Change is not a project that can be managed (revised Dec 18)

In recent posts, I have elaborated on some of the differentiators between Organization Development and Change Management in coping with the implementation of  complex organizational change. This post will illustrate provide a short case illustrating the differences.

Change Management approach is mechanistic. CM believes that change has a beginning and end, and the transition between the two is “manageable”. Change management focuses on delivering predefined changes to managers more than happy to in-source their woes. CM provides well documented and rational road maps on how change management delivers. CM uses a wide of tools, many of them mechanistic to the extreme.

OD views “changing” as ongoing and constant state, not a project with a beginning and end which can be managed like a software release. OD has a dynamic approach to the way events unfold in an organization. OD address underlying dynamics which impact the ability of organizations to adapt, such as power struggles, poor teamwork, lack of engagement, detached leadership and pissing contests. Professional OD consultants are suspicious about constant change programs and futile reorganizations.

The basic approach of OD is that “change” is likely to be subverted unless the underlying dynamics are dealt with. CM often blames underlying dynamics for screwing up their well drawn up plans.

OD focus is on achieving ongoing systemic flexibility and agility, not a one time hit and run change.

Let’s look at this real case which shows the difference.


MBK, a small Israeli  firm with a cutting edge technology, buys an American competitor with an older and out-dated version of the MBK’s technology in order to gain access to their former US competitor’s install base. The CEO wants to realize these synergies quickly via rapid integration, so he calls in both an OD consultant and Change Manager to get their cut on how this can be achieved as fast as possible.

The CEO wants the propagate the vision of “our wow new technology to our new US  install base-all leveraged and done in 6 months”.

OD’s Plan:

A realistic (aka pessimistic) OD consultant confronted the CEO that the transformation cannot be done that quickly; he suggests a 3 year year period adjustment time is more of less what is to be expected. The OD consultant claims that a vision of  “our new  technology to our new install base” means nothing very practical to the leadership and troops of both organizations. Each and every individual is worried about “what happens to me” and that is the issue which needs to be addressed, claimed the OD consultant.

The OD consultant wanted to start the integration by developing the framework of a flexible planning platform with a very small group of key people from both the US and Israeli organizations . This group is to be tasked with making (and re-make) plans and managing the integration activities which go on. The “plan will probably changes tens of times”, as it  takes into account the  goals of the acquisition, factoring in ways to deal with the massive resistance, fear, anxiety, and political agendas of all. The OD consultant called this plan a “a rolling out plan”, which changes all the time based on obstacles encountered and the derivative adjustment of the integration goals.

The CEO thinks the OD consultant has no  business focus and that he is negative.

CM Plan:

The CEO chooses to work with a  user friendly and less argumentative Change Manager!

The optimistic Change Manager draws up a plan (with his bare hands)  that creates synergies to leverage the newer technologies in the large US install base, creating huge revenues. The Change Managers’ plan, covered in 70 slides, takes 6  months to fully implement. The plan consists of redrawing roles, responsibilities, creating new processes and  some team building (via cooking classes and golf tournaments.)

The CEO is impressed and the CM is hired.

The Results:

3 months into the the plan, the CEO and his change manager look at the organization, and all they see is resistance and push back:  The US team had blocked access to their clients, and the Israeli team works directly with clients, causing friction. Sales are down and the organization is inwardly focused.

The CEO and his CM have stormed ahead, but the troops ain’t there. There are three months left to go and the integration has yet to begin.

The Change Manager and the CEO agree that a motivational speaker will be brought in. The cost of the motivational speaker is $9000.

PS. Naturally, CM and OD have their place in the current marketplace. For commercial reasons, CEO’s prefer the quick and often very ineffective CM fix. OD, caught up in its past, has yet to adapt itself to being relevant in global change.


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