For several months now I have been considering writing a paper on this topic but feel that a lively debate may be more engaging, especially following on from Robin Lawrence’s (Leadership Trust) excellent presentation at the BBC recently.

I have been working in “Change Management” for over 25 years and have seen the debate and emphasis change considerably in this period: from attempts to obtain adoption and return on investment from technology driven business transformation (eg Hammer et al, 1982); through to holistic culture change programmes to ensure people are ready, willing and able to respond to changes in an organisation’s environment. As Robin pointed out a lot of different change management “methodologies” have been developed and promulgated, initially within organisations to ensure consistency within an organisation, but subsequently presented by (mainly consulting firms and academic institutions) as THE answer to leadership of change in any organisation.

Over the period I have witnessed the ‘discipline’ follow a perfectly natural growth curve though a number of phases:
1) early exploration by curious and committed individuals of what might work, based on personal learning – a phase typified by experimentation, informal communication and emotional swings;
2) early up-scaling of staffing and resources to stabilise processes to ensure consistency in delivery;
3) a blossoming with momentum building and the start of formalisation of processes and communications;
4) fruition and growth with ‘proven’ processes and procedures and a growing cadre of staffing and resourcing;
5) an Indian summer with installed routines that are ‘reliable and predictable’ and structures that govern the discipline (one of the unconscious driving thoughts behind organisations like CMI);
6) … the “Death of Change Management” as a discipline killed by it’s own success.

This growth curve can be viewed from the point of view of cybernetics as a flow from feed-forward steering to feed-back control; a non-linear process, becoming more and more linear until the process is destroyed by its own overload of control. In parallel I have seen the mix of people in the change management ‘discipline’ move from predominantly exploratory (feed-forward bias) to (paradoxically) predominantly stability orientated (feed-back bias) reliant on ‘proven’ processes and associated use of language (some might describe as psycho-babble). Associated with this shift has been a shift from (life-giving) human values to (life draining) processes as the basis for decision making and leadership.

This shift, taken to its logical conclusion will not be good for organisations facing change as blind adherence to process that ignores the exploration of real human needs will undermine the values of caring explorers and navigators of the change condition.

The basis of the title of this discussion is that unless we take this observation point and open a debate that goes back to our roots in the context of today’s and plausible future business, social and ethical challenges then the discipline will wither and die, stuck in dogma and academic debate about the number of angels on a pin head …

I invite a spirited response to the above …

Discussion originally posted on Linked-In