Leaders and Agents of Change

A common model when developing training is ‘whole-parts-whole’. Simply put, you start by explaining the total picture, then break it into parts, and end the training by putting the parts together as a whole again. 

When reflecting on the last series of posts they might seem like scattered or loose parts.  Next week I hope to put the previous two reflections and their associated blogs and images together as a whole again. This week I want to touch on a topic that is also relevant now, but which I will deal with in much more detail – probably as one or two reflections with blogs - at a later stage.

Change does not just happen and teams do not just start performing.  In any change there has to be something that triggers it. Just as important as the trigger, is the nurturing of that process and the creation of an environment that enables the change to happen.

Many years ago, Noel Tichy1 wrote about agents of change and identified four key types of change agents;

  • Outside Pressure (OP) – Often also referred to as pressure groups forcing change on an organisation.
  • Analysis for the top (AFT) – These change agents are expert advisors that focus primarily on macro change processes within organisations.
  • Organisation Development (OD) – These agents come from in- and outside the organisation focussing on social processes within organisations. Do however not confuse the name with the Discipline of Organisation Development.
  • People change technology (PCT) – Despite their name, they are not technology driven but focus on personal change (behaviour modification). They are often involved in staff development.

It is interesting to note that when reading about team building and the importance of the leaders as team builders, people are (often unknowingly) referring to the last two types of change agents. If there is no pressure from outside (OP) and there has been no full-scale analysis (AFT), applying the last gives “transactional change” often with no strategic results. The other two agents usually result in “transformational change”.

Organisations often appoint a champion, someone to carry the responsibility for driving an internal change process. In an earlier blog, we said that as much as 75% of Organisation Development interventions fail.  If we had such a high failure percentage in ordinary project management, the project manager would usually be the first person under review! In project management however, things are somewhat more controllable than in OD, where we work almost exclusively with independently thinking (I hope) people, their thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. There is an EDS commercial – available on YouTube2 - about trying to herd cats that demonstrates this!

The reality is that what often happens is that organisations implement large-scale – “strategic / transformational” - change without the last two making the change process a failure. Usually – from a shareholder perspective - implementing the OD and PCT roles is the more expensive, takes the most time but has the least visible impact.  It is cutting cost and saving on the “invisible” change processes that usually result in failures with OD consultants and, subsequently, OD processes developing a bad reputation.

Ref:

  1. Tichy, N.M. (1978) Current and Future Trends for Change Agentry. Group and Organization Studies (3), 4, 467-482
  2. You Tube video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk7yqlTMvp8

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