Since when have we been talking about change management?

“Nothing is permanent, except change” — Heraclitus of Ephesus

Today, saying that change is the modus operandi of organizations practically sounds like a cliché. But even so, that doesn’t mean it has always been this way. I have pursued the matter and come to realize that change has not always been perceived as an ongoing process and a management issue to be taken into consideration—far from it.

When looking at the history of change, we note that during the period following the Second World War and up until the 70s, change was perceived as something positive, as a logical progression. The work environment was relatively predictable and managers were in control. However, from the 70s until the end of the 80s, global competition, compounded by the oil crisis, altered the perception of change and turned it into a dramatic event (top-down). The role of managers became that of heroes capable of transforming organizations so that they could survive such chaotic events.

Towards the end of the 80s, we came to grips with the limits of our heroes. The vision of change evolved into an ongoing process (bottom-up), giving way to learning and innovation. In an unpredictable and turbulent environment where change is a constant, the role of managers is that of an agent of change collaborating with all members of the organization (Demers 1999, Revue Gestion).

Change is not only brought on by managers, but can also be initiated by other internal or external factors. It is therefore critical for organizations to implement processes to manage change effectively. And that marks the beginnings of change management as a discipline.

Due to their complexity and the scope of the changes that they produce, ERP implementation projects contributed to the emergence of change management in the 90s and the development of more structured approaches in change management.

For the past 15 years, organizations have used all kinds of tools to better manage change—from ad hoc consulting services to help them carry out specific projects to putting together a function in-house.

The diagram below illustrates the major trends in change management from its early beginnings to today.

More and more organizations acknowledge that, without effective change management, it is impossible to reap all of the benefits expected from a transformation. That is why more and more organizations have created a change management function comprising a permanent team dedicated to change projects and, most of the time, to the development of customized approaches and tools. But how do these organizations structure this new team and what position does it occupy within the organization? That in itself is an interesting question that will be discussed in our next issue.

Because everything changes all the time.