Friday, January 19, 2007

Change management gives evolution a bad name

Back in 1989 when I first got into corporate communications, I joined an organisation that had just merged with another. Both had grown through mergers and acquisitions, but by merging together they'd leaped into the major league in their sector.

Part of the post-merger activity was to bring together their insurance operations under one roof with a single set of processes. Given that this was long before intranets - even e-mail was in its infancy - there was a lot more face-to-face communication around the work. I was assigned to a team that brought together workers from both insurance teams to work out the way forward. We met regularly, helped team managers identify and communicate all the key messages around the decisions being made; helped work all the feedback into the ongoing decision making process and generally helped the two old organisations evolve into a new one.

That was my first exposure to change management. But you know what? No-one called it change management then, and somehow I think we managed just as well - if not better - than if we'd built this up into anything other than evolving business as usual.

The project delivered big changes: Insurance work went from four locations to one. Staff at three locations were either reassigned; moved to the new insurance 'home' or left the business. More so, a new culture and new way of working emerged which had a large effect on the way the rest of the business operated. Yet there were no external consultants involved. No over-use of microsoft project manager, no parachuted-in specialist team continually compiling traffic light reports rather than making change happen. There was process, there were people assigned to specific tasks and there was tangible change. But somehow, it felt organic. It was an improvement to the efficiency of the business created from within the business and delivered by and for the people working directly in the function. This was two businesses coming together: it was revolution but felt like evolution.

Such a project wouldn't happen today. 18 years on we'd have external experts, an internal change management team and all the aspects of the cottage industry that has sprung up turning every internal evolution into 'major change'. It keeps lots of consultants in business - but have we lost the confidence to let people within an organisation find the best way to move it forward?

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