The Problem with Organizational Change Management (OCM)

I presented at the KMI Institute’s 2019 KM Showcase last week. Fantastic event.

(Zach, great conference. Thanks for asking me to present and to speak on the closing panel – (either Zach needed a stooge on stage, or as someone who has seen the inner workings of information and knowledge management within DoD and the federal government, he asked me to sit on the panel.))

Zach, the moderator, posed a question to the panel for our responses. His question was along the lines of…

“What has been the impact of organizational change management on the execution of knowledge management?”,

…something to that affect.

Predictably, there were positive answers.

On panels, however, I like to hear contrarian voices. And, because I knew I likely had the panel and the audience at a disadvantage, I gave an answer about OCM with the intent of starting a debate. What I had not considered first, however, was that at this point on a Friday between 4-5pm, few remaining attendees at the conference appeared to be interested in an extended discussion. Even the director of the institute, who surprisingly showed very little interest in the debate I was attempting to initiate, simply offered a platitude about the importance of OCM in response to my remark. It is also likely that he, like the audience and other panel members, did not have the benefit of the experience I would unfold. So, when my chance came to speak, I stated that OCM had been more of a ‘thorn in my side’ than a benefit. I was praying for someone to challenge it. I think I looked at every single person in the room. No one said a word.

Had someone challenged it, I would have liked for them to have said something like this…

“OCM exists to provide seamless transition during the ongoing, constant, and inevitable organizational process improvement across an enterprise .”

My answer would have been that OCM is a management “powergrab.”
Here’s why…

First, within the world of knowledge and information, I’m challenging OCM’s understanding of the tolerance levels an organization’s knowledge users have to an impending change regarding their knowledge and information. OCM, which has worked with knowledge users only a fraction as much as knowledge managers, if any at all, believes though it somehow knows best and therefore will determine how delicately knowledge users should be treated regarding any change users of organizational knowledge might face.

OCM understands the value organizational knowledge users place on their knowledge and information. That’s not disputed. Users have, however, a different level of tolerance for change regarding their k&i than OCM gives them credit for having.

My real world experience includes the management for 11 years of a crowdsourcing website. The site had a publisher login and a user login with 3500 publishers and over 15,000 users. During my 11-year term as the sole administrator, I alone managed all facets of the site including the change management necessary when updates of any kind where made to the site. Over the course of 11 years, hundreds of updates, dozens of improvements, and multiple versions were released, each requiring some level of change management. In addition to this experience, I served as the direct supervisor to hundreds of subordinates over a 22 year span. The main similarity between these two positions is the responsibility of conveying an impending change to subordinates, one “face-to-face direct” and the other “virtual direct”. Subordinates of direct supervisors, and for knowledge managers – those users whose knowledge we manage, are eager and excited and energetic to accept change. In most cases, they are willing to tolerate a much bigger headache to change if a product or outcome they need can get to them faster or make their job easier or allow them to do it better. Incomplete software installations, where software is deployed but not all the bells and whistles are turned on, is one example where users desperate for the added functionality want nothing more than for the software to be fully configured. No level of change management is as important to users as their need for the added functionality. If users have been denied use of some software feature and then the next day it appears, they could care less whether OCM had failed to notify them of the upcoming change. Improving their ability to do their job is more important to knowledge users.

OCM, however, currently places itself – ABOVE KM (and other organizational elements) – as an additional supervisory management layer on the basis that OCM somehow knows best how to handle organizational change involving knowledge and information. In some places, initiation of any organizational change can only be granted with OCM’s approval.


Based on what research, examples, or understanding does OCM believe it knows best how much disruption knowledge users are willing to accept during an organizational change involving k&i?

The answer: It has none! OCM has never interacted on the subjects of knowledge and information with knowledge users any more than some supermarket chain’s OCM department has interacted with shoppers in a store where the isles have been rearranged. OCM has certainly not interacted with knowledge users to the degree knowledge managers have interacted with them. With no understanding of users tolerance level, OCM assumes, therefore, that minimal stress is all that can be exacted on users. From this position, OCM defaults to enforcing upon all organizational change a mandate to cause the smallest amount of disruption between users and their k&i, regardless of the cost to budget and time.

OCM assumes that it possesses a greater understanding of “user tolerance to change” – across every field of an organization, not just KM. Like OCM, senior management also misunderstands the serious and sober relationship knowledge users have with their knowledge and information. Senior management must come to know that change promising knowledge users better access/management/protection/interoperability/etc. to or with their k&i is in the eyes of the user a happy and welcomed occurrence. Not one of dread and woe. Knowledge users want improvement and are eager and willing to accept much more disruption if the short term result is improved interactivity or better control or easier management of their knowledge . Unselfishly, knowledge users are also willing to accept disruption to their knowledge resources even if the change benefits other parts of the organization. Users are also accepting to mistakes. Things happen. They get that. What’s important to users is that the ball is moving forward to help them and the organization. If eggs have to get broken to make this omelet, users can accept it.

OCM has its place but that place is not above other organizational units as it has placed itself today. At best OCM should serve alongside organizational divisions, where senior management allows those managing divisions to determine the most cost-effective and time-effective methods for change execution to occur – based on that slice of the organization’s and its understanding of its users needs. In the case of organizational knowledge resources, knowledge managers make the call.

Only then does OCM get involved to determine how best to prepare the organization for the impending change.

Staying on budget and on time are executive decisions. OCM’s job is then prepare the organization for the order. Not the other way around!

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