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Midlands branch event, change management is changing

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Using one of TwentyEight Strategy Execution’s Top 10 trends for 2019 on ‘Enterprise-wide change management’ (ECM)[1], business change practitioner, trainer and author Nicola Busby presented a lively discussion to members of the Midlands Branch at the offices of ARUP in Solihull on 9 April 2019.

Nicola started by asking firstly, ‘what is organisational change?’ and secondly, has it increased? Noting that in 1920 the average lifecycle of a business was 67 years whereas in 2012 it was just 15, the question ‘is change becoming harder?’ prompted a comparison of complicated v complex change. The next question, ‘are success rates improving?’ produced examples of recent high-profile project failures, including ‘the Banking industry, cross-rail and Universal Credit’.

There are ‘spectacular successes’, however, in the form of Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. Like ‘Organisational Change’ itself, ‘Enterprise-wide Change Management’ can be described in many ways including ‘adapting to continuous change’ and ‘seeing change as Business-As-Usual’. Are these companies successful because they have the flexibility of Enterprise-wide Change Management or because of charismatic leaders?

For example, Amazon has a robust selection process where all new employees are sent to 'Amazon University'. Is this to ensure a good culture fit with the ECM approach, and to ensure employees are 'change ready and resilient'? Discussion moved to the challenge of finding out how successful companies work due to reluctance to reveal competitive advantage.

Delegates asked how does benefits recognition, measurement and realisation work with ECM? This prompted comments on how moving to ECM means a wider change of all related activities,

governance and reporting. The discussion proposed that this will be especially challenging in the public sector.

In terms of ‘Organisational Culture’ ECM’s culture of trust, devolved ‘adaptive’ leadership and collaboration was shown to be at odds with the more ‘traditional’ attitudes of mistrust, top-down leadership and silo-working. In light of this, are the traditional organisational change models, such as Lewin’s 3-phase model in 1951 (‘Unfreeze > Move > Refreeze’), still relevant today? There seems to be a discrepancy between the way complex organisational change needs to be approached, and the fact that managers and staff in many organisations appear to desire change to be managed, planned and controlled in ways that are much closer to the old Lewin model.

Since ECM also encourages experimentation and risk-taking, discussion turned to whether we should be reframing the idea of failure, even encouraging it as a good cultural aspect within ECM rather than seeing it as something that has gone wrong? Perhaps failure rates for projects should increase, providing we 'fail fast' and it is part of the ECM culture?

Nicola concluded by asking whether the ECM approach would be a good fit for the project profession (a discussion which continued throughout post-presentation refreshments)!

After the main presentation Donna Unitt, Chair of the Enabling Change SIG and Head of Delivery with over 20 years’ experience in change and transformation programmes and projects, introduced their mission to ‘improve the change capability of organisations, teams and individuals’, and the Introduction to the Managing Change Guide published by the APM. The SIG now has more than 700 members.

*[1] Strategy Execution (2019) Top 10 Trends for 2019. TwentyEighty Strategy Execution Inc. p5 
 “Enterprise-wide change management has taken on new relevance and importance…With the prevalence and frequency of change, we are seeing a decentralisation of change management officers, and a shift to spread this skill set across the business" 

Adrian Turner, Midlands Branch committee member


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