Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Only Thing That is Constant is Change Management

There is likely no subject that has been more written about or misused in management literature than topic of Change Management. Despite the virtual ocean of literature, internet sites, methodologies, and theories proffered by management gurus, university professors and management consultants around the world all serious change management thinking is based on the theory of Cognitive Dissonance developed by the social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957.A google search gives over 46 000 000 hits and a search on carried over 4,500 different titles referring to "Change Management".

Is it just one of life's little paradoxes that the only thing in the world that doesn't change is "Change Management"?

According to Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive dissonance a tension arise in people when they are confronted with information that contradicts their current view of reality. Festinger stated that people choose between 5 methods for dealing with cognitive dissonance: they avoid situations they believe will produce dissonance (selective exposure); they seek out consonant information; they redefine dissonant cognitions as less important or change their dissonant cognitions; or they change their behaviour to fit their cognitions."

Change Management is all about trying to get people to choose the last of these 5 alternatives. Change management is about changing behaviour by presenting people with alternative behaviours and helping them understand the benefits of adopting these new behaviours. Typically, change management methodologies attempt to describe "current state" in organizations and develop an "ideal future state" for the group.

The discrepancy between the current state and the ideal future creates cognitive dissonance in the individuals in the group. At this point Change Management methodologies propose a variety of ideas on how best to close the gap between these two states and move the organization towards the ideal future. Typically, these "theories" propose; identifying benefits for various stakeholders (including those whose behaviours must change) of having reached the ideal state as well as risks if the ideal is not achieved, methods for developing strategies and action plans for reaching the desired position, activities for creating "buy-in" and commitment to the proposed changes, and methods for measuring and following up the progress of the change initiative.

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