• Gilbert Kruidenier

Wait, there’s more than one kind of change (manager)?

For years we’ve been hearing, reading, speaking and maybe even writing about what change is and how it’s best done. But if anyone has indeed found the secret recipe to successful change, they’re keeping very, very quiet. Libraries full of books, an Internet full of opinions and conferences full of experts can’t seem to agree on the definitive list of magical ingredients and the perfect profile for the sorceress to deliver ‘it’. Why? Because there is no such thing. There are different kinds of change and different kinds of change managers. So who is the right person for what kind of change? Let’s find out.

First, WHO will be featuring in the starring role? It seems that the bigger the perceived change, the longer and more complex the job description gets to the point where I am no longer sure if I am going there to do a job or if I will turn out to be humanity’s last hope to stop an alien invasion!

The days of simply being the right person at the right time in the right place seem gone. Nowadays, if the solution is not very complicated and not improbably hard to understand, surely it can’t be right!

But when I ask the ones I consider leaders in the field, they generally say the same thing: “I was the right person to come in, the job seemed interesting, I grasped what needed to get done, we did the work, the end.” Doesn’t make for a great story, perhaps that’s why it doesn’t get told very often.

My own list of ‘change operators’, that I use as a conversational aid when working with teams and clients, isn’t any better or worse than the models out there, but people seem to understand what I talk about, which seems a useful way to go about things:

Now that we’ve got that sorted, let’s look at WHAT kinds of change we get to choose from. I believe that every change is different for the people involved, while change as a process is nearly always the same. No wonder people get confused. As professionals we really don’t spend enough time figuring out what kind of change we’re dealing with, nor explaining to our clients what we see happening in their organisations. We simply tell them we can make things better.

I’ll happily admit I was initially quite surprised when I read this very sensible post about how there were 10 kinds of change and that not every change manager is suited to deliver any kind of change. I tested this ‘model’ on more than a few unsuspecting audiences and got the same reaction every time. First there’s surprise and then they start nodding their heads, which I take as a sign that it resonates with their reality as much as it did with my own.

Frustratingly, to our clients, all of us change managers, leads, experts, masters and consultants do the same one thing, change. Let’s just assume they are actually right and make it our priority to figure out exactly which of the 10 types of change they think is theirs. I guarantee they will love that new perspective because not only have you helped them, they now get to be smart to others as well! Once you reach agreement that this is indeed what’s happened, about to happen or what they hope to see happen, you’ll still get to decide if it’s the right change to be involved in:

Smarter people than me have made excellent models and classifications for change and even brighter minds have written books on the various types of changies out in the world. After having the same conversation one time too many, I figured it couldn’t hurt to pull together all the things my clients and classes found helpful in my explanations and put it into a one-page image. I am clearly not being innovative, but if reframing 10 different models and 15 years of experience into one picture helps a few people to have better client and team conversations, I consider that a win. Feel free to copy-paste to your heart’s content.

And now for the inevitable final question: “What kind of change manager is best for what kind of change?” Well, if you can find a unicorn, go with her, but they happen to be quite rare, always busy and also not always necessary for the job at hand (as they will tell you). For clarity’s sake the table below takes a very ‘label-ey’, black-(blue)-and-white approach, with seemingly no room for grey areas. I understand this is not how real life works, you can be more than one thing at the same time. But as my mom often said: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” and you probably have a preference anyway. Unless you’re a unicorn, then you can just smirk, be awesome and (silently) judge everyone else.

I hope you agree that change things can get unpleasant really quickly when the only thing bigger than the company’s change immaturity is the change person’s confidence in their ability to deliver a good outcome, regardless of the type of change in front of them. Some jobs are just for Maintainers, Doers or Unicorns and maybe not so great for ‘Builder-Fixer me’, and now that I know that, the world and change community is a better place for it.

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