Does Change Process Methodology Matter?

Or Rather…Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water Just Because Transformational Change Is Non-Linear

I remember the days when things were far simpler. I hear from leaders older than me and now long retired that there was actually a time in the past century when a leader could identify a visionary outcome, then map a linear process to get there, and people would actually follow. Wow, what a concept.

Now of course, organizational change is far different than in those bygone days. The envionment is far more dynamic, and the types of organizational change have evolved from developmental to transitional to transformational. Developmental and transitional were fairly linear, but with transformational change, straight lines have become relatively obsolete.

Change Process metaphorWhat does this mean for change process methodologies? It challenges them tremendously because it is relatively difficult to use a systematic and structured process methodology on a non-linear set of dynamics. This basic fact has spawned a “throw the baby out with the bath water” dialogue among many otherwise brilliant change practitioners. Here’s how it goes: since today’s most challenging type of change is non-linear, and therefore, extremely difficult to manage, and since we cannot effectively use today’s presecribed linear approaches with success, then the answer must not be in any change process methodology, and therefore, all change process methodologies are equally not the answer.

WRONG! Well, partly wrong. The correct part is that the answer is never in the methodology and never will be, just as the beauty in a painting does not come from the brush of the artist. It comes from the artist’s skill and talent. The change process  methodology and the brush are only tools of the practitioner. But just because the artist / practitioner must have wisdom and skill to use the tools with brilliance does not mean that the tools don’t matter. They do, always have, and always will.

Leonardo Da Vinci certainly used the best brushes available at the time. There is good reason the best violinists yearn for a Stradivarius, and it is the very same reason that the fastest race car drivers constantly tweak their cars to win races.

Tell me, who would win a mock Daytona 500, you driving a Ferrari or the best race car driver in the world driving a Volkswagen? You would win everytime time. And that metaphorically is why a skilled change leader or consultant will always want to use the best change methodology they can find. The key is knowing what to look for.

There are three key characteristics of a really great change methodology suitable for organization transformation:

1.     Make sure it is a change process methodology that guides right action over time, and not simply a framework that specifies areas of required work and attention without any process guidance. Knowing what to attend to isn’t nearly as potent as also knowing what to do, how and when.

2.     Make sure it is customizeable for each change effort, and that it can be tailored in real time as you go so that any decisions or plans you make can be altered and course corrected to meet the needs of the actual dynamics that emerge along your change journey.

3.     It must provide strategic guidance at the thirty thousand foot level to support the conscious design of your change process regarding overall direction and initial desired outcomes, governance, change infrastructure, resources, engagement, communications, design of content solutions, implementation planning, etc., as well as change tools to assist you “on the ground” to plan, design and implement each task you put into your change plan.

We are interested. How does this resonate with you? Do you think change methodology matters? Or, are they all pretty much “just the same?”

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Director, Unified Change Management
United States House of Representatives

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Professor and Chair, Department of Management & Organization
Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California

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Robert J. Marshak, Ph.D.
Senior Scholar in Residence
MSOD Program, American University
Organizational Change Consultant