Purpose, Processes and People: Reflections on the Essence of Change Management

Change management has become today one of the major concerns for a large number of organizations.

There is an ever increasing need for change management among many companies. The loss of market share due to the entry of new and unexpected competitors, the shake up in the sector thanks to changes in consumer habits, or simply the obsolescence of products and services have stepped up the need to manage change in many companies.

As to be expected, the vast majority of these companies were not ready to embark upon a change process to their success.

Notional framework of reference

Many of these organizations drew from the magnificent body of theory held within management bestsellers, convinced that applying such models would bring the rains of change, whereby organizational waters would return to their source. Unfortunately, many organizations have also seen this was not quite true…

Many companies have relied on the practical application of John Kotter’s excellent model as described in his book “Leading Change” (1995) which identifies a process with 8 key steps for managing change, always useful to remember: 1. Establishing a sense of urgency; 2. Creating a guiding coalition; 3. Develop a vision and strategy; 4. Communicating the change vision; 5. Empowering employees for broad-based action; 6. Generating short-term wins; 7. Consolidating gains and producing more change; 8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture.

Other organizations have thought about—but not taken action on—change management using Wilfred Kruger’s theory and iceberg metaphor as a reference. Many companies wrongly focus on the visible part of the change management iceberg: shining the spotlight on cost, quality and time, undergoing change management that is really issue management. According to Kruger, the essence of change management is to address the barriers of what is not seen. Beneath the surface of the visible part there are two fundamental dimensions of change: an interpersonal behavioural one and another regulatory and cultural dimension. The key, according to Kruger is to “attack” change management in both dimensions—power and politics management and beliefs management—to thereby achieve steady results at the “surface” of the iceberg.

The three active principles of change: purpose, processes and people

The reference to both, models or theories, was necessary because these pave the way for this article entry. Hybridizing the essence of both approaches with over 15 years of accumulated professional experience in change management, I believe there are three key active principles essential for conducting a change management process for even nominal success: purpose, processes and people.

Beyond the number of stages or steps upon which any change process should be structured, and no matter the degree of intensity with which the hidden dimensions should be tackled for change to become meaningful at the visible surface, these three active principles are unavoidably essential.

Without purpose there’s no paradise…

Probably the trigger for the other two basic principles. The reason for change. Any company that aims to efficiently complete a change process must rigorously define the precise sense of the process. Without a clearly defined and sound purpose for change, it is unlikely that change management will be lasting. Many companies work on their culture, on the deeply rooted beliefs and scrupulously follow the theoretical stages. Working, strengthening, and of course, communicating the purpose/s of change goes far beyond establishing a sense of urgency and developing a vision and a strategy. The purpose must scrupulously define without any frills the need for change, simply because with no purpose there will be no paradise…

A change process is a change in processes…

The change process does not involve following a series of steps faithfully. Once the purpose has been defined, the second active principle entails the processes and more specifically the breakdown of these processes. All too often, organizations take on macro change management processes without analyzing in detail the impact such processes have on the business. Culture and beliefs are attacked, but the processes and the interaction flows for making things happen remain impassable. It is crucial and decisive to understand that regardless of any stage, beyond any phase, a change process is a change in processes… Thus influencing them, breaking them down, and questioning their validity in order for things to occur are an essential tenet for any attempt in change management.

People, who else?

“P” for protagonists, primordial, primary, principal, but above all, “P” for people. Nothing happens without them and their infinite capacity for action. If an organization does not wholeheartedly empower the people within to work on the purpose and to break down and work on processes, change just will not happen. Many organizations, and paradoxically, the people who work within, are the ones who in turn restrain the third active principle of change management. It’s curious how we ourselves working to fulfil the purpose, on the processes and even scientifically defining the phases of change, do not give ourselves or our environment the role that really corresponds to us in the change process. Too often, we appointed a chosen few as agents of change; at other times we hand over change management to that abstract entity called leadership, as if it were something impersonal, without realizing that it is within us, and in our ability to believe in ourselves and in others, where we find the third key principle and probably the most crucial one for any change process. Because if successful change does not depend on all the people who make up an organization, then on who? It is more than likely that the main ideas, frameworks and more effective models for change management issues have already been invented and developed. But it is also probable that a company aiming to undertake an effective and efficient change process must consider how far it is willing to work wholeheartedly, giving a free reign to the three basic and essential principles of change management: purpose, processes and people.

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