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Survival of the Fittest: Big Data and Analytics will Lead to the Extinction Change Management

This blog will take a deliberately controversial stance.  In it, I will argue that the discipline and practice of change management will be made redundant by the revolution in digital technologies such as Big Data and Analytics.  The blog will first define what change is, it will briefly review current change approaches, and then explain why big data could make the change management discipline redundant.
So what is Change?
One of the earliest approaches to change was proposed by eminent socialist and psychologist Kurt Lewin.  He stated that for change to occur the driving forces for change must outweigh the resisting forces of change.  Sounds simple enough, but to achieve this the forces of  organisational isomorphism and associated behaviours had to be removed, new behaviour had to be developed to support a desired end state, and these behaviours stabilised and reinforced through supporting mechanisms.  Change can even be expressed as a mathematical equation to demonstrate the struggle between activity and resistance:
C= (ABD)>X
C= Change
A= Level of dissatisfaction with the status quo
B= Desirability of the proposed change or end state
D= Practicality of the change (minimal risk and disruption)
X= Cost of changing
The point that I am trying to make here is that change has often been articulated in terms of 'current state change future state'.  As such it is revolutionary, and has been articulated as a battle between the forces of change resistance and the forces of change acceptance.
Past Approaches to Change Management
This view of change has orientated the practice of change management toward people centric qualitative approaches, structured as a project to deliver a change.  This qualitative approach has focused on either overcoming change resistance or promoting change acceptance.
Resistance to change is often orientated around people.  Organisational justice with concepts of fairness have caused resistance to change, other factors include the tyranny of custom, and the psychological impact.  Psychologically people fear incompetence and punishment in the newly changed environment, loss of identity, loss of team roles and loss of familiar ways of working.  Thus change management has focused on allieviating these fears through training, communication and transparency.  A second perspective in the current paradigm of change is to try to promote the acceptance of change.  Led by the Harvard guru John Kotter, these change advocates  would argue that people, particularly leaders, can promote the acceptance of change in an organisation through visioning, coalition building, value development, building momentum and communication.
The purpose of this blog is to propose that digitisation has the potential to render the soft approaches above and the change management industry redundant because:
  • The current model focuses on a 'current state-change-future state' model and are thus revolutionary.
  • The current model of change takes timeapproaches take time and resource.
  • Change is seen as dangerous and costly.
 Digitisation and Change Management
The Digital revolution itself is a paradigm shifter in the field of change management.  Change will become a quantitative process shifting away from the qualitative people orientated approach.  Change management will be transformed from a state of revolution and combat to one of evolution and collaboration.  Big data and analytics will allow to management closely monitor the external business environment and the behaviour of their customers.  Given real time information there will be no time lag between the business environment change and the required organisational change before a manager can act.  This will allow for the dismissal of the 'current state – change – future state' model described above. 
Using the Bid Data and Analytics internally, managers will have a greater oversight and understanding of how their organisations function.  They will be able to improve processes and make tiny process changes incrementally, negating the need for ‘big bang’ communications and employee development processes.  This leads to evolution not revolution.  Indeed the output of individual employees could be monitored, those expressing dissent or not performing in a change aligned way can be fired.  This will remove the people based hubs in the centre of change resistant networks.  In Darwinian terms this suggests rapid genetic engineering, where useless evolutionary traits are rapidly removed and evolutionary change becomes embedded in the organisation.  In an agile organisation where change is constant because of the rapid adaption to new environmental conditions there will be no time for employees to become embedded is the status quo, build internal resistance, thus undermining the 'current state – change – future state' model. Without resistance, change becomes easier, with more agility comes less training, and with less resistance comes less need for leadership driven change.  Pro-change employees may even take ownership for change, utilise social media to envision a future and create the guiding coalition making the leader’s role redundant.
Taken to the extreme predictive analytics could provide an organisation with a relatively sure view of the difference each change intervention will make to the organisation.  This would have the effect of taking the risk and the costs out of change management, making change more predictable, less costly and thus more likely to happen on a constant evolutionary basis.
In the past change has been seen as revolutionary, and combatative.  Big data will allow for organisations to evolve rapidly; organisations will become agile and change will become the norm.  There will be no status quo to change from, as a result attitudinal, behavioural and value based change management will become extinct.

About the author

Matt Williams
Matt Williams
Matt Williams joined Capgemini a year ago, and since joining has worked in a number of roles on a number of software change change projects. He has interests in the softer side of change management, having recently written a thesis on Social Identity Theory and Change Management. Matt’s interests include Risk Management, Change Management, Programme Design and Transformation.
5 Comments Leave a comment
Taxi... Matt - your article assumes that all change is logical and data driven. I would challenge that as I see change as a result of political policy changes, financial strategy and random leader personal passion which are not always aligned to your assumption. The reason that Change Management will live is because the only thing we know for certain, is that we don't know what meteor will drop and that a key element of the human psyche is the machiavellan aspect! Data analytics and big data can always inform - but it doesn't make all the decisions. People do. Take the Eurovision song contest this weekend - will the song I score highest in my 3 categories (performance, outfit, song) win? You bet it won't :-)
Completely agree with Stasia. You can have much analytics and data as you like, it still comes down to people. What next - a "Change App" - push once for Transformation?
‘Beam me up Scotty’.... imagine how much we could charge for a Transformation app! Seriously, Matt’s article is timely because I can see plenty of opportunities where Digital could help accelerate the pace of change. Remove the need for change? I doubt it because the need for variety and change is hardwired into all of us even when it triggers unsettling situations that in different circumstances we would try to resist. I’ve been working in change consulting for more years than I want to confess too! When I started out I was convinced that when managers and leaders saw how ‘simple’ managing change was that I would be out of a job pretty sharpish. After all, I reasoned wasn’t it their job to manage change? I like to think the reason I’m still standing is that so many leaders prefer to deal with the 'big data and analytics' rather than their self- determining, emotional and irrational people who they still have to rely on to get the work done. I suggest a quick read of Gareth Morgan’s ‘Organisational Metaphors’ as a way of viewing the possibilities of digital through an organisational lens
I think the very valid point Matt makes is that change is continuous and more accelerated now than ever before - organisations need to be able to respond quickly, which is certainly where Big Data and analytics can help. That said, continuous improvement (aka, continuous change) doesn't just happen. As others rightly point out, people make it happen. Matt's viewpoint assumes it's simple enough to say to employees, "we need to be constantly improving, so make sure you stay on top of the 'Big Data' and change your performance accordingly, or we'll fire you". You don't need my 7 years of transformation experience to know that won't wash! However, I do think it is right to recognise a shift in the requirements for change management, though for me it is about building it in to everything the organisation does as opposed to making it extinct. It's no longer about big bang, one-off change projects, it's about enabling a culture and environment that facilitates continuous change. Now more than ever, change management needs to be at the heart of how businesses grow and improve.
Interesting article and comments. I would add two points to the debate. Firtsly that not all people change is qualitative. There are plenty of measures to implement and evaluate change success by - see the plenty of KPI's and benchmark data avaialable. This is really where performance management takes over the reigns. Secondly, surely one of the biggest offerings which we as Capgemini can bring, along with a fantastic data and analytics function with eons of experience, is the ability to manage change, in a) a digital way - new tools, approach and techniques - digital change - it has a nice Casio style ring to it. b) we can manage people and the organisation through its digital transformation - this is change management of the new and latest innovations rather than just letting them lad. Look at how people are using social media and connections not just land it and only let it organically develop - this will cause problems, we can help to solve these with our clients (and also ourselves - how do we manage with Yammer now that Connect is dead for example?!?)

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