Published in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science (JABS) back in 1999, From Organizational Development to Change Management: The Emergence of a New Profession by professors Nicolay A. M. Worren, Keith Ruddle, and Karl Moore is still referred to today in university courses on Organizational Development (yes, the field still exists) and Change Management.
In fact, the article was one of the featured readings in a Change Management class I took while attending the University of San Francisco’s Executive MBA program.
I printed it out, marked it up, and the dog-eared paper sits beside me as I type. After combing through it a second time, the idea emerged: how fascinating would it be to bring these three change management leaders back together for an interview about how the fields have changed since their publication?
Before we get started, here’s a brief update on each researcher.
On Dr. Moore
“After teaching at Oxford for five years, my wife and I decided it was time to return to Canada. Our son Erik, four at the time, came home from nursery and said, ‘Daddy, I need a bathhhh’ in a wonderful Oxford accent, then we knew it was time to head back. McGill recruited me to work closely with management great Henry Mintzberg, so I turned down Dartmouth and MIT to head to McGill.”
On Dr. Worren
Professor Worren was for many years a management consultant, most recently with the Human Capital practice in Deloitte. He returned to academia in 2015 and is now an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, where he teaches in the School of Economics and Business. He has also founded a small software firm, Reconfig, which offers a software tool for organization design.
CC: Dr. Moore, in reflecting on this paper and the state of business in 1999:
What do you believe has changed about change management since then?
KM: Several things have changed. Probably the most important is how strategy is made. To my mind, there are two major schools of strategy. One is from my colleague at McGill, Henry Mintzberg, who I have taught with many times, so know his ideas well. The other school is from Michael Porter at Harvard. You can contrast their two views: Porter takes a more deliberate strategy approach while Mintzberg emphasizes emergent strategy. Both are still taught. In fact, I taught Porter’s 3 Generic Strategies and his 5 Forces Model not two weeks ago in an undergraduate strategy course at McGill. Which is most useful today?
The world of deliberate strategy is one that I remember well from my days as a corporate manager at IBM and then as an executive teacher at Oxford and the London Business School. It was a world of strategy planning weekends at posh hotels in the English countryside, where we sat in rooms discussing the 5 Forces in our particular industry and what we would change in the model if we had a fairy’s magic wand. The output was 3-ring binders in North America and 2-ring binders in Europe. This worked well in its day, back in the 80s and part of the 90s, wonderful times now looking back on it, when the past was quite helpful in predicting the future. However, the nature of the world today no longer lends itself, by in large, to this type of strategy.
Emergent strategy is the view that strategy emerges over time as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality. Emergent strategy is a set of actions, or behavior, consistent over time, “a realized pattern [that] was not expressly intended” in the original planning of strategy. Emergent strategy implies that an organization is learning what works in practice.
Given today’s world, I think emergent strategy is on the upswing. Here’s why. It seems the relatively stable world of (at least part of) my corporate career has gone the way of the dodo. At times, it seems the world’s gone nuts. Let me count the ways: Japan, the PIGS, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, SARS, the financial collapse of 2008 and 2009, the BP oil spill, and now the Coronavirus and many more examples. As Jeff Sommer wrote in The New York Times,
For a moment, all the swans seemed black.”
It seems that strategy has shifted in the last decade to where the planning school no longer has the street cred it once had. It is precisely because we cannot, try as we may, control the variables that factor into business decisions, that Mintzberg’s emergent strategy is so useful.
Porter’s ideas are still relevant; my colleagues and I still teach them, so I still believe in them, and when I talk to corporate CEOs they still use them as part of their strategy planning thinking. But they are getting a bit long in the tooth for today’s different world. Henry’s emergent strategy ideas simply seem to be more relevant to the world we live in today – they reflect the fact that our plans will fail. This is not to say that planning isn’t useful, but other than some long-term technology plans, the day of the 5-year and even 2-year plans has faded. Emergent strategy is the reality in most industries that I work with.
You must be much more fleet of foot; strategic flexibility is what we are looking for in most industries. The boundaries are more fluid now. For many, albeit not all, knowing what industry you are in is not as clear-cut as it once was. This makes industry analysis less easy. The value chain is now shared across firm boundaries and, at times, in part, in common with competitors.
From a change viewpoint, this turbulence and uncertainty of the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world we live in means that strategy has to be more flexible and more short-term while still making long-term investments.
A second major change is that senior executives, typically Boomers and Generation X, have got to listen more to Millennials and Generation Z to develop their change strategies and approaches.
This is required as the type of leadership their generations want/need. But from a more pragmatic side, in a turbulent world we must listen more to frontline people, typically younger, who are closer to the real world than senior people. We must learn from what they are hearing from customers, suppliers, etc., and from how they see potential strategies emerge, a la Mintzberg, from cross-functional teams of frontline people solving real-world customer problems.
From these innovations, new strategies should emerge, though under the guidance of the C Suite. So many change initiatives will come from the bottom and middle of the organizational pyramid, rather than from the top, as it was in the past, at least to some degree.
CC: Dr. Worren, based on your current body of research, you’re now equipped to write a kind of 2.0 of this paper—this time involving organizational design.
How would you describe both the interplay and the points of separation between organizational development, change management, and organizational design?
NW: First, let me say that I am, of course, delighted that our article is still being read. I wrote it while I was a doctoral student, together with my supervisor Karl Moore and Keith Ruddle, another doctoral student, who had a background from consulting, like myself. I can tell you that it is receiving more attention than most of the articles that I write now when I am a full-time professor.
The three fields that you mention obviously overlap to some degree. What I have used as the defining characteristic is that when you re-design the organization, as opposed to “develop” it, you change some of the formal aspects of it – i.e., the structure. You re-allocate roles, re-group sub-units, create entirely new units, or add or remove management layers.
I have focused mainly on organization design since I wrote the article. First of all, I became interested in the work itself related to organization re-design. As a consultant, I found that helping clients re-organize their firms gave me an opportunity to work on challenging – and also creative – projects with big ramifications.
But in terms of my academic interests, I had also concluded (and still believe) that the formal aspects of organizing have been underappreciated. This is one reason why I wrote a textbook on the topic [Organization Design: Simplifying complex systems, published by Routledge in 2018].
But during the last 10-15 years I have seen a growing appreciation for the importance of organization design. Two books I can recommend are Top Down: Why Hierarchies Are Here to Stay and How to Manage Them More Effectively by Harold J. Leavitt (Harvard Business Review Press) and, for the more academically inclined, For Formal Organization: The Past in the Present and Future of Organization Theory by Paul du Gay & Signe Vikkelsø (Oxford University Press).
Of course, I am not saying that a formal restructuring is the answer to all problems, and it is a general challenge among experts in different sub-domains to prescribe solutions that fit their (our!) particular “thought world.”
I remember when I worked in consulting firms, if we sent one of our IT guys to a potential client, he would inevitably come back to the office and declare that the client needed a big new IT system. People on the “soft” side were not much better, and would usually conclude after a client meeting that the client’s corporate culture or leadership capabilities needed improvement.
One should always be open and diagnostic when trying to understand a client system, and propose interventions tailored to the actual problem or opportunity in the organization.
And, as we write about in our JABS article, the best intervention is usually one that combines different elements related to people, strategy, and structure (and IT).
CC: Dr. Worren, the paper credits organizational development, at least in part, with introducing the importance of psychology and social dynamics into change leadership. Looking back over the last 20 years, what do you believe the various change management processes/theories have introduced to the business world?
How might these additions shape the way organizational change manifests (both as an academic field and as a business practice) in the future?
NW: Well, the key message is also that the psychological approach is not enough, that it must be combined. This basic insight is equally valid today.
In general, I think there is more appreciation today than 30 years ago among business leaders that “process” is important, that you just don’t make a decision but need to think about a sequence of events and consider how people at various levels should be informed and involved in the decision-making process. I am not sure who should take the credit for this, it is probably partly that change management methods have been diffused by consultants who work in this field, and partly that more managers have some kind of management training, if not an MBA then at least part-time or internal management training.
For the most part, similar methods are used today as we describe in the paper. Overall, I think there is relatively little innovation in the field. So most of the content of our article is still relevant. Some would perhaps suggest that an approach like Agile represents an innovation, but I see it mainly as a new package with already well-known elements within it (e.g., autonomous teams, improvisation, etc.).
Nonetheless, if I were to update the article, I would perhaps have added some points, like the following:
- There is often a claim that only 10% to 50% of change efforts succeed. Many researchers and consulting firms have claimed this. But where’s the source of this figure? There’s a 2015 paper, titled Strategy implementation: What is the failure rate?, by Carlos J F Cândido and Sérgio P Santos where they point out that we do not know the true success rate. Based on the claims that have been made, the success rate seems to be improving.
- One important contribution since our article is the work by Jeffrey Ford and Laurie Ford. They have written several articles as well as a book called The Four Conversations: Daily Communication That Gets Results (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009). They basically view change management from a communication point of view, but also include elements related to goal setting and performance management. A key assertion is that change efforts often fail because leaders are not specific enough in what they ask for, and fail to obtain specific commitments from their followers.
- It is obviously the case that we have more data at our disposal today, and better analytical tools. People talk about “FinTech” (technology used in the Finance sector), but I am more interested in “OrgTech” (technology that we can use to understand, improve, and manage organizations). My firm Reconfig offers one tool, but there are and will be many others in the future.
CC: Dr. Moore, you’ve become one of the leading thinkers on the intersections between leadership and the Introvert/Ambivert/Extrovert personality types. What sparked your interest in this area of study?
In what ways can today’s change agents improve their organizational effectiveness by gaining a better understanding of their personalities?
KM: I have blogged for Forbes for about eight years. About five years ago, I wrote a blog on Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. It got over 60,000 views, ten times normal. And I wrote it, so it was the topic, not the writing. The next evening, in my CEO Insights class, I asked Claude Mongeau, then CEO of Canadian National Railway, a train company of 24,000+ people, if he was an extrovert or introvert. He and the second guest CEO that evening were both introverts. This surprised me; the traditional view was that the considerable majority of CEOs are extroverts.
When I delved into the literature, I saw that people thought that, but that there was little, if any, research to support the view. Indeed, the vast majority of the literature on introverts and extroverts was written by psychology professors who tested undergrads; they have an endless supply of them as professors. The big problem was access to CEOs and other C Suite executives. But having a CEO Insights MBA class, with 24 CEOs joining us every year, a weekly CEO radio show, and a weekly video column in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s National Newspaper, I had backed into having access to them. Plus, being more their age probably helped as well.
Why this matters from a change viewpoint is that if you understand the personalities of your team, your peers and your managers, you can be more effective in leading change. By understanding the considerable strengths (and a few weaknesses) of introverts, ambiverts, and extroverts, you can lead change more effectively, I believe. McKinsey and BCG have for years used personality types, particularly introversion and extroversion as a way of teams introducing themselves and getting to know each other so they are more effective in working with each other.
CC: Lastly, here’s a final question I’d like each of you to answer.
When you think about change management’s evolution since 1999, what examples of change management success come to mind?
NW: One example right now: New Zealand’s response to the Coronavirus. Maybe future studies will document in more detail why New Zealand was successful. But I would guess that New Zealand’s success is due to a combination of two factors: An effective bureaucracy – including its ministry of health – combined with outstanding leadership from the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Most change journeys are difficult and involve some level of conflict and chaos. To take an example close to home: at my present university, there was a lot of debate about the proposal from the university president in 2016 to simplify the organizational structure and remove one layer (i.e., the faculty or school level). Now, four years later, I have not met a single person who would like to return to the old model. The new organizational structure is not perfect, and I think that it requires some adjustments, but the overall principle turned out to be right. This is also my general experience with my clients: If you invest time and resources in the process, you will probably identify a better model, be able to implement it, and eventually reap the benefits.
KM: Air Canada is one of the 15th largest airlines in the world. I did a two-day change leadership course for 240 of their senior managers, just below the C Suite, 20 managers at a time, 12 two-day sessions over two years. Since then, I have kept in touch with them. Calin Rovinescu, their CEO for over a decade, and his team have done a great job of taking them from bankruptcy in 2003 to one of the best-run airlines in the world. Great leadership but huge culture change for all the 30,000+ employees is what was core to this story.