Reaction Management and other Taboos Part 2

change and the future


This is part 2 of a 2 part article which appeared in Managing Change & Technology Vol. 2 Issue No. 1 January 2001 and Vol. 2 Issue No. 2 February 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

Last month we left our hero, in an aircraft with no undercarriage, being pushed off a cliff and staring at a pile of nylon. Okay, work with me here, it’s been a month since I used that metaphor and I’m not used to writing serials.

Last month we were left, after several “why?”s with a situation that looked like this:

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

And I was promising to sew you a parachute. Maybe I should jump off that cliff! It might be easier.

If your company is typical, the inability to deal with the increasing speed and depth of change is a problem that could literally tear your company apart. Not to mention rip you out of your job. And it will continue to get worse as technology and the economy evolve.

So how do we solve the problem? There are three basic alternatives. We can turn our people into “change artists”; we can hire outside “change artists”; or we can ignore the situation and hope it goes away. Our criteria for choice is simple, “Does it give the organization the ability to react positively to change?”

So what happens if we ignore the situation? At the start of last year, we were all being told that to survive we had to be “”. Bricks and mortars had crashed (airplane metaphor alert), and clicks were flying high. By the end of the year, it was the clicks that were in a tailspin. Killed by Hype? The inevitable result of still more management by fad? Perhaps, but economic murder by the inability to react appropriately to change is the more likely charge. In the First World War, pilots would often jump from burning aircraft. They didn’t wear parachutes but their craft were made of wood and canvas. Which choice did you make? Oops, too late!

Hitting the ground as a ball of flames or as a bad Superman impression isn’t a real choice. We need to address the problem or we will be seen as the fire not the poor pilot.

That only leaves us with two choices, our own people or outsiders.

When do you use outside skills? If you are the group being changed then outside skills are not only the obvious solution but also the best. Outsiders, whether new hires or consultants, are able to bring new skills and a non-political, balanced view. At least in perception if not always in reality.

But what happens if you are the change agents? In that case, outsiders aren’t going to cut it in the long run. You are the outsiders. You are the change consultants to everyone else. You need those skills and you don’t have them. You could hire them – but since they have to train themselves – not too likely! You could hire consultants – but there aren’t that many of them available. Certainly not enough to cover your clients’ needs. If you are change agents for your organization you need to develop reaction management skills as part of your basic skills delivery. Relying on others just isn’t going to work.

IT is by definition a “change agent”. It brings the change into the organization and propagates it by installing new software. Which is part of why IT people are amongst the most change resistant. They’ve never been trained in their role of change agents and yet are required to bring change to the organization. Is it any surprise that they burn out and go crashing down into a “my way or the highway” attitude?

So what’s the solution? IT has to train its own change agents. Those in our organizations who are charged with dealing with clients must be capable of helping people react to change. We can use consultants in the short term. But their purpose must be clear. Not to help our clients change, but to help us. To train, to mentor, to show by doing. But we, as IT people, must make the primary change – into trained, capable change agents.

Of course, theoretical training and even mentoring isn’t the whole solution. In the words of a world famous teacher (just ask your kids), “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy”. Without application the knowledge won’t be internalized. IT people won’t change.

And the first group to change – has to be IT management and its peers.

It is IT management (and their peers) who need to promote the change in their organization. It is you who need to seek out or develop the appropriate training. It is you who need to identify the appropriate mentoring system. It is you who need to hire the consultants to change your organization. And most important of all – you who need to empower your staff to screw up royally – because they will.

So, can you sew?