Is Change Management Becoming Obsolete?


Some time ago in an article in the magazine OrganisationsEntwicklung [engl.: Organisation Development], Rudolf Wimmer reminds us that we can understand change management in three different ways:


[1] We can place the emphasis on the word “change” which leads to the understanding that we have to change the management. Once the C-level at the top of an organisation is renewed, typically the subordinated reporting levels are partially replaced some weeks or months later. Management is often based on trust and therefore it is completely understandable that the members of the top management will select their most trusted colleagues when they need to decide who will become part of the management team.


[2] We can place the emphasis on the word “management” which leads to the understanding that we have to manage the change. This is all about what we, as change managers, learned in the 80s and 90s when we studied change models such as those of Kurt Levin and others. For instance, Kurt Lewin's three-stage theory of change is commonly referred to as Unfreeze, Change, Freeze (or Refreeze). It gave us a simple framework regarding how to manage change projects and we gained the understanding that we can plan and manage change in the same way that we do this on all other projects–just like an organisation might function in the same way as a machine. And, without any doubt, there are organisations existing which are based more or less on this logic. However, many organisations do not do this and Gareth Morgan also described this in the 1980s in different images as well. Studying his eight metaphors gave us as students a new way of thinking regarding how to understand organisational logics. Furthermore, the world has indeed changed since Lewin’s theory was originally presented in 1947 and thus we also have to understand change management in a different way as well.



[3] If we place the emphasis on both words–“change” and “management”, we understand that we are in a constant change process whereby organisations neither unfreeze nor have the possibility of freezing their current status. Instead, we need to prepare the organisational system to adapt quickly to a changing environment. We need to strengthen the organisational capacity to recover quickly from difficulties during change processes–what we generally understand under “resilience”. Kurt Lewin was aware that change is not an event, but rather a process. He called that process a “transition”. Transition is the inner movement we make in reaction to a change. The business dynamic has changed so rapidly that people are in a constant “unfrozen” stage as change becomes a permanent reality. Does this mean that change management as we knew it in the past is dead?


NeuroChange = A New Way of Leading Change!


Therefore, with NeuroChange, we want to take a different approach: By understanding our neurological fundamentals, we need to aim to design brain-friendly organisations. Leading change from inside-out means to understand that inside starts with insight. Insight means (according to the Cambridge Dictionary) “the ability to have a clear, deep, and sometimes sudden understanding of a complicated problem or situation”. The complexity, for instance, is based on the resolution of conflicts: Our business dynamics are forcing us towards permanently continuous transition. Once the players in the organisation link their identification to the business status (which is constantly changing) they will feel a negative impact on the “primary reward” or “primary threat” circuitry (and associated networks) of the brain (see also the findings of the NeuroLeadership in this field). By utilising organisational logic, we need to design organisations that have, on the one hand, the capability and ability to respond (to the business changes) and, on the other hand, to provide the working environment whereby the players of an organisation can exploit their own excellence while being driven by security and motivation.


Supporting the idea of agility in the organisational design is one aspect of many. Owing to the value-based decision aspects, agile methods support our motivation much better than classical designs do. As already stated in one of my last blog articles, there are, in principle, two ways to increase our motivational level: The first is to reduce the perceived difficulty of the task and the second is to increase the perceived reward from completing the task. User stories, sprints, retrospectives, etc. fulfil this demand. Owing to our neurological basis, these methods make us more capable of feeling the success of our business contributions and these positive associations are then stored in our brain and whenever we face a difficult challenge in the future.


Many more aspects need to be taken into consideration in order to develop our organisational design in order to create more brain-friendly organisations. It is a road towards change and therefore change management isn’t dead–we just need to regard it in a different way so that we can use these insights in order to make our transitions successful. If you have any best practices in this field, I would be very interested in exchanging these experiences. Please contact me in this regard!