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The evolution of change: Even change management is changing

The topic of transformation is all around us. Digital transformation and business transformation are terms I hear with clients every day. We are always changing. We always have been changing. We always will be changing.

We used to talk about reengineering, automation and modernization which are now replaced by things like leaning, digitization and transformative change. As the somewhat ridiculed Greek philosopher Heraclitus said some 2,500 years ago: “The only constant in life is change.”

I don’t think I am alone today in agreeing with this quote and I somewhat fittingly find myself every day working with my clients, who are mostly public-sector executives, to find ways to best deal with the changes their organizations are facing.

I used to spend most of my time in the 1990s and 2000s coming up with ideas to radically or not so radically (depending on the client) change service delivery models or redesign processes or adopt technology to continue the advancement of hope that more effective and more efficient ways of doing things were achievable and various targets could be met.

Towards the late 2000s I started to realize that it didn’t matter how great of a model or design or tool we created for implementation if we did not build and nurture buy-in and enthusiasm from those that were required to change. It quickly became like running in quicksand. A lot of movement and action but no progress until you find yourself totally buried in the excuses and rationale for why the change cannot work here. 

After digging the years of quicksand out of my eyes and ears I started to become more and more obsessed and dedicated to the craft of change management. While today I hear many of my clients speak the praises of the change management, it was for a long time seen to be the soft side of transformation and really just the “touchy feely” part that we could hopefully just cover off with a few emails or posters and a training session.

Of course it is much more than that and as we get better and better at applying proven change management approaches and techniques to our transformation projects we are starting to see change take hold and the expected returns on investment gradually come to fruition.

My own journey has included working with some exceptional clients whose commitment to change management as leaders and agents of change has been critical to the successes we have jointly achieved on projects. And it is some of the thinking and ideas of clients like these that has led me to where I find myself focussed today and that is on change leadership.

Beyond the execution of change management at the project level or even the program or enterprise level but instilling a culture within the management DNA of the organization that not only embraces change but exhibits the behaviours necessary to sustain, reinforce and continuously reap the benefits of change. We are working with a number of forward-looking clients that are driving us to go beyond managing change as an event or even a process and looking at how we can foster change on an ongoing basis, assessing an integrated view of change across an enterprise in order to prioritize and plan the strategic initiatives of the day.

We are shifting from solely looking at a change instance and its impact on stakeholders to looking at the full scope of all change initiatives across an organization and the landscape of those crashing change impacts hitting many of the same stakeholders over and over. Some of the insights from such a view are extremely illuminating and themselves prove to be a trigger to advancing senior management to a deeper appreciation for change and the importance of people involved that are critical to the successful achievement of our objectives.

In a time when the next generation of technologies and systems is front of mind it is important to remember that it’s the next generation of change leaders that will actually make all of the difference.

Adam Ali, MBA, PMP, certified change consultant, is a partner with MNP’s consulting services practice in Ottawa. Drawing on extensive experience working with public sector clients in Canada and internationally, Adam helps his clients navigate complex challenges and situations to achieve their goals in an efficient and effective manner.