posted 2 Sep 2002 in Volume 6 Issue 1
Book review: The Change Monster
Mikko Arevuo reviews The Change Monster by Jeanie Daniel Duck
Title: The Change Monster: The Human Forces that Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change
Author: Jeanie Daniel Duck
Publishers: Crown Business, 2001
Jeanie Daniel Duck has written a brave book on organisational change that is targeted at an incredibly crowded market. I am sure both you and I must have read at least a two-dozen books on the same topic in recent years. We all know that change is imperative, but do we need another book to tell us so?
I cannot commend The Change Monster for its academic excellence or contribution to our understanding of change management theory and practice. The book describes a taxonomy for evaluating where one is in the change process: stagnation (essentially that the organisation is stuck in a rut); preparation (getting organisation members ready to make an important change); implementation (figuring out and announcing the process details for carrying out the change management programme); determination (actually carrying though the change plans and new visions); and, fruition (using the new success to strengthen the foundations of future success). At any given point, however, the ‘change monster’ can rear its ugly head, resulting in strategic drift.
The author’s taxonomy is almost identical to Lewin’s systematic change management programming approach, which most readers are probably familiar with. Furthermore, the book’s change taxonomy incorporates the ‘transition curve’, again a well established concept in change management literature that tracks the organisation’s collective, emotional frustration during change, from immobilisation, to depression, to letting go and finally to understanding and internalising the new organisational values and practices.
The book’s theoretical structure is supported by two extensive case studies that form the majority of the book and that are based on Duck’s experiences with the case organisations as an external change management consultant. One case study involves turning around a fading industry leader that was part of Honeywell, and the other is a consolidation of the R&D operations of two merging pharmaceuticals companies. Both case studies highlight the messiness and frustrations of managing change, and the reader will take away many useful lessons from the case analysis. However, it must be said that the author perhaps overstates the role of an external consultant in a change management programme, as in reality, most successful change management initiatives involve internal change agents.
I have often argued on the pages of this magazine that knowledge management is primarily about change. Thus, any book that deals with change management has inherent value to knowledge management professionals. The Change Monster’s credibility is based on the author’s willingness to lay down her own feelings, as a single mother from the deep south of the US made good. Perhaps one should start the book by reading the final, autobiographical chapter, where the author outlines the ‘change monster’ in her own personal life, from having a child, divorcing, getting a new job in a bank and progressing to a senior position at a global management consulting firm. In fact, the book’s main contribution is that it highlights the change management process from a human perspective. Human nature lies at the very roots of any organisation, which is why organisations tend to behave like human beings. It is therefore interesting to compare and contrast the author’s own personal change process outlined in the book with the organisational change process. The case histories show that emotions do matter in organisational life. Emotions that are not understood or properly addressed can and will ruin organisational transformation, however well planned and programmed the process is.
However, emotions are very difficult to manage, and it is also hard to write about them in a cohesive manner. The book makes a brave effort to demonstrate the impact they can have, yet I found the author’s emotional management and change tactics so covered in ‘war stories’ that they were difficult to find. Also, I would have expected a more honest discussion of cases where change efforts had failed, as it is often easier to learn from mistakes than from successes.
The Change Monster cannot be easily categorised. The book’s lack of academic rigour does not qualify it as a textbook. On the other hand, the lack of a clear, step-by-step discussion of change management techniques prevents the book falling into the ‘how to’ category. The book will most likely become a successful ‘popular management’ title that business people pick up in airport bookshops as a half-serious read for a transatlantic flight.
The book is an easy read, but it does not come across as a serious piece of writing. It does, however, allow the reader to develop an understanding of the dynamics of change, and expands on the traditional change management processes. Yet the book’s main thrust – human emotion and its management in organisational change context – is a difficult concept to put forward in a clear manner, and in this regard, The Change Monster doesn’t really deliver.
Mikko Arevuo is principal at Delta Strategies Ltd. He can be contacted at: email@example.com