Changing change management

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 9 August 2011


Connor, R. (2011), "Changing change management", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 10 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Changing change management

Article Type: Strategic commentary From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 10, Issue 5

Thought leaders share their views on the HR profession and its direction for the future

Managing constant and incremental change has been a theme for decades. Dealing with discontinuous change is a much more recent phenomenon. In less than eight years the world’s financial system has been subject to two seismic events. Firstly there was the massive devaluation of all things tech-stock. Then we had the credit-crunch. We have seen the collapse of global corporations and upward movement of share prices give way to wild fluctuations and massive devaluation of assets. If tomorrow is not the same as yesterday, what do leaders draw upon to make wise decisions?

It is my contention that in order to help leaders manage discontinuous change, change management has to stop being the battleground between two warring sets of ideas.

Two sets of ideas have arisen because, in the words of Mintzberg (1979): “Every organized activity gives rise to two fundamental and opposing requirements.” These are, namely, the division of labor and the co-ordination of effort. The division of labor is about “chunking-up” work into discrete work packages, while the co-ordination of effort relates to the holding together of related activities to meet the end goal. These two fundamental and opposing requirements have set the conditions for change managers to dig trenches and do battle for their side.

Opposing approaches to management

A focus on the workflow and its division into repeatable components developed into a school of scientific management. This is a management theory that analyzes and synthesizes workflows, with the objective of improving labor productivity. Its application is contingent on a high level of managerial control over employee work practice. Modern variations of the scientific management principles include process re-engineering and the introduction of enterprise systems, such as SAP.

As a counter-balance to the dehumanizing effects of creating repeatable, quality controlled work elements, the human relations movement arose and focused on the quality of leadership, individual motivation and psychological factors that were seen to hold the organization together. The influence of the human relations movement can be seen in the writing of Maslow, Herzberg and Rogers through to more recent work on emotional intelligence. The themes are self-awareness and self-actualization. Many change managers have borrowed heavily from the underpinning psychotherapeutic ideas believing that these fields have discovered some fundamental truth about the nature of human change and development.

These opposing perspectives have resulted not only in fierce intellectual battles, but also the development of different change management technologies. As is characteristic of different technologies, each does not connect well with the other.

The impact on change management

Change management for many practitioners is about clarifying the process and controlling this through setting objectives and measuring performance. As the focus on efficiency is clinical, many people feel alienated by being treated as components in a process flow.

From the other trenches, there are practitioners that base their interventions on psychological theories that see aspects of business life such as interpersonal stresses, aggression and damaging game playing as the results of psychological processes often involving the unconscious. As a natural follow-on they espouse that in order to change behavior, it is necessary to change the psychological make-up of individuals or the way that they interact. Not only are the change programs that result often slow and painful, little if any direct connection is made to the work-place other than to set this as the scene for personal growth.

As with most warring factions, change managers have fought themselves to a standstill.

An alternative way

The only way out of this standoff is to understand that these two approaches have developed because people and work have become disconnected concepts. This is akin to the mind-body disconnect in medicine and even here it is only the enlightened medical practitioner that treats the whole person. There is a radical alternative and strangely it has been around for quite some time now. This can be summarized as Work Levels.

Work Levels references the complexity of the decision-making environment. When the complexity of the decisions that need to be taken becomes central to the subject of change management it is possible to create an integrated approach that makes a dynamic link between work and people.

Work Levels helps clarify the accountabilities of leaders facing unprecedented levels of change and complexity and determines the level of individual capability that is required to meet the challenge. Rather than focusing on work as a series of tasks in a work process, Work Levels talks the language of job purpose and accountability. It makes the distinction between leadership and strategic leadership and emphasizes that the fundamental purpose of jobs at the highest level is to ensure sustainability and longevity of the enterprise. In organizations that use Work Levels, leaders are not incentivized by using metrics that can be easily manipulated in the short term. Work Levels related measures reflect the creation of longer-term intrinsic value of the enterprise.

In embracing both the work to be undertaken and the co-ordination of effort, Work Levels provides the bridge that enables the warring factions in change management to find common ground. As Jaques (1997), the eminent psychoanalyst, organizational psychologist and creator of Work Levels, said:

When this integrated approach is adopted, far-reaching, dramatic and rapid changes in the behaviors of individuals in organizations can be achieved by changes in organization structures, the setting of appropriate accountabilities and creating the right space in which people can express rational and trustful behavior.

Russell ConnorRussell Connor is MD at Dynamic Link.

About the author

Russell Connor has over 30 years’ experience of working and consulting for international organizations. He is the Founder and MD at Dynamic Link, a consultancy that works with leaders who are seeking better ways of making the most of their people, while also reducing the cost of providing HR services. Russell Connor can be contacted at:


Jaques, E. (1997), Requisite Organization: A Total System for Effective Managerial Organization and Managerial Leadership for the 21st Century, Cason Hall & Co., Arlington, VA

Mintzberg, H. (1979), The Structuring of Organizations: A Synthesis of the Research, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ