Managing Organizational Change: A book review by Bob Morris

Managing Org ChangeManaging Organizational Change: A Practical Toolkit for Leaders
Helen Campbell
Kogan-Page (2014)

How to lead effective organizational change: Concise, substantial, practical, and do-able discussions and recommendations

Most organizational change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original expectations and reasons vary, of course, from one organization to the next. More often than not, however, the major cause is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” What we have in this volume are the information, insights, and wisdom that Helen Campbell has accumulated during several decades of real-world experience with all manner of organizations that struggle to achieve and then manage change.

She immediately establishes a direct rapport with her reader, expressing her hope that each reader will use the information to learn from her as well as from those with whom she has been associated; educate those in their own organization to understand the nature and extent of the organizational changes that are needed; assess performance to expedite the process; recognize potential risks and avoid them; manage the ones that cannot be anticipated; celebrate successes and those who were instrumental in achieving them; meanwhile, keep senior management of informed of verifiable progress to date; and develop integrated frameworks and methodologies that can help to add value throughout the given enterprise.

As I worked my way through Chapter 2 in which Campbell introduces her six-step “cycle of change” (i.e. Direct, Drive, Deliver, Prepare, Propagate, and Profit), I was reminded of a similar approach that John Kotter recommends in his classic, Leading Change (1996), and in later works discusses in greater depth, notably in A Sense of Urgency (2008) and XLR8 (2014). Basically, Kotter suggests an eight-step process:

Step 1: Establishing a Sense of Urgency
Step 2: Creating the Guiding Coalition
Step 3: Developing a Change Vision
Step 4: Communicating the Vision for Buy-in
Step 5: Empowering Broad-based Action
Step 6: Generating Short-term Wins
Step 7: Never Letting Up
Step 8: Incorporating Changes into the Culture

What was true more than 2,000 years ago — when Heraclitus suggested that change is the only constant — is even truer today, given the current global marketplace in which “business as usual” is constant change. New initiatives, project-based working, technology improvements, staying ahead of the competition – these forces and the pressures they generate come together to drive ongoing changes to the way we work.

Of course, Campbell fully understands all this. Whatever the process, however many steps it involves, the fact remains that changes will occur, and probably do so faster and in greater number than ever before. Neither organizations nor those who lead them can control everything that happens but it is possible (a) to anticipate and then prepare for probabilities and (b) to determine how to respond to what does happen.

These are among the subjects and issues of greatest interest to me:

o External and internal cultural forces
o Culture traps and how to avoid them
o Developing and sustaining a capacity to change
o Forging a commitment to change (why Kotter begins his cycle with establishing a sense of urgency)
o Commitment traps and how to avoid them
o The Six-Step Process
o Twelve appendices that (all by themselves) are worth far more than the cost of the book.

Just as in residential real estate, for every house there is a buyer, it is also true of books about organizational change: for every one of them there is a reader who will gain substantial benefit from the material provided. This really is a “practical toolkit” with operations manual included. I presume to suggest that those who read have a lined notebook near at hand. Helen Campbell includes space to complete several exercises but, given the importance of this subject, it also makes sense to highlight key passages and record comments, questions, and what I call “boodles,” business doodles that consist of annotated (albeit primitive) illustrations of key points and, especially, key relationships and correlations.

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