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The Human Center of Change

Recently I’ve been testing out the idea that the word “change” is becoming ineffective at anything much more than contrasting with
performance” and “operations”.

How does that make sense? After all, the unifying aspect of the three is that they are why management is deemed a “requirement”. And that requirement is based on the presumption that without management, all three things will happen anyway, just not necessarily in a way that we want them to.

Completely ignoring any political correctness, then, the punchline is that we intend to control enough variables so that the likelihood is raised that we will achieve our preferences.

Intentional control for preferences should not be a controversial goal or effort for anyone calling themselves a “manager”. The default activity in the management effort therefore always is to form-alize what intention, control, and preference will be.

But hold that thought. Why else would change, operations, and performance be “peers” in any conceptual sense? The obvious answer is that they all describe a run of events. Performance is a qualitative description of that run; Operations is a functional description of it; and Change is an empirical (experiential) description of it.

Now let’s throw people into the mix. The first thing to call out is that there is a People element that is measured “critically” in each of the three perspectives on that run of events. Because of that, we can adopt a point of view that is “people-centric”.

Three personae co-exist as the “central” presence of a person in the work environment.

Why is that important to do?

In a now very old model for explaining how organizations get things done, one accounts for Process, Technology, and People. The presumption is that Process causes or influences in a certain way that is not the same as what we attribute to Technology or to People. In this model, it is necessary to assign distinctive responsibility to each of the three elements:

  1. Process dictates how any action is intended to affect any other action, for the purpose of reaching a target condition.

2. Technology is, of course, anything that is a “tool”, magnifying the ability to manipulate things within the prescribed boundaries of the Process.

3. People, as distinguished from processes and tools, organize the use of processes and tools. They do it mainly in three ways: making decisions, supplying supportive labor, and communicating meaning. These are responsibilities held as distinctive privileges by people in the sense that, except in abnormal environments, People are never expected to allow processes, nor tools, to override People’s interests.

Having said that, I’ll right away address what “abnormal” points at. On the one hand, people are “normally” involved only because they meet predefined qualifications — unless it is necessary to instead involve unqualified people. On the other hand, automation (which integrates processes and tools) is exactly what presents situations where involving people may be normally discouraged enough to prevent subsequent participants from undermining previous participants.

Bu getting back to the main topic: if change is only a third of what is affected by the People/Process/Technology combo, what is accomplished by focusing on Change as the key area where People must be given special attention?

The Future of Work

The general line of thinking (at least the fear) is that Process and Technology have too often overrun people when it comes to “managing change”… and that the permanent increase in the volume and urgency of change just means that things will be that much more abusive for people.

That becomes more serious as a concern if we assume that Operations are not going to succeed if they are unsuccessfully changed to keep up with the new urgencies and requirements. The consequences of failed operations are pretty dire as they rapidly dis-integrate the organization as a functional entity, in which case it no longer matters what the organization’s purpose (or the company’s purpose) is said to be.

In that perspective, assuring that people can adequately handle change is the principal prerequisite for warding off an existential threat to the business entity.

What are the main influences on people’s distress in the face of change?

That pertains to the three main ways that people have a presence in the managed effort to intentionally produce a change:

  • Role: the publicized scope and range of expected responsibilities held by a party in a shared interaction or event
  • Actor: a person or party bringing applicable capability in the real time of performing a role
  • Stakeholder: a party whose involvement is intended to bring a specific outcome desired by the party

Practice Safe Work

Distress is the situation in which the person’s satisfaction with their presence and status in those three ways is being subverted or withheld. The satisfaction that we are most familiar with in each way, respectively, is:

  • Role: the acknowledged importance of influence
  • Actor: the realization of capability (a potential) as ability (an actual)
  • Stakeholder: the measurable benefit from the given opportunity

Taken together, the three satisfactions are experienced as the meaningfulness of the involvement.

As corresponding factors of meaning, Recognition, Effect, and Worth are significant perceived characteristics of the experience of being involved. We know, historically, that in theory these three characteristics would have a causal relationship: effect leads to recognition which corresponds with worth. But we also know, historically, that in fact each thing can occur independently of the others and not have that progressive linear relationship — whether or not that lack of alignment is expected, admitted, or fair.

It should not be difficult for any manager or non-management worker to quickly catalog the many ways that the promotion, acknowledgment or ethics of their experience might differ negatively from what an individual person needs in order to find sustained motivation to be involved.

We also know that people are vastly different from each other when considered by personal histories underpinning their current active psyches and personalities. But the primary difference between a society and an organization is the premeditated formality of the organizational model.

This means that the distances between social reality and organizational reality involve navigation, reconciliation, and transition in order to support satisfactory meaning for the individual person, who at work is present concurrently in both realities.


To “match” the person’s social and organizational profiles, a person typically has to be investigated as a personal provider, and recruited as a Role fulfiller. The first output of those two qualifying exercises is a determination of compatibility.

From that point, a person may go on to join the organization doing investigation and recruiting. An offer of inclusion is the second output.

But then, what is too often done inadequately is an ongoing maintenance of attention to that compatibility as it is being affected by the person’s experiences as an actor and stakeholder.

And in particular, if the formalization of a managed Change is announced, what does that mean holistically to the presence of the person in the organization? Does it introduce incompatibilities to the Actor or Stakeholder personae even when a Role compatibility to the managed process of Change is confirmed?

Two generic ways that incompatibilities can arise are:

  • divergence from terms of existing satisfaction
  • divergence from terms of aspired satisfaction

And with each general case, two specific ways that incompatibilities can arise are:

  • functionally
  • qualitatively

Remote Control

Remote work is an ever-increasing reality due to the need for businesses to be more flexible about the navigation, reconciliation and transition they will support for the role-qualified individual person.

The worker’s experience as an included party then calls for the organization to present adequate remote recognition, and remotely operable means, of aligning Actor and Stakeholder support for the person in a known Role.

If we understand that there is a social aspect of compatibility as the Actor, Role and Stakeholder, as well as an organizational aspect of compatibility for each, then we have the perspective that is needed to cultivate ongoing engagement through the person’s motivated involvement to collaborate in aligning to the formalization of proposed managed changes.

In that perspective, if change is increasingly required, then it follows that:

  • the structure of the organization will become increasingly dynamic;
  • engagement in the organization will increasingly need to feature,as a default, recruiting for change;
  • and, those two conditions are prerequisite for the organization to control enough variables so that the likelihood is raised that it will achieve its preferences.

©2020 malcolm ryder / archestra research for ChangeBridge LLC




Providing insights on how Change Management is Changing.

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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.

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