On last Friday, I had the pleasure to kick off the 4th Berlin Change Days and to welcome 90 delegates from 18 countries for an intensive three days learning and networking event. For my keynote (“The new ecosystems of organizations”), I had done some weeks of research on the near future of organizations. I wanted to understand how change management practitioners have to reposition themselves and which new skills and methods they need to develop.
You can watch the entire keynote (32 minutes) here:
These are the five parts of my presentation:
- The matrix is alive
- Access is more important than ownership
- New ways of working
- People do not resist change
- Change management has become a commodity
The Matrix is alive. OD practictioners have been talking about organizational complexity for twenty years. Margaret Wheatley published her seminal book Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World in 1999. However, the practical complexity that managers in larger organizations are confronted with exceeds what we might have imagined. Complexity is not only an organizational phenomena but one which affects individuals and their ability to act quickly. The average manager has a minimum of one direct plus two additional dotted reporting lines. Managers need to observe environmental, health & safety, CSR, purchasing, HR and a handful of other rules and regulations. They relate, directly or indirectly to shareholders, protecting their investment, to the public via traditional and social media, and often to governments and public agencies. Many of the staff they work with are external contractors. If that wasn’t enough, company values, strategies, distance of team members and the required short reaction time in many business affairs makes every management decision look like gambling.
Access is more important than ownership. For a long time, organizational value was partly defined by fixed assets – real estate, machinery, IT infrastructure, vehicles, etc., by the intellectual property and by the human resources. In times where organizational agility becomes a competitive advantage, those assets become a liability. With the growing tendency to outsource services and lease fixed assets as well as human resources, boundaries of organizations dissolve.
New Ways of Working. Modern ICT, the matrix organization as well as globalization have resulted in virtual team work being the norm and face-to-face interaction being the exception. However, the prevailing models of organization (and of organizational development) are still based on the nine to five, office based work paradigm. To reduce costs and carbon footprints, travel budgets shrink like the polar ice caps. But this is only part of the equation. There is no management need anymore to have employees checking in and out of offices because more and more work contracts are based on output than on input. More and more jobs are location and time independent and people can work from anywhere. The office then becomes a place for human interaction beyond web conferences and chat rooms. As a consequence, the hottest commodity in new organizations is trust.
People do not resist change. I know that two generations of change management experts have based their business on this, entirely wrong paradigm. People have purposes, concerns and circumstances – purposes being what they care for, concerns being what they are worried about and circumstances being what limits their ability to do their job. If leaders start to listen to those, their employees will open up and collaborate. So, next time you hear somebody complaining about resistance, you know it is an excuse for bad leadership.
Change management has become a commodity (and I have stolen this quote from Ivan Overton). Everybody does change management, not only those who call themselves change management experts. Over the last forty years, starting with the first systems interventions to current models like Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, there is a huge repository of tools, methodologies and approaches (many of which are described in the Change Management Toolbook). Is that sufficient to help our clients with the challenges that I have described before? I don’t think so.
It is probably us, the change makers, who need to change. We need to dive deeper into our clients’ organizations, understanding their business case, we need to be more agile, and we need to be leaders in the field of virtual collaboration. But maybe we are the exception to my assertion that people don’t resist change.