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Thinking about change management
February 13, 2018, 10:10
Filed under: cpd23, Reflections | Tags: , , , ,

Isn’t it interesting how things bounce off each other? Or, more specifically, when something you’re thinking about causes you to notice other instances of that same thing all over the place? (I have a feeling there’s actually a term to define it, but I don’t remember what it is – let me know if you do!)

Last year I spent quite a bit of time working through some of the fantastic online courses offered by the FutureLearn platform. My interest was initially piqued when I came across a recommendation for their course “Behind the scenes at the 21st century museum”, and I enjoyed the experience so much that I went on to study “Antiquities trafficking and art crime”, “From ink to sound” (reading Medieval music from manuscripts!), and “A history of Royal food and feasting” (British monarchs from Elizabeth to Victoria, in conjunction with Historic Royal Palaces). One of the many things I like about these courses is that whilst they are only offered from time to time, you can sign up to be alerted when something you’re interested in has a new start date. I rather voraciously signed up for all sorts of things, and thankfully they seem to be arriving on the schedule in a gradual enough way for me to actually be able to participate in most of them!

The most recent course I took was rather a departure from the arts/historical side of my interests: “Leading and managing people-centered change”, from the University of Durham. Taught by staff from their MBA programme, the three weeks of study took participants through the lifecycle of a change project, from engaging staff at the outset, responding to their needs and developing engagement, to maintaining momentum and managing threats to the process. We were given the opportunity to reflect on case studies as well as our own experiences along the way, and some of the group discussion threads were just as useful as the (excellent) course content itself.

Like most people, I have experienced several change processes, and have first-hand accounts to share of the good, the bad, and the seriously ugly. I am not currently expecting to lead any major changes in the near future, but I’m always interested to learn more about this kind of thing, particularly with regard to the “winning hearts and minds” side of it all. Consequently I was extremely interested to see a segment on change management on the agenda for SLA’s leadership symposium at the end of January, and I wondered whether the two would overlap.

In fact, this second instance turned out to be completely different. SLA’s trainer focussed on understanding how various categories of people react to change, and how to help them by speaking to their specific requirements, whereas the FutureLearn course was more high-level. Taken together, the two approaches have given me plenty to think about, but more importantly I had a huge revelation when the trainer described the following way of categorisation:

  • At one end of the spectrum you have the the Conservers. They accept structure, honour tradition, prefer incremental change, and may appear cautious or inflexible in the face of change. In order to engage them you need to provide clear plans and timeframes.
  • Next up, the Pragmatists. These folk are prepared to explore structure but prefer functional change. They may take a middle-of-the-road approach in order to find a practical, workable outcome, and want to know the what and the how.
  • And at the other end we find the Originators. These enjoy risk, like to challenge structure and prefer expansive change. This sometimes means they can be impractical and miss details, but they are also likely to be described as visionary.

This made so much sense to me – I never understood before how even the best-managed change process can be met with active resistance, even hostility, from some quarters, but I can absolutely see how using a framework such as this to inform the presentation of information in different ways would benefit everyone involved. It’s such a simple thing, really, but I’m still kind of marvelling at it.

As a fun activity in the training session, having been introduced to this concept we were then encouraged to stand in a line along the edge of the meeting room according to where we felt we fell on the spectrum. I placed myself solidly in the Pragmatist category, from whence I was immediately retrieved by some colleagues who felt I should be at the outer end of the Originators… When I protested they reminded me that I had said “blow everything up and start again” in a meeting just a day or two before (only half in jest) – on reflection I think I’m somewhere in between those two points. Interestingly I started my career very much in the Conserver category, so I’m absolutely on a change journey of my own here, and I need to remember this (and take advantage of the insight) when I’m working with other people. More generally, the biggest value of this placement exercise was in allowing us all to see where everyone else fell on the spectrum, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one making mental notes about how best to interact with various individuals in the future!

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