Discover more from Meditations on Life, Technology, Leadership, and Everything
You don't need change management
or you are doing change wrong
“We need to talk…” is probably the most scary phrase you can hear. I don’t know why there aren’t any horror movies about that. Or maybe “Kids, me and Dad have something to tell you..” or “You need to sit down for this one..”
And the minutes after that phrase are agony and then she breaks up with you. Then it is shock, you ask “Why can’t we fix this?”, and get angry and frustrated. And some people get depressed afterward, maybe go on a bender.
Corporate style change management
This is exactly a famous model of change management that I have witnessed being taught to executives
Do you see the problem? We assume that any “big” change is like a breakup, and we have to manage the breakup. But that is a terrible mental model to be used for work.
Big changes require swift action
This is something I hear a lot: “We need to make a big and swift change because we value agility” or maybe because otherwise there are leaks, or whatever other excuse you have in mind.
Those are just excuses to cover what is poor planning and poor leadership.
Thanks for reading Meditations on Life, Technology, Leadership, and Everything! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Your customers hate change. If you go and do a redesign of your website, as good as this design can be, you will get a lot of grief from your most important customers.
Back in my Booking.com days, we could observe this behavior when introducing a change via A/B testing, the customers’ reaction in the first days of the experiment was always tough to predict.
And we were doing small and incremental changes exactly to reduce that impact!
This isn’t any different from organizational changes.
Implementing big changes as a series of incremental changes
The main argument against incremental changes is that it’s impossible to make a big change this way, people won’t like it anyway so what’s the point? Or maybe we fear getting stuck in some of those steps when we get negative feedback.
Many years ago I was a young tech director in one of the business units of Booking.com and, together with my product partners, we decided to do a reorganization. Reorganizations are kind of a running joke not only in that company but in general, and we wanted to avoid people going “oef another reorg”.
So we devised a different plan:
We designed the outcome we wanted, a big reorganization with many people switching teams and managers changing scope, etc, etc
We consulted and informed our direct team but told them we won’t execute a reorg, instead, we want to find out what changes we could do tomorrow and would be “free of charge”. Changes that just make sense and do not impact people too much.
In the meantime, we started communicating our vision. For example, for the technology side, I did a small roadshow to communicate how we envisioned our new tech stack and architecture.
Every quarter, or more often if convenient, we changed something on one or multiple teams, sometimes riding on some people leaving or needing a change.
Halfway, some of the changes were bottom-up. The story worked so well that people felt we had to go faster.
One year later we had our reorg completed, with some adjustments during the year, since everybody makes planning mistakes.
Was one year too slow? I don’t think so. People never actually realized that we did a reorganization, there was never bad sentiment or time lost on endless debates.
It was always of higher quality! Because we could get micro-feedback on the direction and act on that, this is the definition of agile! Make a change, test it, and get feedback.
The other way, make a big plan and let HR change everything, is the equivalent of waterfall planning in engineering, so much for “we need agility”.
What if I have no choice?
Shit happens! And there are cases in which you have to make the best of a bad situation, and you can go back and manage it using the method above.
But most of the time it is not the case!
Have you been acquired? Did your people know you were fundraising?
Is Someone leaving the company? Can you immediately announce a plan to replace them or a credible replacement?
In the end, I think change management is overrated, it takes a lot of work to make changes right and most people just don’t want to deal with it. Even if the outcome sucks for everybody.