INTERVIEW – Dr. Jen Frahm’s views on Digital Change and OCM 3.0

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As a final piece to our week on Digital OCM, we sought the views and opinions from Dr. Jennifer Frahm who is a very active and popular change guru based in Australia.

Jen has written previously about the notion of OCM 3.0, which we featured in our article earlier this week and we were keen to talk to Jen about that and other things in the world of organisational change management.

Question 1 – What do you see as the key challenges or opportunities going forward for OCM?
I think the real challenge that is going to hurt us is the legacy of poorly done change. It doesn’t matter what new models we come up with, new tools, new practices – the legacy of poorly executed change gets more and more deeply entrenched. Which I find totally confusing.
If you’re a senior leader, this isn’t your first project, you’ve been around this a few times, and I don’t understand why you would choose to move forward and ignore the lessons of the past. You should know that this time around, you need change management to make things better. That remains one of our biggest challenges because we’re going to continue to walk in to organisations where change is synonymous with pain, because its been so poorly done in the past.

In contrast there are aspects to our change management practice that are evolving so fast and so interestingly, that it created a lot of confusion for people. They think they know what change is and then someone comes in and is talking about a tool or a methodology or an approach and calling it change management as well, and its got nothing to do with what you thought it was. Reconciling what change management is, is both a challenge and an opportunity.

From an opportunity perspective I think there’s a quick win for us. This is a theme I picked up recently with the Change Management Institute in a webinar I ran for them. The opportunity to shine a light on change that’s done well and normalise change management. And the majority of change practitioners, which is why I love what Able and How are doing with the OCtober campaign, are either too lazy or too scared to be public in their work. We’ve got so many great stories.
One of the things that came out from the webinar was “I’m not sure I’ve got permission to talk about this programme”, so I said “how about you talk about a particular intervention, on a particular day”. We’ve got so many slices of our live that can inspire other people and normalise what great change looks like, yet we’re so reluctant to share it publicly, whether it be LinkedIn or Twitter or blogs or even in work-out-loud sessions in our organisation. It doesn’t even need to be outside the organisation. We’re not sharing what great change looks like, what a good day in the life of a change practitioner is.

Question 2 – What can you tell us about OCM 3.0, is it truly the next stage of how OCM operates?
I don’t know that it is a stage. I think of it as a path. There’s a pathway that you can follow. That pathway may become more heavily tread than others. But I think that there are still other paths that you can take. There’s nothing empirical behind it, in terms of how I define OCM 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. The distinction to me is OCM 1.0 is the top-down planned change, where change is done to people, it’s the old days. OCM 2.0 is the more collaborative practice, its more highly consultative and certainly there’s more elements of co-creation. OCM 3.0 for me is change that is inspired or driven by technological transformation but also the use of technology in our practice. So whether it’s big data, mobile apps, communication platforms that are heavily driven by technology and the agile approaches.

So, I think a lot of organisations are going to see all 3 versions operating simultaneously. Which is why I don’t see it as a linear or sequential stage that you will work through. I think they are paths you can tread that will provide different outcomes and all have relative trade-offs as to how you approach them.

Question 3 – How is technology enabling the change world? What have your experiences been like? And, what are some of the challenges you have come across?
I’ve found it particularly exciting, in terms of my practice, in exploring new technologies. When I say new technologies, I’m not using VR in any of my change engagements, that could be OCM 4.0. I mean using cloud-based mobile apps for change teams, using things like ‘Trello’ for distributed change teams to do change impact assessments across the world and keeping people updated. Using platforms like ‘Campaign Monitor’ or ‘Mailchimp’ to be able to drive change communications and get really good data on the penetration of the messages, who is downloading what content, to give you an immediate understanding of what’s landed and what hasn’t.

To a large extent, it’s the surveillance aspect of the technology that is available to us, that becomes the change practitioners friend.

Question 4 – Is that because Change Practitioners need to measure the value of change much more, and can get that instant measurement from technology? How do you see that in your experience?
No, not necessarily. I would love to say yes to that but I don’t see anyone asking us to measure the value of change. I think that’s something we see really good Change Practitioners push forward. I think its more about the speed of change initiatives, they’re going so fast. We don’t have the luxury of time to work out….”did that work?”

Yes, you can use all this stuff to work out how effective you’ve been but the reality is that measurement is more about the ‘build, measure, learn’ feedback loop, “do I need to tweak this?”, “do I need to change the next iteration of my change communications?”, “is there a hotspot in the business that we haven’t elicited in our discovery phase?”. I think its more to do with the speed of the work we are doing, more so than the metrics.

Question 5 – Do you see the speed of change having a big impact on the ability to make change stick in this digitally-disruptive change world? Do we still have the luxury of time to embed change after ‘go-live’? How have you seen this work?
No, I don’t think we do. I think sustainability is a different concept in making something stick. I think what we’re looking for are sustainable capabilities and behaviours in the organisation that will enable the continuing change.

The reality is that if you’re looking for something to stick, you’ve got to unstick it to do the next change, so I actually think that sustainability is “what does flux look like in our organisations?”, and “how can we make it a really productive state of flux?”, more so than anchoring the change, and then needing to do so again 3 months later, and so on and so forth.

I think sustainability is a lot more fluid these days, than what would have been 10 years ago.

Question 6 – We’ve seen the rise recently of ‘change platforms’, such as ‘Ralleo’, which you’ve talked about in the past, do you still see an important role for Change Practitioners and teams of Change Specialists in the future or do you see change being delivered mainly through a cloud-based change platform? And do you agree that sometimes organisations are looking for that ‘silver bullet’ to deliver change? What is your perspective on this?
I do still think we will need people. I think trust is the foundation of good change and trust is built on the personal level, the inter-relationships. You may not always trust the data.

I think a lot of those platforms are really good at building change capability of non-change practitioners, so you might see a reduction in the number of change practitioners required, who may then manage a distributed workforce using those applications. But primarily you’ve still got to have the emotional intelligence to be able to relate to people, to make change work.

Change is complex for the vast majority of us. We might see someone like Elon Musk at Tesla using some cognitive science which gets at the heart of how to make everybody change in that organisation, but I don’t think that’s going to be a widespread occurrence in my next 20 years.

Question 7 – How do you think OCM practitioners can set themselves up for the future and remain fit-for-purpose?
I think Change Practitioners really need to consider what curiosity looks like in their practice. We’re really good at being curious about the organisations that we’re in, curious about that people that we’re working with, I don’t think that we extend that curiosity outside the organisation.

So, if you were to seek out some technologists, some futurists, some sociologists, those types of people on LinkedIn, start following them and 20 minutes a week just read something new that has got nothing to do with change management, you’re starting to really feed that curiosity and send stuff to the sub-conscious around “what might I do differently?”

Attend one conference, once a year that’s got nothing to do with change management practice and walk away thinking “how would I use that in my change practice?”. For me it’s about diversity and moving outside of your field to be able to future scan.
I really love TedX for that sharp shot of “hey that’s different”, and there’s a conference that’s in the U.S called ‘Dent the Future’, that is fascinating, its kind of a Ted-style set-up, with speakers who might be sports people to famous technologists talking about stuff. It was amazing because beyond the speakers, it was about the community you were hanging out with and very few of them understood change management and even the corporate world so that was quite stimulating.
In Australia, ‘Agile Australia‘ is a really good conference to go to.

Question 8 – Do you spend a lot of your time on Agile projects? If so, what does this look like?
It’s a mixed bag, but my next project is a full Agile project, ‘big A’. Over the last couple of years I’ve worked on semi-Agile projects using Agile methodology, we’ve used Agile principles on a digital transformation piece, even a couple of years ago at a big Australian bank it was heavily influenced by Agile and Lean practices in what they were doing. Whilst you don’t necessarily always see ‘hardcore Agile’, there’s certainly a lot of influence that’s coming into our practice and the teams are getting smaller.

So, if I think about that last couple of years, the teams that I’ve worked in from a change perspective have been tiny, compared to years ago. And I think that’s one of the things we’re seeing with more Agile change practice. Tiny teams, doing a lot. It’s about managing expectations differently, and doing things at a high level, instead of detail and letting your results inform things for the next step – which is very liberating. I think it’s great fun! Take me away from the spreadsheets please.

Question 9 – How easy do you find embedding real change capability in project teams?
It can be easy to do when things are going well. If you’re in a high performing team and organisation who are well enabled and have everything in place to succeed, then yes you can come in and do your change capability build and they will be better for it. You will walk out and they are doing change better.

Where I find it comes unstuck is when there’s a curve ball, and something comes unstuck and there’s a crisis for the team or organisation and they move into default mode of what they know best. When this happens, they let all their knowledge of change management slip away because they’ve moved back into a ‘command and control mindset’.

I think people have got a really strong appetite for it too. Teams I’m working with really want to learn more about how to deploy change better, so most of the time that works well.

Question 10 – Looking into our crystal ball, if another pathway is OCM 4.0, what do you think lies within there? Is is clear?
I actually think there is the opportunity to be using things like Augmented Reality to create future state visions. At the moment one of the challenges in getting people to move from where they are is that they can’t fully see what the future’s going to look like with a level of confidence that would make them want to move.
So imagine if we start using Augmented Reality, so that they can actually step into the new world, whether that be physically, location, behaviours. I think there’s great potential to use that.

I think as a philosophy OCM 4.0 might look like self-organising change. And in which case the role of the change practitioner is to create enabling states for that self-organising change.

One of the common concepts is that change management is controlling things and people say, “nobody can really manage change”, but you can, its not all about control, and the self-organisation aspect is about how you create an enabling state for that to happen.
The third thing to consider is the notion of stability management. Perhaps OCM 4.0 is actually change practitioners re-wiring to say, “how do we help you stop, pause, reset, breathe?” to create some stability. How do we use the skillsets we’ve used for years to help you change, to now help you not change. I like to play with that idea and I don’t know what it looks like yet. We could all have ‘Stability Agents’ on our business cards in the future.


Jen has a new book out called Conversations of Change, which is a great read and can come in particularly handy with any tricky stakeholders who you need to be convinced around the value of change management.


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