02 Feb 2016 18:00 IST

The great change management

While change management has lost its sheen in today’s world, it is perhaps needed now more than ever

Change management is not the grand theme it used to be in the days when Reengineering the Corporation by Hammer and Champy or the GE Way by Jack Welch were published. These ruled the waves of management thinking.

Change, back then, meant nothing short of a total transformation; an overhaul, a rebirth. It was supposed to shake people up, un-tether them from the past, and make the future.

Not any more

Today, change management is a handy little term that is a basket for all the loose stuff that falls off — whether you are modifying a returns procedure for defective goods or shifting your department from the third floor to the fifth. You do ‘change management’ when you implement new software, or alter your corporate identity. After all, you have to attend to every detail, like remaking the powerpoint templates to having new wallpaper.

Saying ‘our change management wasn’t complete’, feels much better than saying, ‘We messed up royally’, or something as graphic. Change management is now a corporate household phrase, like ‘being on the same page’ or ‘let’s touch base’.

No time?

In the era of start-up funding, investors’ exits, corporate takeovers and bankruptcies, there is no time or place for grand transformations like that of GE led by Jack Welch or IBM led by Louis V Gerstner.

It is just too time-consuming and energy-sapping an exercise to turn around a company or prepare it for a dramatically different future. Selling it is preferred.

Or so it seems.

Change management triggered by a crisis makes the slash and burn of existing structures mandatory. It catches headlines and triggers social media discussions.

Case in point

When an overhaul is initiated as part of a systematic strategy, it can be slow, and equally painful. A case in point is Coal India, a public sector behemoth which employs over 330,000 people. The summer of 2015 passed without major power breakdowns, which used to be a usual Indian summer theme.

The credit for this goes to the revival of Coal India. Such changes happen slowly, first at macro or policy level and then at operational levels. They rarely make the headlines.

Another unfolding story seems to be BSNL. Recently, it declared an operating profit after a gap of seven long years. It is still far from being out of woods, though. Given the technological changes and competition in the telecom sector, its revival may be tougher.

The Coal India and BSNL turnarounds may well be tomorrow’s case studies in change management. Whether this happens or not, these examples show that the ‘Great Change Management’, that once ruled the management landscape, is still relevant.

The components

What are the components of the ‘Great Change Management’?

A great case for a need to change, not necessarily triggered by a crisis.

A leader at the top and a team of leaders to bring about change.

A picture of change shared by many.

Clear ideas about how to get there. What to keep, what to discard.

Courage, stamina, and communication ability.

Creativity to work on Plans B, C, and so on

Given the shifts in technological, cultural, and political landscapes ‘Change Management’ or ‘The Great Change Management’ is needed even more today than ever before. Perhaps we just need a better term for it.

To read more from the Jargon Jungle section, click here .