedious.

    And yet, what is of greatest value in change management is that different entities will have different interpretations and understandings of A: their own A is A. The synergies possible, the compromises found, the collaborated negotiation of A is A is what successful change management is all about in my estimation. Without these change management becomes a dictation, an order, a demand, a command. We know that approach to change is dieing.

    But to get out of that old syndrome we have to be willing to say that my “A is A” is different from your “A is A” and that’s okay. As a result we will either find a mutually satisfactory conclusion or we will each find our BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement), or abandon the effort.

    1. Post

      As you point out, and being both critical and true, the best change management relies on collaboration. The trouble: many I know would not include collaboration in their change effort rather feeling change is an edict, a set process, or dictated from some lofty perch; as you point above. My mind is seared with cross-functional teams and varying interpretations of how they use, if they use, or even the care to use change management.

      While change management takes people on varying journeys towards an end goal my intention of this post was getting people to the starting gate with a distinct definition of what will be change management for that effort. Without a foundation, nothing of strength will last. Assumptions are the bane of collaboration, similar to how teams assign clear roles and responsibilities: so work is not assumed by another and remains undone, but clearly identified for one another’s confidence. I believe both you and I would agree an even stronger strategy include the team defining change management together.

      You have excellent experience in facilitation and training, starting a class with terms and definitions of use is often the level-set of how the class, course, facilitation, or certification can assure proper link to message. Many times we, as facilitators, trainers, educators, and change agents ask people to not compare a term to what or how they may have done it or currently do it. We reset their term for without doing this would confuse and we need the team to work within the scope of what we present and will work on.

      A is A, because your version of A can not be the same as my version of A until we level set what A is and A is not to for me to then realize if we are even talking about a or A or Ā.

      I truly appreciate that you took time to stop and add your contribution.

    1. Post

      This weekend attended certified ScrumMaster training. A common question, “in Scrum, who is the project manager?” The continued answer, “in Scrum there is no project manager.”

      Risk register? Same answer. Lessons learned? Same answer. And on.

      Many folk’s brains could not turn off Project Management Institute, Project Management Professional role of project manager and turn their brain on to the Scrum Alliance Agile/Scrum role of Scrum master. That just as the latest example.

      Can you manage a project using waterfall? Can you manage a project using Agile/Scrum? Yes, but a project manager by either name would reek less sweet. Neither equates to the other, though the project retains the name.

      Think of the certifications you have and how the reset starts and the objective of the professional association that presents their case: “I don’t care what you had learned, if you want to get our certification and we get assurance you know our method, forget what you learned before.”

      As you have seen in any profile of mine, I often announce the A is A within. I run into the issue often including some in the above reply to Charley. I adopted a level-set strategy to try to maintain sanity.

      Ever get down the track farther than you wish before realization that people are using their version of terms? I would value your thoughts on how to kick off projects.

      Thank you for the comment.

  2. Hi Toby,

    I think this is a great article because it points out one of the simplest reasons as to why projects or initiatives fail in enterprises… Lack of adequate expectation setting. If you can’t get common language and understanding, at the beginning of the effort, how can you expect to set and manage expectations throughout the effort?

    Examples of where there are always conflicting or varying definitions include things like:

    Change Management: (Business CM? Operational CM? Software CM? Infrastructure CM?)

    Release Management: (Developers see RM to be very different than support staff see RM)

    Development: (Can mean many things to many people, especially when you compare what developers are responsible for in small enterprises vs larger enterprises, where those in smaller enterprises do and are accountable for far more)

    I hope this helps.

    Frank Guerino
    The International Foundation for Information Technology | IF4IT

    1. Post

      People adopt frameworks to make sense of the universe where they work (and live). Frameworks are shortcuts, a frame of reference for someone to associate a prior experience to. Frameworks can share a name, but what always remains unique is each person’s instance and application. Herein lies so much of the variance for my version of release management or development or architecture.

      Taking short cuts through the hedge can land people on a unique path lost to others. I believe you and I can both think of organizations that implement their own version Scrum framework – the name barely retains the intent.

      The more I engage in dialogue, the more I realize how frequently perspectives diverge to your above points of failure.

      Setting expectations is important for effective arguments. In training and learning, something both your organization and I share, the level set is a paramount quality to effective learning.

      I have a question, in your Architecture certification program, how have you come to level set expectation?

      Thank you for the comments and insight you consistently provide.

  3. Every theory needs to be established on its own specific set of axioms. Axioms, as opposed to arguments, are not open to discussion and contest. It is the same process with defining that “A is A”. Therefore, once axioms are accepted within the specific theoretical framework, arguments can arise on various topics and issues. Discussion on all of those consequent arguments will be based on the rational foundation established by the axioms.

    1. Post

      Confession 1: I had to read this 2 or 3 times to get my head around your comment.

      Confession 2: I looked up axiom to make sure I understood how you presented the term within your highly-welcomed comment.

      axiom |ˈaksēəm| noun
      a statement or proposition that is regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true: the axiom that supply equals demand.

      Not sure if there is a field of practice you use the term axiom within, but I read within your comment within a series of steps that may guide a discussion: 1) theoretical framework 2) arguments and issues 3) foundation 4) axiom 5) identity

      That process may capture Charley’s invitation and art of dialogue in his above comment?

      Have I captured anything remotely similar to your point?

      1. Hi Toby,

        The term “axiom” (a universally accepted statement that is either proved or unproved, and serves as the foundation of a specific theoretical framework) is used in maths, as well as the term “identity” (the statement that A=A).

        In this case A=A is by definition an identity that also serves as an axiom, upon which subsequent teaching and training will be based.

        If the trainer wishes to establish his or her teaching and training on a different identity, for example A=B or A=Ā, this new identity will become the new axiom for whatever discussion (arguments) may arise or follow.

        Axioms are not open to discussion or negotiation, by definition, and may not necessarily “agree” with each other.

        1. Post

          The introduction of the term axiom is welcomed. However, I get on ice cream headache with the finer, critical, points to understand the value of adding axiom to my tool kit: “a universally accepted statement … ”

          In my above post of the definition the key is “established, accepted, or self-evident”. When I rationalize this to your point I am left with a gap that brings me to the point of the blog: people do not use the same term the same way and there has to be a reset for the team on how a term or will work for on-going consensus otherwise people will continue to assign their own frame of reference.

          How do you bridge this?

  4. Hi Toby,

    What a terrific way to make a very important point! Establishing that everyone has a shared understanding of a proposed change is indeed a key to a successful outcome. If done right, it also raises awareness of and tolerance towards alternate viewpoints.

    Loved the “Asia” example – “incredibly tepid mid 80s rock band” :-)



    1. Post

      It is very tough, in general discussion or meetings, to tactfully get a group to come to a shared version. There is a lot at stake for people to let go of on frame for a new frame.

      At a speaking engagement, facilitating, or training a bit easier, as people are in a different role just by being there.

      Your point is on “if done right”. Well worth the effort, but I tread lightly.

      Also, I am sorry you know of Asia, but happy you recognize, or at least share, the joke.

      I appreciate your effort to share your comment.

  5. Hi Toby,

    An enjoyable article. For us change management is figuring out the various skill sets of employees and bringing the best together for a particular project or where environments change.

    1. Post

      Change management tied to employee skill presents an interesting challenge.

      Change management success, as measured by adoption and utility, works wonders when change taps into motivation, as all employees may not like the change, the change challenge is constant to identify the message and mantra.

      Each employee has knowledge, ability, and skills; however, without motivation they provide their knowledge, ability, and skills only when they feel like it, not, necessarily when you expect or need it.

      I have worked with sketchy executives who would identify their best employees as employees they are sure kowtow to executive fiat and act as less-than-honest brokers for change.

      I am interested in your thoughts to overcome challenges to bring the best together to increases change success. As well as how the best are prepped.

      Many thanks for your comment and for introducing me to your HR Team services site.

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