Managing Change

All the talk today is about managing change in organizations. Leaders talk about it like it is really something one can ‘manage’. Everywhere I go I see consulting practices with change leaders and much of what comes out the other end, is only slightly better than the snake oil salesmen of time gone by. So what is up with managing change?

The first thing to realize is that you cannot manage change you can only preferably lead or manage people. There is no such thing as organizational change, there is only people change. Organizations are large groups of people, yes organized in a particular way to accomplish a particular task, but they are still people. Right here is where most organizations, especially large ones, stumble when it comes to change.

Imagine with me you are looking straight at an iceberg, a huge iceberg. If you could look straight at it you’d see a small tip on top, above the water and a huge bottom, probably at least three to four times the size of what is floating above the water. Imagine this is your organization, it look a little like an org chart doesn’t it? What if we laid an organization chart over top of what you see of the iceberg?

If you did you’d see the CEO at the top sticking out of the water and his Lieutenants, the senior team as they say, sitting right out there with him. Under them around water level is where you start dropping in to middle management, according to the experts, the scourge of change management. Stick with me now and keep looking at the iceberg with the org chart overlay. Under the water level is everyone else in the organization.

The problem in today’s organizations is the gap that exists between the CEO and the work taking place down at the bottom of the iceberg. The gap has never been greater. Most CEO’s, while personally bright, articulate and politically savvy, don’t have a clue what is happening at the bottom of the iceberg. Not a single clue. And what’s worse is they don’t care. Herein is the issue of managing change, the incredible gap today between worker and boss man at the top.

There of course is the old adage of managing things and leading people and while it sounds trite there is truth to it. When you have a CEO come in like the one did at Home Depot and wreak havoc on the organization, destroy all semblance of customer service and leave with over $250 million you see the problem. He said all along he was managing change. He wasn’t managing change he was changing people to his way of doing business or else. Worked for him, he left an even richer man than when he came. And the gap, the organizational iceberg as I call it, has never been greater.

You see using the iceberg again, there is a way the organization says it does things, and then there is the way they really do things. The way they say they do things is above the line and the way they really do things is below the line. In well run organizations the gap between how you say you do it and how you really do it is small because the leaders, those above the water line, communicate, that means listen as well as talk, with those below the line. In most organizations the leaders make up change plans and simply expect their ‘orders’ to be followed. That is not going to happen in today’s world.

To manage change effectively leaders must be in tune with their organizations and not look upon their people as things, which in most organizations today, that is how they see them. Oh they have their policy manuals that say otherwise, but those manuals are high and dry, well out of the water and the bottom of the iceberg.

If you want to manage change in your organization you’re going to have to get off the top of your iceberg and get your feet wet and understand the work being done at the customer level everyday. You’re going to have to insure that your ‘senior team’ does the same. You must insure you know what is going on, really going on in your organization and that you aren’t just getting the fine treatment from your so called team.

To manage change you’ll have to lead, perhaps for the first time.

Ed Kugler