Unmanaged change or change management?

Noel Turnbull, Adjunct Professor media and communications at RMIT wrote yesterday that “One of the PR industry’s most problematic activities is dreaming up justifications for toxic workplace practices imposed by psychopathic managers” in Crikey.

While an interesting view of poor change management, the piece did not cover the fact that unmanaged change can be a fate far worse.

My response:

To begin, my declaration of interest: I have a foot in both the communication and the change management camps. I have worked in organisations that have undergone many ‘changes’, some managed well, some ‘unmanaged’, some poor.

It is a little disingenuous to only speak about the phrase “change management” as a euphemism for the type of poor practice outlined (in an excellent, flawed article). Dismissing all aspects of managing change does not serve those impacted by poor change management.

There are any number of factors that can lead an organisation – private or public – to need to ‘change’. These factors can be legislative, economic, environmental. And the impact of these factors do require management. Change is not something to be spun. It is something to be worked through, and does require ‘management’.

The ‘change’ industry is a substantial one. Like any industry there will be a range of views on effective, responsible practice. ‘Change’ is stressful. The human response to change is a well-studied area (psychology, medically, industrially, etc). Considering the degree of human impact/cost from poorly or unmanaged organisational change (such as the examples  described), it is surprising there is little regulation.

authoirised personnel only

Change - an unregulated field

Anyone can be a ‘change manager’, and the boundaries between HR, business improvement, communication, PR get blurred.  A PR-only approach to change management is rarely successful. Communication is never an effective substitute for strategy – that is a whole other topic ;).

It is an organisation’s leaders and managers who are ultimately accountable. Organisations (and practitioners) do have a responsibility to ‘manage change’ in a responsible way.  There are a substantial number of good practitioners across a range of disciplines who are committed to this field, to improving the outcomes for people and organisations, who understand the principles of involvement and participatory management and who seek to educate the leaders who ultimately make the decisions about how a change is managed.

What do you think?

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