What is “Change Management”?

The first perspective of “change management” is that different fields of endeavor use the same term with very different implications.  Information technology (IT), for example, uses the term to mean overall management of changes in developing software code.  When “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” major problems in software function may result (e.g. “bugs”).  So, there must be ways for participants to know what each other are doing.  IT change management is an organized system for tracking and orchestrating code change.

Alternatively, another area of interest is management of necessary behavior changes in an organization in response to evolution of an organization’s business.  For example, people within an organization may need work within new systems, form new expectations regarding the scope of the business, adapt to a new value system within the organization, form new patterns of authority, change working relationships, or adapt to new knowledge or new product lines.   Assisting the implementation of these kinds of change has been called behavioral change management, just change management, or organizational change management.

In order to differentiate organizational change management from psychology emphasis must be placed on the organizational context, rather than the context of personal/individual growth or therapy.  In other words, “it isn’t personal, it’s business.”  In order to differentiate change management from psychiatry the emphasis is on adaptive migration of behavior within organizations without any implication of “abnormal”.  So, organizational change management is neither pursuit of personal fulfillment nor psychotherapy.  Change management within organizations is implementation of processes which allow successful adaptive migration of participant behavior during periods of organizational transition.

“Change management” is a moving target – a set of concepts which are evolving and changing.  One place to start understanding a history of the concepts is with Jeff Hiatt, author for Prosci – an established U.S. organization of change management professionals (with which I have no affiliation).  At Prosci’s Change Management Learning Center,  Hiatt has written an article title, “The Definition and History of Change Management“.

In the article, Hiatt advocates that change management is an outgrowth of two fields of focus: engineering and psychology.  The two disciplines have converged on the issue of processes necessary to produce human behavioral change in organizations.  Unlike project management (which focuses on material, temporal, logistical, and fiscal aspects of organizational change), change management focuses on how human beings allow, resist, or embrace situational change.

My opinion of organizational change management foundations differs somewhat from that of Hiatt.  His view, as described in the above reference, sees change management as an outgrowth of engineering and psychology.  Alternatively I believe it is an outgrowth of three disciplines: psychology, leadership, and engineering.  Reduced almost to a quip, psychologists think in terms of relationships and feelings.  Leaders think in terms of goals and controls.  Engineers think in terms of systems and execution.  All three are necessary considerations.  Concepts and behaviors of leadership are critical to change management because whole ways of leading organizations are changing.  Leadership does not fall squarely in the realm of psychology because consideration of pragmatic organizational realities and marketplace competition are also woven in.  Further, the change management field is now responding to a fourth discipline: neuroscience.  We are now beginning to think more structurally of neural antecedents of behavior and limits of behavior based on neural issues.  We are beginning to take concepts of neural organization from the realms of medicine into the implementation strategies of the boardroom.

So, change management as used in LimbicZen is the processes for facilitating participant behavioral migration and adaptation within an organization in response to desired evolution of the organization.  Jeff Hiatt’s definition is: Change management is the process, tools and techniques to manage the people-side of business change to achieve the required business outcome, and to realize that business change effectively within the social infrastructure of the workplace.  (Accessed: 10/4/11)  Wikipedia’s current definition is: Change management is a structured approach to shifting/transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. (Accessed: 10/4/11)

Next, is organizational change management a field of study, a discipline, or a profession?  This most certainly depends upon who you ask.  Based on some recent exchanges on LinkedIn, it appears opinions are varied and may run “hot”, sometimes reflecting various personal investments.

Dictionary.com grapples with the definition of “field” by including the concepts of “an expanse of open or cleared ground” and “a sphere of activity or interest”.  The concepts reflect the evolution of the “field” meme from an open place to an area of interest. (Accessed 10/4/11)

Dictionary.com grapples with “discipline” by including the concepts of “training to act in accordance with rules” and “activity, exercise or a regiment that develops or improves a skill”.  The concepts reflect the fusion of memes relating to rules and skills. (Accessed 10/4/11)

Merriam-Webster grapples with “profession” by including the concepts “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation” and “the act of taking the vows of a religious community”.  The concepts reflect the fusion of memes relating to deep training and an act declaring fealty to a community (e.g. passing a “board exam”) (Accessed 10/4/11)

Organizational change management certainly complies with the concept of a field of academic endeavor.  Whether it rises to the level of a formal profession is more debatable (and hotly debated).  Prosci, in the U.S. has been certifying people for its proprietary material; however, there is not general agreement that this material is the core knowledge of the discipline, separable from Prosci’s business.  (The recent evolution of Prosci to ACMP probably reflects an effort to close this gap.)  So, because there is not an agreed upon body of core knowledge independent of a business entity, and no general requirement for a demonstrated level of sufficient competence with that material (such as by an exam), it is unclear if change management currently rises to the level of a formal profession (as accepted beyond vested interests).  Therefore, it might be most reasonable, currently, to think of change management as a discipline. However, this is changing.  Within a few years it is likely some core body of knowledge separate from a business entity can be accepted, then providing the foundation for testing, certification, and professional status.

Additions or rebuttals to these concepts are certainly welcome.  It is an area of varying opinion; and debate is healthy.

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