Understanding change management

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Understanding change management

THE ROCKS, SYDNEY, NSW — “I just don’t trust them,” my friend says over pizza.

I haven’t seen him in 30 years. We were best friends as teenagers in Paris. He’s now a senior civil servant in the Australian governement.

He’s just being honest.

“I don’t trust the guys who want to do change management on my projects. They take big budgets and I have no idea what they’re doing. I can’t see the effect it has.”

And he may be right.

It is one of my biggest fears.


We know that people run projects all the time without ‘change management’. We know that people have been enduring change since forever.

And we also know that some people purporting to sell change management can be very confusing. Even to themselves.  You don’t have to look too far. You really don’t. Try typing ‘change management’ into Google. You’ll see a lot of things that are hard to understand — and some that seem even a bit mystical.

So how do we really expect people to seek out, appreciate and then actually commission change management work? How can people like my old school friend have faith?

It’s a slow process.  But you could start by talking to Able and How. The impact that change management can have on a project or programme is immense.


Let’s maybe lay down a simple marker: Change management, if nothing else, should help you to manage complexity. That means getting to grips with the many variables.

Perhaps the one thing we can agree about change is that you can’t anticipate it all from the outset. Change management is about being prepared for the unexpected.

And being prepared for the unexpected isn’t a simple exercise. To be able to plan for the unexpected you need to understand where you are now — in great detail. And you need to be persistent in doing that.

You also need to understand your objectives. What is your ultimate goal? What does that mean?

And then there’s everything in between: What are the challenges and obstacles that hold us up between those two things?

There’s a lot of work right there.

Managing complexity is a ‘programme management’ role and Able and How does that very, very well.


It is not easy to manage change in a complex organisation. If someone tells you it can be done through a ‘campaign’, frankly, you should be sceptical.

We have seen slogans, logos and posters all masquerading as ‘change management’.

You might convince the public to buy a certain loaf of bread with a 30 second advertisement (for $ millions). But a business environment is much more complex than a commercial onex.

Changing the way people work requires more than a simple suggestion that they do something differently.

It is hard to change someone’s behaviour at work.  You need to invest a lot of time and resources.


There are different aspects of change. You can change systems and processes: the way in which a product is delivered or the steps involved in a business process.

People change systems and processes in businesses every day.

Many businesses change processes and systems frequently. Often with greater levels of complexity and forethought.

Unfortunately not all of them succeed.

This is often because the ‘people’ side to change hasn’t been factored in.

The people side is what Able and How specialise in. And that’s what is most often missing in change programmes.

The question to ask is: How can we make sure that people make the change that is required?  

That is harder, and require more complexity. More planning and more adaptability to change.


So, that is how we get to understanding change.  Change is about systems and processes… and it is also about people.

Does this make sense?  Can we explain some more?

And to my friend in Canberra: You can trust us.


Also see ‘Different Approaches to Change Management‘ a previous article wrote in February 2012.

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