The Fetish of Change

May 9, 2006

Johnnie Moore has an interesting post on the Fetish of Change where he references a fascinating article by Christopher Grey
Grey’s article is a

critique of the current orthodoxy that the world is changing at an ever faster rate, that organizations must adapt to this change in order to survive, and that change management techniques enable organizations to do this. There is no basis to evaluate the proposition that thewe face unprecedented rates of change, and change is not something to which organizations must respond, but is instead an outcome of organizational actions. Change management initiatives are largely failures, and the usual explanations for these failures are inadequate.

He goes on to talk about change management in these terms:

change management rests upon the conceit that it is possible systematically to control social and organisational relations, a conceit shared by the social sciences in general

The article is a great read and Johnnie offers his own take on the change process at the end with which I completely agree.

too often, conversations about change treat it as something done to other people at another time; as something that people must be talked into.

I’d offer an additional perspective which is that (a) we are always resistant to change and (b) we are always changing. So many managers and leaders I work with are grappling with having to implement or deal with the fallout from change. They enter into the relationship feeling scared, utterly inadequate and hiding in their academic understanding of the “value” of change. I have moments when I genuinely think they’ve been brainwashed into believing that it should be simple and straightforward. Which of course it’s not. How could it be when we are grappling with that paradox?
Ask anyone about the value of an academic approach to fitness, weight loss, saving for a rainy day and see how effective it is to talk at people about something they are willingly losing or giving up by not doing things the “new” way. It simply doesn’t work. Most of the time people are scared about what they are losing – sense of self, dignity, finance, position etc…our identity is completely challenged by change processes and yet…
We all change

  • we recover from relationships that don’t work
  • We learn to move on from the death of significant others
  • We adapt to being in relationships with others where our sense of self has to evolve and accommodate difference
  • We deal with our children leaving home

And somehow, at the end of it all we survive. Change processes that tap into what we already know about change, our capacity for both hating and managing together with our ability to survive and move on are the most meaningful change interventions I have seen work. I’m privileged to have been part of designing some of those processes also and like Johnnie I believe in the power of open spaces (using that technology and others) for genuine and meaningful connections between people. Safe places that address and manage power relationships are they only ways to effective real change in my humble opinion.

2 People reacted on this

  1. Oh, I love your “our capacity for both hating and managing…” It’s the word “hating”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it used in a context like this. And it is just the right word.
    But that other word “privileged” has become so trendy among post-modernists… and I don’t see you as a post-modernist.
    What about the cheese? You remind me of the mice in that book about change, especially how normal resistence to change is.

  2. Well I have to admit that my MSc was a bit of a post modernist journey but I haven’t gone over the edge totally. I am willing to question everything (good postmodernist girl that I am) and if what went before is better than what’s on the table now then I’ll willingly go back (very modernist of me)…anyway, organisations are modernist in that they have tasks to do, our way of doing the task can be as post modernist as we wish.
    And as for the cheese…I aspire to writing a similar best selling book…it won’t be about mice and cheese though…now if only the muse would strike!

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