Commissioner Gordon, Batman, Robin, change management, Toby Elwin, blog

Change management is dead — the rumor

Toby Elwin Blog, Organization Behavior 8 Comments

change management, organization development, toby elwin, Maytag repairman, Maytag ol lonely, information technology, IT

What? You’ve got change management covered? Ok. If you need me, I am available. Do call. Won’t you? I can help …

OK, Information Technology, you win.  You can have it.  You’ve ruined it beyond recognition anyway.  Only left me a shell of a concept that, at one point, had so much to offer an organization.  The ‘it’ I longingly refer to:  change management and today change management is dead because the I and the T of information technology has killed it.

The change management that Information Technology (IT) advances is a limp version of the high school, sports, star Organization Development (OD) was and on a playing field where once we excelled.  Change management was OD’s domain of excellence.

The concept, simple:  how to intentionally manage change to meet objectives.  That was our business value. That was OD’s time to shine.


Now change management is a footnote, an add-on, a Frankenstein stitch to a hardware, software, and IT service roll outs.

Worse, led by people who neither care to help their effort relate to people goals in the business, nor care to know that behavior change, not product change, is change management.

IT you have bastardized this concept.  Worse.  If IT has anything to do with change they’ve taken change management and turned it into … a process.

Change Management, You’ve Changed

So much business value to provide.  All that promise, wiped out by IT’s callous treatment of OD’s final, toe-hold to business.  You, me, and the other lonely OD practitioners are now the modern-day equivalent of the lonely, Maytag repairman.

At one time, not-so-long-ago, me and my OD brethren held brief audience with business leaders.  We made our pitch for why people mattered and in those 6 to 7 seconds we did have opportunity for end-user adoption and utility and business case benefit/cost analysis.

No longer.  You!  IT!   You have slithered behind our backs to convince board rooms, and the C-level, and the VPs of business, and the operational directors that because you wield huge capital expenditure, you can manage the people side.  After all, being responsible for so much funding, no fool would give you that much without confidence you would deliver as you said.

Somewhere you have convinced CFOs, COOs, CEOs, and investors that people adopt and love the hardware or software or policy for one of 3 reasons:

  1. You have made sure they have no choice, or better yet,
  2. You designed it you know what is best for them, or
  3. Isn’t it enough you told them

Winds of Change (Management)

Oh I hear on the wind that IT teams account for change management, but never do see a change management plan.  Change management is not a plan or a process, but a promise.

I hear business directors make mention of the importance for change management for the project to succeed and announce they’ve assigned someone to take care of change through a timely email announcement at the proper time.  A top-down announcement is not change management.

But in reality, I am here to tell you change management dead and it is your fault.

Let’s look at this from a rational, not emotional, view.  Let me take this to the people’s court of Google.  I type “change management” into Google:

  • 1st Google result:  Change management is a structured approach to shifting/transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state.
  • 2nd Google result:  Change management is an IT service management discipline. The objective of change management in this context is to ensure that standardized methods and procedures are used for efficient and prompt handling of all changes to control IT infrastructure, in order to minimize the number and impact of any related incidents upon service.

The concept, the theory, the principles, the process, the goal, the objectives.  The whole lot.  Ruined.  I now leave meetings with nothing to do.  I am told IT has change management covered.  I feel like I have entered an alternative universe.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

Organization development is change management and now we might get a trinket of a communication strategy, somewhere near the end of the project, that the IT department will have final edit and approval for anyway.

The Change Management Call

The scenario plays out, again and again.

change management, death call, toby elwin, batman, batphone, commissioner gordon

The call for change management. ” … it’s the Batphone! Sorry, we think Superman will handle this from now on.”

Phone rings:

“Change management?  Nope, we’ve got that covered in the project management plan, it is called … now, let me see, what is it called, oh, yea, here it is, we definitely have it covered, it is called change control.

“You said change management, you see, we are a step ahead.  We are monitoring and controlling change.

“We control change, you see, we don’t just manage change.  We won’t let change stop us.

“So, you see, we got change covered.”  [Phone hangs up.]

Phone rings:

“Change management?  We’ve got that covered in the IT department.  Nope, don’t need your help, thank you.

“What’s that you say:  impact assessment? stakeholder analysis? training? end-user testing? persona models? communications? change readiness? survey?  Can we do those if it won’t affect when we go-live?

“No, you say, they may affect the date?

“Well, perhaps, we try just one of those whatever-you-call-them?

“We have a date to get this done.  We can not take time for delays to deal with any soft stuff, this is business.”  [Phone hangs up.]

Phone rings:

“Change management?  Yep, the project management office has it covered.”  [Phone hangs up.]

You, yes you, IT.  You alone have destroyed OD’s final engagement with business on stuff that matters:  end-user adoption and utility.

The only books on my office bookshelf people recognize have the word Change and Management somewhere in the title and some books have the words Change Management together.

Now, stuff on the shelf about engagement, collaboration, learning, Emotional Intelligence, organization behavior, no one stops to talk anymore.  They just walk direct to IT.

Change Management:  Not Dead, Just Sleeping

10 years ago I could look across the table and say, “sorry, I know how to do change management, but I really have no idea what you just described as change management.”

Now?  Now everyone does change management:

  • Project managers – check,
  • Business analysts – check,
  • IT managers – check,
  • Human resources – check,
  • IT architects – check,
  • Software designers – check,
  • Customer service – check,
  • Catering staff – check,
  • Systems architects – check,
  • Accountants – check,
  • Building security – check,
  • IT engineers – check,
  • Anyone… [well, not anyone, I would say 2 of the above qualify as slight exaggerations]

If everyone has a handle on change management, there go all our psychology-type degrees, right into the rubbish bin.

Change management to a project manager?  Nope, not the same:  change control is not in OD vernacular.

Change management to an IT person?  Nope, not the same:  facilitate agreement of change assumes change is linear.

Change management to an HR person?  Closer, but nope, not the same:  a change communications plan is not date driven.

Change management to an OD person?  Doesn’t matter anymore.  Now?  I meet IT.  I look around the table and say, “what do you have in mind for change management?”  I bite my tongue as they show their change management process.  I take notes.  Listen to their time line, then, any number I write, I know, is divided by behavior.

Hey, unless I want to go into OD academic research, I still need to work.

If IT focus is on contribution to productivity, change management has life.

If IT focus is on value creation, instead of problem avoidance, change management has life.

OK, OD here’s my change proposal:  IT has already ruined systems theory, let them have it; IT has advanced their version of change management so well it is the accepted version, let them have it.  Good riddance to change management.

From here out, OD, they say change management, I say end-user adoption.  IT can have the change process, I will care for the change promise.  End-user adoption puts OD back at the table, it is our job to make certain we stay there.


Next:  Change management is dead – the vital signs

Subscribe to Email Posts
I believe in your privacy and will never sell or spam your email.

Share this Post