Change management is a process of discovery. It involves finding and analysing opportunities and finding steps to take in order to implement new solutions. Change management could be applied in all areas in our private life and in society, but in our private life we rarely go about change as a planned process.
I sometimes use the example of the development of Lean Production to describe how change management works. During the late 1970’s and 1980’s many researchers, business leaders and consultants tried to find out what made Japanese companies so extraordinarily competitive. Nobody knew why. Some argued that the Japanese culture was key to this (the marketing guru Philip Kotler wrote a book about this together with a Japanese researcher), others argued that the particular Japanese management culture was different from the US and European management styles and principles (Pascale and Athos in “The Art of Japanese Management” for example).
In 1991 the book “The Machine that Changed the World” resulted from a large scale research project at MIT and the conclusion was that Japanese companies achieved their competitiveness by using less resources than their US and European counterparts. This was because they produced single cars based on customer orders, but in reality they were “lean” because they applied the principles of “Lean Manufacturing” and “Lean Management”. At this point the contents of the Lean Manufacturing toolchest were not mapped or understood in detail, but Toyota was identified as the originator of these principles, something that built on a previous interest in the Toyota principles. Now we have a very detailed tool-chest and numerous companies that work according to these principles. Still, however, we are in the process of discovery. A few years ago Jeffrey Liker published the book The Toyota Way, which is also the result of a series of large scale research projects and Liker has found a number of additional principles that build our understanding of Lean Production even further.
Companies use the principles discovered to manage change in their own organizations. This however, is also a process of discovery, since it is seldom easy to apply successful principles that have been developed in other settings in another particular company. This is true even for tried and tested principles like lean. Change is always a process of discovery in every part of the process.
This is sometimes forgotten. People who do not see the world as we do have been through different processes of discovery than we have ourselves. In order to make change possible we need to tell other people, who may seem like opponents at first, not about our views today, but about our processes of discovering these views. We also need to listen to people describing their processes of dicovering their views without interrupting them. We could not force our views upon them anyway.
When we understand each other’s processes of discovery, we need to embark on processes of mutual discovery where we can use the differing experiences of people to solve problems that seem impossible to solve at the outset. This is not simple, but it is simply how change management works…
Wednesday, June 10, 2009 by Mats Larsson