It’s time to reclaim ‘change management’

When I hear the words ‘change management’ I pause, because what follows is usually a conversation about a workstream within a project that needs spreadsheet completion, process maps and stakeholder lists. For those of us who work in change we have always known that this is not what change management is. While these things are important, change is much more than this.

In trying to control a complex process we have taken something that at its heart is social, relational, emotional and tried to tame it. We have PRINCE2’d it, forced it into a linear, logical process so it can easily be transported from project to project. As a result, change management has become a term that is synonymous with administrative and ’managed’ tasks, document completion and enforced change rather than the powerful collection of tools that it is.

I have tried to think of a different term to avoid these connotations. The term ‘change leadership’ implies change is driven by specific ‘leaders’ only. Change delivery is ok but it feels much larger than skills and behaviours specific to the management of change. The whole project or programme together is delivering the change.

Despite not being a fan of the term ‘management’ I accept there isn’t a better alternative. Rather than expelling energy trying to rebrand it I think it just needs claiming back from project and programme managers and given the life and understanding it deserves.

To do this we need to have conversations about the skills, behaviours, knowledge, language and processes that are needed. We need to reveal how we manage change, make it transparent, help people understand the value of things that do not translate neatly into a spreadsheet or project plan. To make it less scary and more interesting, change management (the REAL change management) is lively, energising and enjoyable.

Change management is the foundation of any project, it is glue that holds it together. It weaves through every area, providing the guidance for project success. When we realise this, and that the current concept is outdated, we can shift the conversation and change practice to show the world just how interesting and important change management really is.

As part of Ideal’s commitment to help the NHS think about and undertake change differently in health and social care, we are inviting everyone to join the conversation. You can share your views using the #IdealChangeChat on Twitter, come and see us at EHI Live (stand 42) or email us at:

By Sarah Boyd, change practitioner and associate delivery consultant at Ideal.

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