What’s changed about change?

3 min read

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It will sound familiar to anyone who has worked in an organization of a certain size. A new transformation programme is announced. It is given an inspiring name, which is printed on pens and mouse mats. A team of consultants (maybe you have been one of them) sets up a “war room”. There are town hall meetings in which top management enumerate the many benefits of the change. Lengthy PowerPoint decks set out “what’s in it for you”. Everyone goes through a training programme. And after a couple of years or so… things change?

Statistics differ on how many change programmes fail. The axiomatic “70%” statistic has been questioned recently, but percentages from 40 to 70% are still cited regularly by reputable sources.

Whatever the real numbers are, there’s a very good case to be made for retiring the “old rules” of change management. For a start, as behavioural science and neuroscience have advanced, we know much more about how people make decisions, learn and interact than we did 20 or 30 years ago, when the standard change management processes in use today were developed. The rich insights from Daniel Kahneman around decision making and cognitive biases, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s nudge theory, and discoveries from Robert Cialdini and Tali Sharot around influence, are among the advances in scientific thinking that can help us better understand behavioural change. (Spoiler alert: it turns out that the 50-page PowerPoint document is unlikely to have much impact).

On the other hand, over 100 years after Frederick Taylor first set out his – still widely accepted – view of the organisation as a machine in Scientific Management, alternative views based on systems and network theory are finally gaining currency. These alternative theories are starting to replace, or at least supplement, the view of the organization as a structure based on lines-and-boxes with clear and sequential inputs and outputs, with something rather messier. These theories accept that an organization looks less like its org chart and more like a set of dots joined upwards, downwards, sideways, diagonally, straight, in curves, with thick, thin and dotted lines, as information and influence spreads through multiple strong and weak links. This is critical for change management since it suggests that the traditional “cascade” of communication down the hierarchy is likely to be far less effective than the so-called “viral” approach that prioritises the informal organization.

Furthermore, the idea of a two-year long transformation programme followed by a return to “business as usual” seems completely anachronistic in a world that, even before the unprecedented events of 2020, had started to see change itself as business as usual. While not all change programmes are equal, and some have much broader and deeper scopes than others, Kurt Lewin’s famous model of unfreezing, changing and refreezing the organization seems almost laughable today. What self-respecting business is seriously considering freezing itself?

And that leads nicely to the final point. If organizations today need to constantly adapt to, and even pre-empt, developments in their environment, change management can no longer be the preserve of change management specialists, consultants or HR. Managing change is now a part of every manager’s day job, and organizations need skills, systems and processes that allow individuals, teams and the organization itself not just to respond to and thrive in change, but to become active change makers. Managers need to be as savvy about anticipating and mobilising behavioural change as they do about budgets or balanced scorecards. And that, perhaps, is the biggest change of all.

To meet this challenge, the Openside Group is launching a series of webinars which aim to equip managers to understand their role as change agents and ensure that they have the skills to both initiate and manage change. The webinars are guided by recent investigation and theories from behavioural science that help us better understand how people change, make decisions and interact. These findings provide new and effective approaches to generating change. The course is practical as participants develop interventions which they can apply immediately in their own organisational contexts.

At the end of the webinars, participants will:

  • Be clear of their own responsibility and role in leading and boosting change in their teams and organizations,
  • Understand some of the implications of behavioural science for change management
  • Be equipped to take action to:
    • Tap into change opportunities
    • Identify what behaviours need to change
    • Plan and put in place measures that will help that behaviour change to happen
  • Have a basic change “toolkit”

If you would like to know more, please contact us to start the conversation.


For more information please contact us: contact@openside.group

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