Change management. It seems to be on our minds constantly, and as we move deeper into our wide-ranging uses of technology, we hear more and more about change in the workplace (and, not to be ignored, in our personal lives as well). In this so-called “digital age” or what I like to call “the golden age of knowledge sharing,” change management turns out to be a subject we knowledge strategists deal with on an on-going basis.
In fact, and perhaps more in keeping with how we knowledge strategists think about knowledge services as the foundation for knowledge strategy, we might want to think about a little semantic revision. I’m known for asserting—pretty often—that knowledge strategists must identify and codify management and leadership principles to work with as they invoke the knowledge services principles they follow. So in our leadership role, let’s stop saying “change management.” Let’s take up “change leadership” as we focus on change as the constant challenge for knowledge strategists.
And while it would be nice to take credit for coming up with this idea, it’s not mine. Indeed it is not even particularly new. And no regular reader will be surprised to learn that—for me—thinking about change leadership began with the person we all like to think of as “the father of modern management.” Of course I’m referring to Peter F. Drucker, and in one of his more famous books, Management Challenges for the 21st Century (Harper/Collins, 1999) Drucker threw down the gauntlet and challenged us to think in terms of change leadership instead of change management. And he did it again in Managing in the Next Society (St. Martin’s Press, 2002), a compilation that included essays, a long article he wrote in 2001 for the Economist, and interviews. And shortly thereafter, Drucker’s focus to change leadership was singled out in the March 1 entry of The Daily Drucker (Harper/Business, 2004), leading with the tag line “The most effective way to manage change successfully is to create it.”
And what did Drucker say about change leadership?
See for yourself. Here is the entire page excerpted from The Daily Drucker:
One cannot manage change. One can only be ahead of it. In a period of upheavals, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm. To be sure, it is painful and risky, and above all it requires a great deal of very hard work. But unless it is seen as the task of the organization to lead change, the organization will not survive. In a period of rapid cultural change, the only ones who survive are the change leaders. A change leader sees change as an opportunity. A change leader looks for change, knows how to find the right changes, and knows how to make them effective both outside the organization and inside it. To make the future is highly risky. It is less risky, however, than not to try to make it. A goodly proportion of those attempting to will surely not succeed. But predictably, no one else will.
Drucker’s excerpt concludes with The Daily Drucker‘s famous Action Point, always added on to each entry in the book, to sort of tie things up. Here it is:
“Anticipate the future and be a change leader.”
Good advice for all of us, and especially for those of us who—in our professional lives—focus on knowledge services and knowledge strategy. And for a slight digression, when I discussed this short excerpt from The Daily Drucker with students in the last class of the term in December, 2017, one student made me very proud. Her name is Emilie Linde (she gave me permission to use her name), and as the class discussed the different perspectives of change management vs. change leadership, Emilie wisely pointed out that what we were speaking about—how the leadership perspective is necessary for knowledge strategists dealing with change—was something we had actually been talking about since the first class of the term. It was a very intuitive comment, and, as I say, it made me very proud. These students clearly understood the role of the knowledge strategist as a change leader.
So for the knowledge strategist, the key element (perhaps the key element) has to do with change, and Drucker shows us the way. He does not recommend that we manage change. He commands us to lead change. Nothing has been more evident to knowledge strategists—or knowledge workers with the ambition to become knowledge strategists—than the importance of embracing change for the good of the larger enterprise, and it is in the knowledge domain that this effort seriously affects the organization. And it all became evident during the last years of the twentieth century—when information management was evolving into KM and then KM into knowledge services—and as knowledge services moved into supporting knowledge strategy development and the move of the organization to a knowledge culture, the ability to move fast and generate tangible returns became—and remains—critical to organizational success. These qualities—speed of delivery and ROI—are no less true for knowledge services than for any other management tool, and it is through the application of change leadership principles that speed of delivery and ROI are achieved.
Certainly the term “change management” became something of a cliché during the past few decades—perhaps from overuse but just as likely from its characterization as something few workers (even knowledge workers) want to deal with. And the concepts that underlie what we used to refer to as change management continue to be valid and continue to be important as we think about how we put them to use as change leaders. For every knowledge strategist interested in leading the organization into knowledge integration as the organization transitions to a knowledge culture (or for the knowledge workers or strategic knowledge professionals who are the knowledge strategist’s direct reports), change management becomes, in and of itself, an essential management responsibility. And—I would argue—even more important as we think about it in leadership terms. As long ago as 1991, it was being asserted by David S. Ferriero (now the Archivist of the United States) and Thomas L. Wilding that organizations must be in a constant state of openness to change if they are going to maintain a high degree of relevance (“Scanning the Environment in Strategic Planning.” Proceedings of Special Libraries Association Annual Conference, San Antonio TX USA. Washington DC: Special Libraries Association, 1991).
Thus change aimed at maintaining organizational relevance was seen by Ferriero and Wilding (and can still be so seen) as both desirable and inevitable, an idea that has probably contributed to the success of knowledge strategists and the acceptance of their leadership role in the development of knowledge strategies in many companies, organizations, and institutions. Indeed, recognizing the desirability and inevitability of change and developing skills (or employing skills already developed) for building a foundation for leading change have become major factors in determining knowledge services success. The knowledge strategist—as a change leader—becomes expert at managing resistance, encouraging participation, and creating methods for rewarding and recognizing enterprise stakeholders who successfully embrace the concept of the organization as a knowledge culture. In doing so, the knowledge strategist brings attention and credibility to the critical value of leading and implementing change (however the activity is designated in the workplace), and supports and influences the development of the organization as a knowledge culture. Perhaps, in the final analysis, change leadership for the knowledge strategist is more to the point than change management. Shouldn’t it be understood as such?