Change myths

This HBR post attempts to evaluate Obama’s record on change management, based on a four step model. I’m instinctively wary of models and this one strikes me as typically trite and questionable.

The first step is to “make the case for change”, which seems to assume that change is some rational and intellectual process. I suppose being a business academic is going to make you think that’s how the world works.

The second step is “Create a vision of what will be different” – another B School convention that sets us up for idealising the future and instead of getting grounded in the present. I concede that there seems to be a big market for grand visions, but if you want real change, they’re quite likely to set you up for failure.

The third step is “Mobilize commitment to change”. Ah the commitment word. Again, the idea is that we make a rational decision, commit to it, and lo it happens. I’ve been to way too many meetings where commitments are made to have much faith in this. I call them “commitment ceremonies” and I try hard to avoid them.

The fourth step is about creating early successes but I can’t help feeling this is another set up to avoid really honest evaluation of changes and complexity in favour of a simplistic pursuit of things going to plan.

And I find this sign off pretty patronising:

Clearly, there’s room for improvement in the President’s change management approach. Let’s hope that he learns from the experience of the first year and — like the best senior executives — gets better at managing change over time.

That word senior crops up all the time in consultant speak and it always puts me on guard. It feels like a status game. I’d call it elitist, if it wasn’t such a mediocre tactic.

Hat tip: Dominic Campbell

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