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Why we need to discuss ‘Complexity’ within Change Management.


As someone working in change, I believe that complexity is a critical component in organisations. Unfortunately, many change managers and practitioners do not discuss complexity within the change process.

This can be due to a number of reasons, including the difficulty of the complexity language, the worry about getting the language wrong, and the belief that one has to be a complexity scientist to discuss complexity in change.

I started to get into complexity about 3 years ago, and I found the Cynefin framework. From there, my desire to understand how all this is applicable to change started. One of the biggest challenges in discussing complexity within change management is the language used to describe it. The language of complexity can be difficult to understand, and many people may not feel comfortable using it or may worry about getting it wrong. Believe me, I had to have google to hand and still do at times to understand some of the language, but that’s cool, you find your own way of describing it which is how it should be. Additionally, there is a perception that you have to be an expert in complexity science in order to discuss it, which can be daunting for those who are not experts in the field. I certainly am not an expert, but an an enthusiastic novice and that does not stop me, we all can’t be experts and am happy to have constructive criticism from those who are if it helps me.

Another reason for the lack of discussion about complexity within change management I believe is the training that most change managers undertake. Most change management training programs focus on linear change methodologies, which do not address the complexities of change within organisations. This can make it challenging for change managers to bring up the topic of complexity and explore it further. Traditional management approaches may not be suitable for managing complex change environments as it requires a different sort of management approach that focuses on experimentation and probing. Let’s face it, linear mythologies are cemented into lots of organisations and it can be difficult to deconstruct what is already in place, and it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort.

Despite these challenges, it is important to recognise that change is inherently complex and that discussing and understanding complexity can lead to more effective and sustainable change outcomes. As a beekeeper, I look at change as I look at my bees in some ways, you can do your very best to control and manage a colony but just when you think you are in control they do something you never expected. That’s the beauty and frustration of a complex adaptive system and most organisations have more in common with complex adaptive systems than they do a linear and ordered system. People are complex, who knew.

Organisations need to create a culture that encourages discussions about complexity and provides the necessary training and resources to understand and navigate it.
By doing so, change managers can better manage the complexities of change and achieve the desired outcomes. Adopting a more experimentation and probing type of management approach can help manage problems and make decisions within a complex change environment.
By Mick Brian, Head of Change & Transformation at CMC Partnership Consultancy Ltd

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