Life in a Time of Constant Change

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya: https://www.pexels.com/photo/crop-man-holding-hammer-in-workshop-5691682/

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus gave the world the following idea: change is the only constant in the universe (Foster, 2020). In the nearly 2,700 years since Heraclitus lived, few things have shown themselves to be so true. This essay will focus on several aspects of change within an organization. Specifically, those aspects include various models of change management in academia; how I can affect change in my role as a scholar-practitioner; and a detailed discussion about a specific change I led at my current company.

An Overview of Change Models

There are many academic theories about change. Each purports to have a model that best describes how organizations can manage change to the benefit of their organization. Common examples include the ADKAR model, and change management models from Kotter and Lewin.

ADKAR

Developed by Prosci in the early 2000s, ADKAR is a change management model centered on five competencies: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement (ADKAR) (Kiani & Shah, 2014). This model says to make a change requires an awareness of the need to make that change, a desire to bear and engage in that change, knowledge of what is required to make the change happen, an ability to get the skills necessary to enable the change, and some mechanism to reinforce the changes (Kiani & Shah, 2014).

Kotter

Kotter developed his change model to address deficiencies he saw in organizational change management efforts (Calder, 2013). In his view, leaders must explicitly lead a change. This is in contrast to the ADKAR model, which does not specify where change can originate from. As Calder (2013) states, Kotter felt change without senior leadership support will fail. Kotter’s model states a change in an organization requires several things: a sense of urgency, a partnership to create the change, a plan of how the change would happen, an ‘army’ of people willing to undertake the change, the ridding of obstacles, the recognition of short-term success, and the ability to turn those successes into lasting change (Calder, 2013).

Lewin

Lewin’s change model has three components: unfreeze, change, and refreeze. The first stage involves the organization understanding that change is required (Mind Tools, n.d.). Organizations require this thought process because, without it, change becomes just change for change’s sake and will not be useful. The change becomes busywork. The next stage of Lewin’s model involves the change, or transformation, itself. This stage encompasses “where people begin to resolve their uncertainty and look for new ways to do things” (Mind Tools, n.d., para. 12). The final part of this model is the re-freeze element where the changed processes and behaviors are ‘frozen’ in place and become the new normal for the organization (Mind Tools, n.d.).

What are the Roles of Change, Management, Complexity, and Urgency?

In each of the above models, several key terms exist: change, management, and complexity. Change is a standard term that Merriam Webster (n.d. a) defined as something that is transformed. They define management as overseeing some act (Merriam Webster, n.d. c) and complexity as the state of having multiple complicated or interrelated elements (Merriam Webster, n.d. b). The last term is urgency. While all three models listed previously possess the idea of creating a need for change, Kotter’s model specifically calls out the idea of urgency (Sittrop & Crosthwaite, 2021).

Urgency is the realization that something cannot exist as it currently does because it is inefficient, incorrect, legally dubious, etc. Taken together, each of these four concepts plays a vital role in the change management process. The sense of urgency (as Sittrop and Crosthwaite (2021) define it) drives a transformation (change) of a complex process (lots of moving parts) that management oversees.

What is the Role of the Scholar-Practitioner in Change Management?

Axelrod and Axelrod (2017) define a scholar-practitioner as one who understands both the academic theories around change management and also actively takes part in such changes within the organization:

Scholars study the subject and provide academic rigor to their theories, resulting in deep knowledge about their subject. Practitioners live in the crucible of change with their clients. They apply theories in real time and get immediate feedback about what is working and not working (p. 570).

How Do I Apply the Scholar-Practitioner Approach to Changes in My Organization?

The simplest answer to this question for me is, “that is why I am studying this subject.” One of my career goals is to become a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of a company; this is the main motivation for undertaking a Master’s degree in Information Technology Management. Studying this subject will provide me with broader experience in managing the applications and systems companies operate.

I have experienced multiple organizational changes at my current company. For example, in the three and a half years I have been with WarnerMedia, I have witnessed AT&T purchasing Time Warner (the holding firm that ran WarnerBros. where I started in 2018), the consolidation of WarnerBros, HBO, and Turner from distinct enterprises into divisions and then brands of WarnerMedia, and now AT&T spinning WarnerMedia off as the company prepares to merge with Discovery Communications this year (Chmielewski, 2018; Hayes, 2022; Kempner & Ho, 2019).

Each of these events created (and continues to create) disruption to the work my team and company does as well as uncertainty among the staff. Taking this class allows me to understand the scholarly aspects of what I am already a practitioner (or at least a participant) of: the organizational change I am living through now. In the future, I hope to become more flexible to changes I know will continue to permeate my industry for the entirety of my career because I will have a greater understanding of the academic underpinnings of what I experience.

Situational Analysis of My Role as Change Agent

In late 2019, during the initial consolidation of WarnerBros., HBO, and Turner, I went from leading security architecture and engineering at WarnerBros. to leading application security assessments across the new WarnerMedia. The challenge was that each unconsolidated division had its own process for executing this type of work, and my job was to create a common enterprise-wide solution. Without knowing it (I lacked Axelrod and Axelrod’s (2017) understanding of the scholar-practitioner at the time), I was following Kotter’s model.

My leadership team created a sense of urgency for me with this project as AT&T (our new corporate owners at the time) was determined to reduce duplicate costs (step 1 in the process according to Sittrop and Crosthwaite (2021)). From there, I created a coalition of expertise from those who ran the now-outdated processes in the other divisions and developed a vision for what this new process would look encompass; I then communicated this process to various stakeholders in WarnerMedia: my senior management team, application owners, and the various partners we would operate with, e.g. the Compliance, Policy and Governance, and Vulnerability Management teams. These steps are numbers two, three, and four in Kotter’s model (Sittrop & Crosthwaite, 2021).

I then built a team of analysts and testers and let them do their jobs (step five in the model (Sittrop & Crosthwaite, 2021)). In short order, we had our first significant win: the project completed testing on 100 applications in the first nine months (this is step six in the model per Sittrop and Crosthwaite (2021)). Step seven requires merging small improvements and creating more change. I do that by developing new testing processes and enhancements. For example, I am currently evaluating solutions to automate the penetration testing stages of the review process. Other changes include conducting testing proactively instead of waiting for application owners to let us know when an application is ready to go live. This will allow WarnerMedia to focus on those applications that truly are critical to the company’s success and not waste resources on less vital applications.

The last element in Kotter’s model is to work towards making the change I have developed into the new normal; researchers call this institutionalizing the change (Sittrop & Crosthwaite, 2021). I believe this changed process now meets this definition. Prior to this consolidation effort, application owners would avoid sending their applications for security reviews and assessments because they felt the process was too long and too much of a burden for their fast-paced efforts. Now, we routinely have to defer testing on applications because we have so many applications coming to the team seeking our guidance.

Conclusion

Change is all around us and forces us to rethink how we solve both tactical and strategic issues. Various models exist to help understand how best to create change in organizations. By applying the scholar-practitioner approach to the idea of change management, I am seeking to both understand current changes I am involved in and shape future changes I know are coming both in my organization and my field. Only with the theoretical foundation from this class can I hope to make sense of change.

References

Axelrod, R. H., & Axelrod, E. M. (2017). The scholar-practitioner mindset: How texts and experience influence organizational change practice. Academy of Management Review, 42 (3), 561–571. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2016.0224

Calder, A. M. (2013). Organizational change: Models for successfully implementing change (thesis). Utah State University, Logan, UT.

Chmielewski, D. C. (2018, June 15). AT&T completes $85B acquisition of Time Warner. Deadline. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://deadline.com/2018/06/att-completes-time-warner-acquisition-1202411103/

Foster, T. (2020, April 9). Change is the only constant. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from https://www.fmlm.ac.uk/news-opinion/change-is-the-only-constant

Hayes, D. (2022, March 25). AT&T sets more details for WarnerMedia spinoff ahead of Discovery Merger. Deadline. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://deadline.com/2022/03/att-spinoff-details-warnermedia-discovery-merger-1234987215/

Kempner, M., & Ho, R. (2019, March 4). AT&T’s WarnerMedia restructuring breaks apart Turner Broadcasting. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.ajc.com/blog/radiotvtalk/warnermedia-restructuring-breaks-turner-broadcasting/jIQG40OYSyGDyOJaOfsXLP/

Kiani, A., & Shah, M. H. (2014). An application of ADKAR change model for the change management competencies of school heads in Pakistan. Journal of Managerial Sciences, 8(1), 77–96.

Merriam Webster. (n.d. a). Change. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Merriam Webster. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/change

Merriam Webster. (n.d. b). Complexity. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Merriam Webster. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/complex

Merriam Webster. (n.d. c). Management. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Merriam Webster. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/management

Mind Tools. (n.d.). Lewin’s change management model: Understanding the three stages of change. MindTools.com. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_94.htm

Sittrop, D., & Crosthwaite, C. (2021). Minimising risk — the application of Kotter’s change management model on customer relationship management systems: A case study. Journal of Risk and Financial Management, 14 (10), 496–516. https://doi.org/10.3390/jrfm14100496

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Edwin Covert

Edwin Covert

Cybersecurity, guitar, jazz, bourbon, rye, enterprise security architecture, current trophy husband. CISSP-ISSAP, CISM, CRISC, SCF, PMP at www.edwincovert.com