Framing The Future Of Change: Part One

Malcolm Ryder
Published in
5 min readAug 20, 2020



Frameworks typically outlast methods, models, and processes, but they often don’t stay on the front page of the news. This is partly because they sometimes get re-labelled as models, and much of the time they are considered to be either too abstract or overkill for practice.

This discussion’s view of a framework is the result of over 12 years of empirical research across Fortune 1000s, growing startups, and non-profits in the USA.

It responds to what “change” means, going forward, to business, to communities of practice, and to individual stakeholders in the outcomes of change efforts.

And it addresses why an explicit framework is the basis for succeeding at managing change going forward.

The discussion continues as a six-part series of articles aiming to demystify the general practice everywhere of managing change beyond the current prevalent rates of failure.

At the same time it respects how proper implementation of management practice is a specifically localized matter.

The series will address:

  • Why you need a framework to manage change in the enterprise
  • How to avoid confusing frameworks with models
  • Applying a framework as a planning tool
  • Understanding how a framework makes models, methods, and processes more useful
  • Using a framework that is meaningful for the 2020s instead of one for the 2000s

A brief (imagined) history of Change

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Change always means, of course, a difference between a Before and an After.

Our interest in it can always be summed up as the probability of preferring the After to the Before, plus acting to intentionally achieve the preference.

Today we think we spend more time than ever before directly acting on change, but analysts continue to report that we aren’t very good at it. We like to approach intentional change with the confidence of years of producing things with skill. Yet, success rates at finally achieving the preference are reported to be only in the 25% to 33% range.

Over time the biggest influences on change itself have come in the form of the pace found necessary, and the reach found useful. Roughly speaking, this duo reflects the ongoing development of markets and labor, or said differently, why there is demand and how something is provided.

That is the idea behind the invented, highly generalized model of change history (below), the only purpose of which is to illustrate that there are persistent basic variables within what business manages as “change” — requirements, urgency, and solutions.

Change Evolution

In one early scenario, intentional change was not very recognizable except within local areas of impact. Things were mainly about incrementally adapting.

  • Requirements were not difficult to ascertain or prioritize
  • Urgency arose in change mechanisms typically due to large or sudden changes in the environment, or due to the need to find a successful defense against hostility.
  • Trial and Error was mostly an ad hoc experience for communities, but experts who emerged were expected to be practical contributors with incremental influence. Radical influencers were not expected to operate broadly unless authorities called on them.

In a later scenario, things were about assertively adopting. The most significant intentional change recognizably happened more outside of the locality. Industrialization created the likelihood that most different localities could suddenly use the same means and modes to have impact at their locality. At the locality, the usage was not at first in alignment with traditional demand, but eventually local demand changed to align with what industrialization could make available locally.

  • The experience of “using new things to do the same old thing” became common, but this period also required reconciling the coexistence of legacy and progressive methods.
  • Urgency arose about the ability of “new and improved” to attract most of the attention and supersede legacy; marketing grew to fuel the value of new markets to providers.
  • The impact of new ways of doing things created as many problems as it did benefits, making the new example of progress subject to even greater emphasis on controls.

In a more current scenario, things were about critical transformation. Intentional local change occurred mostly as a response to demand generated outside of the locality, but the outside demand was not directly about the locality itself. Instead, it affected the locality without regard to its impact there.

  • Localities became more pressured to become an integral part of the broader forces and mechanisms of change around them, requiring that different priorities, expectations and abilities should begin to predominate locally.
  • Urgency arose in trying to keep up with external demands that were harder to anticipate and difficult to throttle unless major investment in surveillance was maintained.
  • Qualifying and repositioning the locality for a role in the bigger picture was necessary for it to benefit or survive.

This narrative of evolving demand is not a true history of management but it represents that change itself varies within the standing issues of management.

The same three variables were used to search each scenario for demand (causes) and response (effects). That allowed recognition of change itself differing, in the same organization. That is, those terms were a framing device. The framing did not change, but variation occurred within it. On the other hand, the details within the respective scenarios were not the same from case to case.

Of course we are all familiar with using standard measures across time. But the point here is different.

In reality, the various scenarios of demand all exist, simultaneously. Correspondingly, multiple kinds of change may co-exist in each organization, and some parts of an organization are sometimes found to be involved simultaneously in multiple kinds of change. Management is expected to coordinate and reconcile this variety. Management models are needed, but one size does not fit all.

The message here is that change is not an event but instead a constant characteristic of the current state. The new normal is that this complexity is permanent and increasing. Consequently, continual alignment to value, and being built for change, are fundamental to enabling management of change.

Strategy and Design

Imagine building a house without a blueprint.

The blueprint accomplishes three things.

  1. Communication of the idea is explicit; it shows what is included and why
  2. It calls for things that are known to be doable; does not make speculative requests
  3. It describes why when something is finished as required, it will work as needed

Thanks to the blueprint, when the builders start to work, they know What to do, and Why to do it — and they bring the experience and tools themselves that tell them How.

In contrast, without a blueprint,

  • the idea of what to make or not make is uncertain;
  • things that get included may be more experimental than reliable;
  • and the overall quality of experience given by the results is only unpredictably acceptable or consistent.

With those limited expectations of a no-blueprint build, only one thing would be worse than having to depend on the result — namely, having to pay for it.

Having a framework doesn’t tell you what specifically the house will be in the end; but it tells you what kind of things need to be possible and need to be dealt with — objectives and requirements.

In Part Two:

this discussion continues with a further look at Frameworks, and the issues of complexity and relevance.

© 2020 Malcolm Ryder



Malcolm Ryder

Malcolm is a strategist, solution developer and knowledge management professional in both profit and non-profit companies across business, IT and the arts.