A UK reader writes:

“I was interested by your article on change management being an oxymoron (see “Change Management is an Oxymoron”). Fundamentally I agree with much of your article. Unless we are personally ready, willing and able to accept change then no amount of theory or application of models will be successful.

However, I disagree with ‘change can’t be managed.’ I think that is a generalisation that whilst provocative has not been fully thought through. You make the point that individuals need to ‘learn, grow and develop at the speed of change (or greater)’ in order to prevent later barriers – and I largely agree with you. My argument is that with a diverse employment base, the development of employees is a managerial process – so by extension just as you argue that dealing with change comes from timely development, the management of that development must be managing change.

Ideally all employees (at all levels) would self manage their own development. I believe it is part of the manager’s role to facilitate that. However, if employees are meet the challenges faced by change then it is incumbent on the manager to create the conditions for them so that they can develop appropriately to be ready for the change. The alternative would be for the manager not to help this process which is unthinkable.

I am curious as to where the figure of 10% came from as a minimum in terms of devoting time to personal development/growth? Is this based on any research or simply a figure plucked out of thin air to help emphasize a point?

Finally, you talk about long term culture issues that need to be changed. I agree that these usually cannot be changed overnight. Even though it is a long term process, culture change needs to be managed otherwise there is no guarantee that the resulting product will be that wanted by the business leader. The alternative is to focus on the recruitment/selection stage as Disney for example so that the right mindset is drafted in from the start – but this is not applicable in the case of changing existing culture with existing staff.”



Hi Steve,

I welcome the discussion and points you’ve raised.

We’re basically in agreement. What seems to be causing the perceived difference in views is my distinction between management and leadership. This paradoxical balance has been at the foundation of many of my books such as Pathways to Performance and The Leader’s Digest as well as my workshops/retreats and numerous articles. If you don’t have either book, you can read some excerpts on this balance on our web site here. The “Management vs. Leadership” article should make the distinction especially clear.

I could be accused of splitting hairs with the management-leadership distinction. But I find it is vitally important for people in management roles to understand the contrasting and complementary aspects of their management and leadership behaviors. So while I am arguing that we can’t manage change, I strongly agree with your point that we can – and should – lead change.

I see managing change as coming from a quest to remove uncertainty and make organizational life march to some orderly step-by-step process. Leadership recognizes that life isn’t that predictable or controllable. However, leaders can – and should – establish conditions (culture/environment) and exercise principles that successfully guide continuous change and improvement.

The 10% figure is an estimate from my own experiences and what seems to continually come through in research on leadership/organization development. I don’t have any hard numbers to back it up.

I also agree that culture can and should be shaped – again through leadership. You may have discovered that I have a whole section of workshops/retreats on Leading a High Performance Culture that provides tools and techniques proven very successful at doing that. The CLEMMER Group has helped numerous Clients reshape their cultures. It’s generally an eighteen month to three year process depending upon how radical the change is and how committed the leaders are to sticking with it.

Thanks again for your feedback. I hope I have clarified your points further and you see that we are much closer in our views than you might have thought.