How does change happen? And, more appropriately, how might change happen, if it were done effectively?

Organizational change, historically, has been like rain. It stops and starts, as a sometimes-necessarily-funded-evil of a software project implementation. Ask a change manager, where do they live in the organization? They are part of the Project Management Office, a project function whereby one step of every project is to “change” the people in the organization. We design the code, we develop the code, and we release the code, and when we release, we magically “change” the people to support it:

  • We make them aware of the change.
  • We give them desire to change.
  • We give them knowledge to change.
  • We prompt them to act in a changed manner.
  • We reinforce the changed behavior.

There. That was simple. We’re done managing change, now.  We can go on to the next thing. It got cloudy, it rained change all over everyone, and then the sun came out again.

Done, and dusted, right?

To quote one of my favourite actors, M*A*S*H’s Colonel Sherman T. Potter, “Horse hockey!”

That’s change like rain. Now it’s here, now it’s gone. No intention. No flow. No direction. No long term sustenance.

So yeah, here comes the title of this pithy little article…

Change, if it were done appropriately, is like a river. It’s a constant. It has a direction. It has force. It has intent. Winnie the Pooh suggested that rivers have purpose – and so should organizational change, if it’s to actually work.

In my mind, and in a more functional business world, I believe that projects don’t drive change; change drives projects. Change isn’t a start/stop thing – it’s continuous. There is, of course, a layer of additional activity when you implement a project. You still need to do project-specific communications, awareness and training. But the message of change, the purpose and the flow of change, these should not come and go as part of a project.

One of the criticisms I have heard from business clients is that that the IM/IT shop implements projects – then sees the project as “done”. They implement, they rain change down upon the organization, and then…they leave. There is little ongoing support of any kind. That works passably for staff who are with the organization when the application is released, but not at all for those who come later. With no ongoing training on the intent behind a software project, the “why” gets lost in the daily struggle for “how”.

The purpose of developing a Mission, Vision and Principles for information usage is to provide the greater context that a project might take into account, but that a project is never large enough to own. Properly written, the vision, mission and principles act as the boundaries of the river, compelling the organization forward with intent, in a clearly chosen direction.

For these reasons, I believe that change needs to “live” in a context greater than a project. I believe change is weak and ancillary when it lives in a project management office, seen as a tactical set of “steps” in a project rollout. This is the type of change management that most organizations understand, it is the type of change management that most project managers have been trained to understand. It is a form of change management that comes from the world of big IT projects – one where you tweak the people to fit the software release.

In my mind, the organization is better served by a Transformation Office. The transformation office “owns” the Vision, Mission and Information Principles of the organization. It guides the direction of activity in the organization. It is a strategic tool, constantly exchanging information with the greater organization both reactively and proactively at the same time. Transformation Services holds the Innovation Generator – the place where new ideas are born or captured. It prioritizes them in alignment with the direction of the organization – as part of a continuous, living, breathing function. Transformation Services also tests into the ongoing activity of the organization – challenging current ways of doing things. Is information managed in the most risk-appropriate manner? Are processes optimized? In short – is the organization working as effectively as it could?

That sort of change can’t be run out of a project office. It can’t, because the people in the project office don’t think that way; aren’t trained that way. It needs to be run from somewhere different, somewhere new. An Information Services organization is a very new type of beast. It exists to optimize organizational use of information – information, which is the most strategic resource available to and produced by the organization. Information Services manages Information Risk, and one of the tools that needs to be at its service is the continuous change function provided by Transformation Services – by change that is like a river, and not like rain.

Why is the concept of an Innovation Generator such a compelling idea? I would suggest that at least a part of the reason is because it drives change continuously, with a purpose. New ideas flow continuously, are managed through a  process continuously, are released continuously.

Not like rain. Like a river.