It started with a bunch of old dudes staring at numbers.
Statistics. Numerical analyses of how people respond to changes around them. In the 1960s, Everett Rogers came out with Diffusion of Innovations. Over the next forty-one years, statistical studies of how people adopt new ideas and technology were documented more than five thousand times.
In the decades leading up to 1990, psychologists and scholars around the world were all about human behaviour and social dynamics. Their studies contributed greatly to what we know about how humans experience and internalise change, yet little had been applied to organisations and groups. In 1982, Julien Phillips published a model of change management in a journal, but it took his peers a decade to catch up with his ideas.
When early organisational change pioneers in the ’80s branded their work as “change management services”, various industries began to invite change management consultation and practices. One of these pioneers and founder of Conner Partners, Daryl Conner, published Managing at the Speed of Change in 1993. In it, the “burning platform” refers to the sudden and radical change of behaviour that is sparked by dire circumstances. His lesson: There’s nothing like choosing between certain death and probable death to get you to commit to making a change. The leadership commitment needed to succeed in effecting major change is nothing short of intense.
A huge shift in understanding occurred as firms tried to keep up with and incorporate advancements in technology in the workplace in the 80s and 90s, when this study of change moved into a business context. Conner Partners provided management techniques to many. Their understanding of human performance, coupled with strategies for the positive adoption of technological innovations, influenced the leadership styles of big firms and many industries.
The 1990s brought forth a number of contributors to the method of change management. Aside from Daryl Conner’s Managing at the Speed of Change, seminal books published at the time include:
- Todd Jick’s Managing Change
- Jeanenne LaMarsh’s Changing the Way We Change
- John Kotter’s Leading Change
- Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese
During this time, top leaders began to grow dissatisfied with the top-down method of effecting change. They decided to create a new role for the change leader: to support the people side of change. The 2000s brought us the Association of Change Management Professionals, formalising change management as an area of study and as a profession. Today, more and more, change management is adopted into company culture, as a common approach to business, rather than referred to as a tool for dealing with particular projects.
Change management has grown out of a study of human behaviour, into a driving force for united progress – for communal success. Change management encourages leaders to remember the human side of the workplace, to invest in the growth of each individual team member, and to create a supportive environment for positive change.