• “We don’t need Change Managers …”

    “We don’t need Change Managers … because everybody does change management.” Heard this comment before? It certainly stirs up the conversation with people who are professionals in the Organisational Change space!

    What is a useful perspective to this challenge? We can look to an analogy from another professional domain for insight.

    Take, for example, medical knowledge. Everybody uses medical knowledge – it keeps us generally healthy and safe. This doesn’t mean we have no need for Doctors. And there are grades of medical knowledge that are commonly understood and applied in appropriate contexts. Should you fall down on the ground in front of me and your heart has stopped beating, then it’s very helpful if I have some First Aid training and apply that medical knowledge to keep you alive with the CPR technique, while getting someone to call for a paramedic. You certainly don’t want me to grab someone’s epi-pen and jab you with a dose of drugs, or grab a kitchen knife and cut open your chest! The various grades of medical knowledge come with a central tenet ‘Do no Harm’ and have boundaries that integrate with each other. The First Aid person is doing only what is necessary to care for a person until a Paramedic arrives, who does what is necessary to get them stable, for transport to more advanced medical knowledge with Doctors in a hospital.

    As a field of knowledge grows and matures, so does the number of people who can do it. Why make such an obvious statement? Because the implications of this are not so obvious.

    Over a century ago, people went to a Doctor to seek medical advice on many health conditions that today they would get from a Pharmacist or Nurse, from a book/web/database, from First Aid training or a para-medical expert like a physio therapist, remedial massage therapist, naturopath, etc. Take note – this societal change in acquiring and having own medical knowledge has not reduced the need for Doctors. Nor has it reduced the scope of knowledge that a Doctor acquires and dispenses – in fact the level of sophistication has increased as has the expected range of knowledge they have and use.

    So back to the conversation about the field of Change Management (or insert here other fields, like Project Management, Knowledge Management) and to the critics who say “anybody can do Change Management – we don’t need this to be a specific role!” That is both true and not true. How to make sense of such a paradox? Here’s some thoughts.

    In the field of medical knowledge, the different grades of knowledge can be codified to the types of situation and roles that are appropriate.

    Normal Paradigm

    • Healthy acting and being – Self and significant others in everyday choices and actions
    • General medical or well-being advice, non-critical situations – Pharmacists; Para-medical experts, e.g. Naturopaths; Personal Trainers; Remedial Therapists
    • Specific medical advice for general conditions or states – GP; Maternal, Child and Family Health Nurses
    • More specific medical advice for specific conditions or states – Specialists, e.g. Gynecologists, Pediatricians, Endocrinologists; Para-specialists, e.g. Physio-therapists, Dietitians

    Exception Paradigm

    • Aid in emergencies to reduce the severity of a situation and/or keep a person alive until they can get professional assistance – First Aiders
    • First level of specialists assistance to continue keeping a person alive while transporting them to a special facility with limited resources to draw upon – Paramedics
    • Specialists located in special facilities that have specific and extensive resources to draw upon – ER Doctors; Surgeons; Critical-care Nurses

    [Caveat: I’m not a medical specialist, so I might not have appropriately categorised the various medical specialties above. Apologies in advance for any ignorance.]

    I’ve presented both the ‘normal’ and ‘exception’ paradigms above. If I only went with the First Aid example, it could imply, when applying to Change Management that Change Management is about emergency/chaotic situations rather than planned or known non-critical situations.

    So let’s take that analogy and use it to explain grades of Change Management knowledge.

    • Healthy acting and being – general action by self and significant others
    • General change advice for individuals, non-critical situations – Coaches; Mentors; Supervisors/Managers; Thought-leaders
    • Specific change advice for organisations or collectives of individuals – Organisational Change Practitioners (OCP)
    • More specific change advice, specific conditions or states – Specialists, e.g. Business Architects, Senior Business Analysts, Business Designers; Consultants in HR, L&D
    • Give ‘First Aid’ to reduce the severity of a reaction to a change situation – Manager; Colleague
    • Keep change situation from deteriorating; keep things afloat until an OCP Professional can become involved; or resolve minor situations without the need for a specialist – Project Manager; Business Analyst who has some CM knowledge
    • Specialist education and specific extensive resources to draw upon in resolving challenging situations – OCP Professional

    With regards to general skill, I would love to see every Business Analyst, Project Manager and other project professionals, have some Change Management in their professional repertoire. They could ensure that their own actions as an agent of change ‘do no harm’ (often as a result of ignorance) and they could collaborate better with OCP Professionals. It is was with this in mind that I created a learning program ‘The Change-Wise Professional’ [Update: Oct 2018. No longer available]. I would also love to see every Manager and team have some Change Management in their professional and personal repertoire. They could! It was with this in mind that I created a learning program, ‘The Change-Savvy Team Member‘.

    Change agility is an important organisational competency, so it makes sense to cultivate organisational change capability inside your organisation at these different levels. Change capability means your organisation and your people might better survive, even thrive in workscape of constant change.

    The OCP Professional is significantly different to the ‘Proficient’, who has some general level of change management in their repertoire. Here’s some thoughts on how they differ, be it for Organisational Change Management, or any professional field.

    • Level of participation in the field of knowledge
    • Centrality of professional attention
    • Depth and breadth of experience
    • Maturity with essential principles and frameworks
    • Degree of learning/education
    • Connections and membership in professional community
    • Fluency (speed and accuracy) of decision-making and action
    • Adherence to professional standards and accountabilities

    So can anybody do Change Management? Yes – with the right talents, mindset, knowledge set and skill set.

    Should everybody do Change Management? Yes – to a level that is appropriate for the context of their involvement and expertise.

    I’ve made a case for how different Change Management expertise and responsibilities can co-exist within a single coherence. Does this explanation help you?


    Author: 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.


    This post was first published in LinkedIn in November 2016.

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