The Problem with Change Managers

OK, to start with let me declare that I love Change Managers. I work with many of them, I consider some to be good friends, and I see them as having a crucial role to play in all businesses and especially in projects where change is being made (which is most projects).  Many Change Managers have been crucial business colleagues in the past and some remain so today.

But what I do find with some Change Managers is that they get into Change Management because they want to change the world, or at least talk about it.  And sometimes some of them want to change the world because that is probably a whole lot easier than changing themselves.  They must figure that it will be easier to focus on “that” problem rather than “this” one.  This reminds me of an anonymous story that I love.  It goes something like this:

        There was an old man on his deathbed, and he was talking to his son.  And he said:
“You know son, when I was young, I wanted to change the world.  I soon realised I couldn’t achieve that so I decided to change my country.  I struggled with that too so I tried to change our town.  I failed at that so I wanted to change our family.  I haven’t managed to do that so I focused on changing myself.  I am now too old to do any of those things except that I have managed to change myself.  But now that I have changed myself, I now realise that if I could have started with me, I could have changed us as a family, I then could have gone on to change our town, and perhaps tackle changing the country, and who knows I may have been able to change the world too.  But the lesson, son, is that it should have always started with me, and so anything you want to do should start with you.”
I was recently asked to conduct a workshop at a Change Management professional body training programme.  It was small event, but a new and promising professional organisation so I agreed.  There were around 30 participants, and three breakout sessions where participants could choose one of four workshops at each breakout period.  I was asked to facilitate one workshop at one of these breakout periods.  I showed up having prepared a topic of interest to the expected audience.  The topic discussed personal styles and the diverse needs of modern day projects (you can see the material here).

I had two people attend.  They were keen and motivated, which was excellent, but what happened to everyone else?  The law of averages suggested that I could expect perhaps 7 or 8.  Thirty people had a total of 90 workshop selections they could make during the course of the program, yet only 2 attended the only opportunity to cover Project Management.  This was less than a 3% interest. 

There is probably several reasons for this, but I do believe it largely relates to one.  One chap came up to our table as we were about to start.  We all got excited thinking we had a third participant.  He said, no we are just short of a chair next door.  And then he said “ what do I need to know about gantt charts anyway” as he walked off.  There you have it, Project Management, in the eyes of Change Managers, is just about Gantt charts.

The unfortunate aspect for Change Managers with this observation is that they believe they know what Project Management is and they don’t need to know any more.  Whether they believe it is about gantt charts or some other thing, they have just created distance between Project Managers and themselves because they believe they already know all there is to know about Project Management, when clearly they do not. 

Project Management was one of eight competencies this new professional organisation has as part of its competency standard.  And all of these change managers would work in projects, and many would regularly report to Project and Program Managers.  Yet less than 3% had an interest in learning more about it.

Perhaps it is understandable that Change Managers would stereotype Project Managers as merely Gantt chart gurus.  Of course Change Managers themselves have been stereo typed for many years.  They are the tree huggers, the ones who keep telling us how its all about the people, as they complain about a stakeholder who wont see things their way.  But of course, having had many long and successful business relationships with Change Managers,  I know that those views are really not constructive, and nor do I believe them either for that matter.

The key point to remember here is that Change Management is a profession that should be about building bridges between people.  And the best way to do this is to find common ground between interested parties, not digging trenches and placing others in them.  This is not the way to deliver change outcomes.  Learning from others, understanding their perspectives and helping them find a path that suits them is the work of Change Management.  And this starts with moving yourself closer to other parties, not further away by thinking you know all there is to know of them.

Of course many Change Managers are great at what they do, but if you are a Change Manager, for the sake of your own profession and your own success (and I haven’t yet mentioned your responsibilities to your clients or employers) please take note...Project Management is as much about gantt charts as Change Management is about using Outlook to schedule a conversation.

And if that doesn’t make sense then maybe you are in the wrong profession.