Reaction Management and other Taboos

change and the futureBackground

This is part 1 of a 2 part article which appeared in Managing Change & Technology Vol. 2 Issue No. 1 January 2001. Managing Change & Technology is edited by Peter De Jager (he of Y2K fame). A copy of the whole newsletter can be obtained from the publisher

Reaction Management & Other Taboos

It seems silly to rush around building an airplane, rush up to a cliff and then push it over to see if it will fly. But it is even sillier to give no thought as to how it is to land. And yet that is what we do constantly in the technology fields. We build airplanes, throw away the landing gear and then push the whole mess over a cliff.

I remember, in a previous life, being forbidden to deal with the manual procedures to support the computer systems we designed. We’d busily talk to the users, then go off and design our wonderful new systems to make their lives easier. But if the new system meant they needed to change their manual processes then that was their problem. The poor user of the new system was left to their own devices to cope with the changes. Our success rate was variable to say the least.

Sometime later I went into accounting to document the systems for a major reengineering effort. I couldn’t understand half of what they were doing! My poor ex-Accounting Manager mind was being run around in circles! As a Systems Analyst I was reduced to rapid blinking and mumbling distractedly! Confusion reigned until I realized that they were routinely balancing half transactions. New systems made old procedures obsolete, but they had tried to go on with the data that was left.

Situations like this seem silly. And they are silly. But they are also common. The question is why? I’m a great believer in why. Unless you answer the why, you can’t properly answer the “what?”, the “how?” or the “who?”.

The first answer is simple. Techies are, generally speaking, incompetent at reaction management. And managers are aware of it, if only because they’re aware of their own weaknesses. So the quick solution is to keep the Techies right out of the problem universe. TABOO! Certain death! Automatic firing! Leave it to the implementation support people … who may not be any better at it but at least they aren’t Techies. They also make great crash dummies!

But why are Techies incompetent when dealing with reactions. There are three basic reasons why Techies can’t do reaction management:

  • They aren’t people oriented (that’s why they’re Techies)
  • They resist change themselves
  • They don’t have the skills (knowledge) to deal with resistance.

As we continue to ask “why?” the answers converge. The answer to “why?” is a lack of skills in people management and in reaction management. And surprise, surprise – these are trainable skills.

So what do we have?

  • A high (and increasing) need for reaction management
  • A low level of management trust
  • Need for formal training is high
  • Availability of training is low.

I do hope there is a crash team available! Now, where is my parachute? You did remember the parachute didn’t you?

I’ll sew the parachute next month. (actually it will be available tomorrow on this website).