Academic Organizational Change

The Tools and Techniques of Change Management (Revisited)

Change management tools and techniques and how my thinking evolved over a decade.

The tools and techniques of change management (Hughes, 2007) was a catchy title for a paper, yet revisiting the paper a decade later much of my thinking has subsequently evolved.  In the new textbook (Hughes, 2019) I included a chapter on tools and techniques, something which I hadn’t done in previous textbooks. 

Textbook proposals go through a scrutiny process in terms of what to include.  There was interest from some reviewers in tools and techniques, which I could have resisted, but I wanted to respond to interest in tools and techniques, although probably not in the way reviewers wanted…

Often critical scholars disparage me as merely peddling tools and techniques, as their worlds move forward informed by the writings of Foucault, Bourdieu, and Greek philosophers. Whereas practitioners disparage me for not placing enough emphasis on tools, techniques and their application.  I exist between these two very different worlds. At times it feels very uncomfortable writing for the liminal space between worlds.  Most of the time I enjoy the creative tension between these very different world views and the demands their proponents make. 

There are at least five ways in which Hughes (2007) would be very different if written today.

  • That change management thingy
  • Change as dynamic
  • Subject expertise, definitions, language and discourse
  • Context is everything
  • Practical judgement

That change management thingy – In UK universities change management really arrived in the mid-nineties. At Brighton, we were pioneers in launching an MA Change Management in 1995. Today, the words appear very rusty and dated implying that change management is a thing to be accomplished, a tick-box ticked and then onto the next tick-box.  However, academics and practitioners had this realization that they were dealing with something far more fluid.  It was a process, although even claims that there was a beginning, a middle and an end were increasingly questioned.

We began to appreciate that an organizational change such as a cultural change could take years to bed down and even then, it would be a fluid and emerging phenomenon, rather than a thing.   An appreciation of processes and process thinking was not restricted to change, increasingly, for example, we engaged with the nursing process and education processes. Back to organizational change and we increasingly moved away from change management as a thing towards managing change as a process.  So today the paper would embrace the processual nature of managing change tools and techniques.

Change as dynamic – Closely related to appreciating the processual nature of organizational change has been a greater appreciation of the dynamic and ambiguous nature of organizational change. Mantras such as ‘change is the only constant around here’ and ‘we are living through an era of unprecedented change’ are misleading rhetoric.

Many constants in organizations do exist, think of staff working relationships which may last over many years.  Every decade I have lived through is billed as an era of unprecedented change, every era by definition cannot be one of unprecedented change? Beneath the empty words, we need to better appreciate the dynamic nature of organizational change. In terms of evaluation, today’s failed change with time may be perceived as a success and vice versa.  Different managing change tools and techniques may be more or less appropriate at different stages of dynamic changing processes.

Subject expertise, definitions, language and discourse – In 2007 I was naïve in assuming the existence of a bounded set of change management tools and techniques, with certain tools included and excluded from the change management toolbox.  Today, I appreciate that the world isn’t like this, subjects such as strategy, organizational development, project management and HR have their own tools and techniques. Some of these tools and techniques are relevant to organizational change, others less so.

Tools and techniques raise issues of definition and I like the notion of tools being nested in a technique. In the past quality circles may have been labelled as a tool, nested within a total quality management technique. The language of tools and techniques is slippery and equally the discourses of the latest management fashions seek to persuade and shape our thinking.  So today if I was writing the paper it would have been bounded such as managing change tools and techniques for quality management or for HR development.

Context is everything – I was mindful of the significance of context back in 2007, unfortunately however perhaps we pay lip service to context.  I have seen Harvard Business School models applied in voluntary and public service in the UK.  The implication being that such application brings business acumen from the world’s leading business school to these sectors.   However, the HBS models tend to be based upon American businesses, in terms of their underpinning research, their target audience and their application.  It’s like taking some daffodils which look lovely in an English country garden and expecting them to flourish in the Sahara, context really is everything.  So today if I was writing the paper it would be set in a specific context such as managing change tools and techniques for quality management in hospitals.

Practical judgement – One of the best books I have read recently is Tools and techniques of leadership and management (Stacey, 2012).  The book informs organizational change understanding without featuring that much about organizational change.  The book’s title must have frustrated many readers, I must admit the reason I came to the book was when I was writing the new chapter.  Early on you realize that Stacey (2012) is not selling notions of tools and techniques. Instead, he appears to have become disillusioned with an emphasis on tools and techniques in management and leadership.

He draws on his experiences of working with managers and leaders, suggesting that the more experienced managers were far less reliant on tools and techniques and far more reliant on exercising practical judgment.

Practical judgement is the experience-based ability to notice more of what is going on and intuit what is most important about a situation. (Stacey, 2012:108)

So today if I had been informed by Stacey’s (2012) account of tools and techniques I probably wouldn’t have attempted to write a paper on change management tools and techniques.

Further Reading

Hughes, M. (2007) The Tools and Techniques of Change ManagementJournal of Change Management 7 (1): 37-49.

Hughes, M. (2019) Management and leadership tools and techniques. In Hughes, M. (2019) Managing and Leading Organizational Change. London: Routledge.

Stacey, R.D. (2012) Tools and Techniques of Leadership and Management: Meeting the Challenge of Complexity. London: Routledge.

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