Where is your change preference?

figure headSometimes life throws you an opportunity to explore something new or even explode things you thought you knew. Often you think you know what enthuses you but then you surprise yourself; I once surprised myself white-water rafting in the Ottawa River – I was like the figure-head on the front of a ship, holding on bravely – but I digress! This time it was a new opportunity to explore and expand some knowledge.  As part of my Florence Nightingale Foundation Burdett Scholarship I have been very lucky to spend some time at Roffey Park  and a few weeks ago I was there looking at change management.

So we looked at a number of theoretical change models. That was interesting enough; I knew some and was less familiar with others. Then the interesting bit started, we tried putting them along a scale according to what I have termed humanist > mechanistic approaches. What I call humanist are what is termed ‘relational’ where enabling techniques like World Café, Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry have their place. At the opposite end of the spectrum was more mechanistic project management type approaches, that are less messy and are organised in a more logical flow led by theorists such as Lewin and to a degree Kotter; they have a more linear and analytical style with techniques like business process mapping and lean methodology. Of course the scale is not a scientific one and it is matter of personal interpretation and perspective.


I had a sudden moment of clarity. The process of learning led me to think about my personal preferences and how I liked to think about change. I discovered that although I see that different approaches have different strengths and weaknesses, I had a personal preference for the type of approach to change that I liked to be involved in. I also saw that not only had I personal preference for any approach to change, that I worked in organisations that equally had a culture with a leaning towards an approach, and finally that there was an opportunity for discomfort and tension in this.

BridgesMy favourite model was a new one to me and is a model called ‘Transition Management’ based on the work by William Bridges. It refocuses change into transition, which is the psychological transition and reorientation required in response to change. I loved the idea that before we can transition we need to address endings and then we inevitably experience a neutral zone, a period of chaos and an in-between time. Then the process of renewal starts. I loved the language of this model. Words like: endings, relationships, resistance, disorientation, beginnings and new identity. If you want to know about Bridges have a look at this article here.

Gant chartSo, I like a particular approach to change but I work in an area that clearly can’t use that approach, you can’t introduce new software using appreciative inquiry – you need good Gantt charts plenty of them! If you work in the large scale programmes I work in you are nobody if you don’t have a Gant chart or a RAG status!  But I survive there despite my preferences – I had to think hard about why!

My conclusion was that I am able to see that its appropriateness that matters most and having people around who have the skills to use the right approach. Organisational development people are not one-trick ponies they need to be able to work out what is the best way and then use it. I’m just glad that with my preferences for relational models of change I work with some great people who have skills at the other end of my change spectrum – It made me think about difference and value it even more!

At a time where there is a need for unprecedented change in the NHS, understanding our personal preferences and leanings as well as the embedded culture of organisations and their almost instinctive responses to the need for change has to be important learning.

standing out from crowd

11 thoughts on “Where is your change preference?

  1. I’m OK with using tools that don’t reflect my preference so long as I focus on outcome. I have to say i’m not the person you would chose to do lots of process mapping 🙂 but I can do it. I’m better at mobilising and other stuff 🙂

  2. I’m very interested in what you say about needing other people around you who can use process tools. I know that huge organisations are like oil tankers, but, on the other hand, I am firmly of the opinion that institutions need to become more human. They need to recognise that they are collections of human beings who act like real people, and that those they serve will ultimately respond better to the human touch. This require human processes rather than spreadsheets and gantt charts. Maybe I am a hopeless idealist, but humanity is the important factor at the end of the day.

  3. I agree massively 🙂 my special contribution is probably my orientation to people. But i know that for example we are going to change a big IT system we also need a lot of process work as in health this type of stuff is risky. But my point was you are probably best not giving me the gant chart work to do, give me the other pieces where my orientation and strengths are. Even in IT there is definately human work – that is my ‘bit’ :0)

  4. These are all themes from that other life I had a while ago 😉 (my pg work was in the area of organisational change and IT as it was classified then)

    Part of the issues I have with *most* change management tools or theories is that the more mechanistic of them assume that the force of change is all in one direction – the process can be both ways – movement into chaos and then back to the former state. Or the change process can lead towards a completely different end point than the one envisaged at the start of the process. Whatever the change process/ methodology used there needs to be some form of inquiry into ‘human factors’ such as culture, barriers, power structures and possible ‘subversion’ points. Which is when this is missing, CM programmes are often seen to have ‘failed’.

  5. Really thought provoking, bless you for sharing this and challenging our thinking. I will certainly look at the Bridge model. I do however agree with John re the human element, without it change becomes mechanistic and therefore done to and not with!

    keep them coming Anne, really love to read your blogs

  6. At the root of all organisations are humans – they’re not made up of machines – machines and software are tools to do a specific job. If the change program is all about the software rather than being primarily about the humans using then ….

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