Heraclitus (535 BCE) was probably the father of change management.
‘There is nothing permanent except change’
‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man’
When you put both together you realise that the traditional ‘management of change’ approaches, methods and philosophies, full of many good intentions, but also full of many flaws, have in common one flaw, the mother of all: the almost hidden, unspoken assumption that management of change starts from a static, zero base, immobile (bad), or at least a plateau situation. Then, after a period of assessment, also assumed as a static, zero base, and immobile situation, ‘the change method’ kicks in and it all starts moving.
How foolish, Heraclitus tells us from the Hellenistic apartments of the heavens. It’s a river, stupid! It can’t stop! By the time you have done all cultural assessments, all stakeholder management, all investigations about readiness, all redesigning of templates and workshopsterone kicks in, the river is not that river, and, when you step in, you get wet with different water.
Change in the organization does not need to be created, it is already there. It can’t be ‘managed’ from a stop-world position. You think that you have a battalion of Big Consulting Group consultants invading the corridors, and 250 powerpoints later, you will know what is going on. The river! The river! Heraclitus shouts.
Change can be steered, directed, disrupted, distorted, but not managed from a static form, as in a train in the station that, at a given time, the doors shut and leaves in a predefined direction.
The ‘methodological’ implications are clear. Any method, approach, formula, particularly the heavy sequential ones with lots of Gantt charts, and the ones with lots of pre-conditions (readiness, total leadership alignment) which claim will ‘manage change’ (even worse ‘will deliver change’) is bound to fail. The river of the first conversation did not stop; the river of the cultural assessment is different; the river of the leadership readiness is different, and the original templates are now very wet.
‘Change’ does not cope well with ‘methods’. It needs a platform that takes into account all the water under the bridge, that is not sequential, that accounts also for the emergent and continuous re-calibration. The modern word for ‘corporate change’ is ‘corporate rafting’ and the platforms are like big, big inflatable kayaks. You won’t be surprised if I say that Viral Change™ is that big kayak.