Reading glasses on a rock with sunset behind, cropped photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

Something’s missing. Do you feel it?

If you lifted up the proverbial petticoats of the Organisational Change Management (OCM) discipline – what is underneath? What private personal parts are intrinsic to the words you say and the actions you take as you do your work?

I’m talking about ‘mindset’. I propose that this is a missing and important piece of the OCM discipline discourse.

A framework for understanding capability

One way to understand a capability or discipline is the framework illustrated in the diagram below. This was originally conceived to explain Design Competencies (The Design Way, Nelson & Stolterman, 2012), but I’ve extended it to be applied more generically for any discipline or capability.

Let me give you a tour of the framework.

Four sets of knowing in a discipline

There are two dimensions: Thinking-Doing; and Internal-External.

Internal refers to the knowing that is embodied in a person and is inseparable from the knower. An individual holds a version of such ‘knowing’ that is integrated into who they are and entwined with their sense of identity. This knowing cannot easily pass from one individual to another.

External refers to the knowing that can be found existing outside any single person – that is the knowledge is separable from the knower – and arguably objective. There can be a collective shared reality; and an agreed reality which can define a profession and give it its boundaries.

Thinking refers to the things connected to thought-activity – the thinking and knowing work of a person.

Doing refers to the things connected to doing-activity – the doing, acting and making work of a person.

These two dimensions provide four sets of capability: Mindset, Knowledge set, Skill set and Tool set. In each of the four cells, you can read different descriptors for concepts incorporated into each set.

On the Doing dimension there is Skill set – what I can do, and Tool set – what I can use. These are the more tangible aspects of a discipline. This is typically what non-practitioners look for and see in the absence of deep knowing of the discipline. This is what recruiters look for. This is what novices focus their learning activities on. These are what performance tends to get measured and evaluated on.

On the Thinking dimension there is Mindset – what I believe and who I am, and Knowledge set – what I know. These are less tangible. They are not so easily taught. They are often learnt over time and through experience.

The utility of a practitioner comes from integrating these four sets into a holistic synergistic practice that supports the core aspect of any discipline, e.g. designing, changing, healing, etc.

What a practitioner needs to master in their discipline is not entirely or sufficiently explained by these four sets, however they have value for initiating a conversation about a scope of mastery.

A professional practitioner has the continual responsibility to update and renew themselves in these sets, and also to modify or discard what is no longer relevant or appropriate.

Application to OCM

So how does this generic framework look if we apply it to the discipline of OCM?

The Change Management Institute as a professional body has done excellent work in collating a core set of knowledge for Change Management discipline. In short CMBOK or Change Management Body of Knowledge. This knowledge is taught in APMG Certified courses and is codified in the book: The Effective Change Manager.  So that gives us something of substance to put in the Knowledge Set cell.

The Change Management Institute has also collated a Competency Model of what a Change Manager is expected to be able to do. So a tick for something to lodge in the Skill Set cell!

Methodologies like Prosci® or People-centred Implementation (PCI®)  organise various techniques and tools into processes to apply. There are many many approaches documented – often by consultancies who are good at producing repeatable codified knowledge that appears proven and ready-to-apply. So we can tick the Tool set cell.

What about Mindset? Many of the authors of methodologies would argue that mindset is incorporated in what they produced – which is true to the extent that their mindset was involved in producing this knowledge. However it’s rare that mindset is explored or considered explicitly.[1]

Simplified analysis of framework for OCM discipline


Mindset could be what is meant when someone has ‘natural talent’ or ‘has it in their DNA’. There is something difficult to quantify, something so part of a person that we tend to think they are born with it, rather than acquire it.  While that is part of it, mindset is more than this, because the experiences we have in both our professional and personal lives shape our worldviews and belief system.

This still doesn’t answer the question about what ‘it’ is particularly for the OCM discipline.

I believe the OCM discipline is missing a collective agreed view on essential and particular mindsets for OCM practice.

This post is not about offering a definition of the essential mindsets [2]. Let’s do that as a community. (Please consider adding your thoughts in the comments below.)

Rather I’ll offer a view of why the discourse is missing and why it matters. Thinking on these might help us orient more effectively to the ‘what’ conversation.

The rationale for a new discourse

Firstly, why the discourse on mindset might be missing.

Mindset is Internal, so tacit, subjective and personal. It will require much conversation and good interpersonal relations to expose what is currently believed and thought, in relative psychological safety.

There’s the question about who is valid to be a raw source for mining initial content (e.g. novices need not apply?), and who gets to decide this. There’s substantial work to sufficiently synthesise what is detected and discerned, into a bounded set that is judged a valid fit the discipline.  Then there’s the matter of who sits in judgement about what’s in and what’s out for a final cut. I imagine similar work was done in creating the CMBOK. However, I anticipate a much more challenging conversation with content as personal as beliefs and values  entwined with identity and other cultural influences. It’s probably the equivalent to writing a creed, like was done with the Council of Nicaea last millennium – and that’s had ongoing theological controversy!

Mindset is Thinking activity, so needs cognitive awareness, intention and attention. In a time-challenged implementation-driven world, Doing-activity is given a higher premium. This implicitly devalues Thinking work. So if we really care about it – we’ll have to make time for it, we’ll have to make cognitive space for it. We’ll have to realise it’s going to involve reflection and critical thinking – practices that are not standard amongst professional practitioners of any discipline. As Henry Ford stated: Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.

Secondly why a discourse on mindset matters.

The Mindset piece might well be a touchstone for the OCM discipline. The piece that holds the other pieces (knowledge, skills, tools) together in a cohesive manner, in a world where discipline boundaries get fuzzy.

One reason for fuzzy discipline boundaries may be that disciplines are taking their cue from individual practitioners who are multi-disciplinary in their practice, rather than holding an authoritative view for a single discipline.  I’m all for multi-disciplinary practitioners – it helps if the disciplines they are practising have useful boundaries to start with and don’t all look the same because they blended in a mix of everything. Let the practitioner be the blended thing, not the discipline.

Without a shared common perspective on essential and particular mindset aspects of OCM, it is too easy to see Skills, Tools and Knowledge through varied and competing frames of reference. This often results in unhelpful dogmatic discourse on what is right/wrong – because of the lack of useful discriminating criteria.

The battle for professional boundaries and relevance is often fought in the bottom two cells. And OCM can struggle here. Those who do not know if they are “CM qualified”, look at the Tools, the Skills and even BOK, and say – ‘ah I already do/know that’ or ‘I learnt that in my MBA’ – and conclude that they are OCM qualified. When to the seasoned practitioner, they imminently are not qualified. How to resolve this quagmire?

I believe that the Tool set for OCM gets too much attention. Seasoned practitioners are often frustrated about this (naïve) tool focus, be it in the plethora of learning/training offered or sought; or the practical yet misguided focus of recruiters and non-enlightened buyers/sponsors. Mature practitioners are hungry for higher order discourse that might fundamentally challenge the current tools, however the hunger of novices and the ‘fast-knowledge’ tastes of the market drives what is typically provided and funded.

Standing back – I perceive another reason why tools are a focal point: Much of what is perceived to be in the CM Knowledge set and Skill set is shared with other disciplines, so it comes down to the Tool set to create something distinctive to better bound and discriminate the OCM profession.

Arguably it is from a Mindset that all other areas should flow. Knowledge set becomes the more visible part of Thinking, that can be separated from a knower and shared. However, it’s the Mindset that shapes and filters what we choose to know and value as knowledge; and what heuristics, principles, theories we apply and formalise in our practice and habits; the breadth and depth of skills we exercise; and the tools we choose to use and keep sharpened in our tool kits.

Four sets of knowing in a discipline with arrows


Looking to our future (near and far), in a world of Artificial Intelligence, the kind of work done with some Tools and Skills is likely to be replaced. This alone is a strong imperative for elevating the conversation of evolving the profession to a higher order, and revising what we might Think and Do as professional practitioners.

I’m making the case for this proposition: Mindset is the most significant area for the future development of the OCM discipline and professional development as OCM practitioners.

What do you think?


[1] Daryl Conner’s Raising Your Game is one learning initiative that enables conversation and exploration for the character of the OCM practitioner, i.e. an aspect of Mindset. In his ‘course’, there are no theories, tools or skills covered. He intentionally avoids these because in his 5 decades in the OCM space, he sees that mature practitioners are in need of something else to up-their-game. So if you are seeking something now for yourself personally, I highly recommend checking this out.

[2] I wrote about Design Sensibilities for OCM in a previous post. This could be a starting point for more specific Change Sensibilities – there’s likely to be cross-over. However, it would be good to explore and muse on mindset elements that are particular to OCM context.


Helen Palmer is Founder and Principal Change Agent at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.

Share with others FacebooktwitterlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterlinkedinmail

No responses yet

Leave a Reply