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Choosing to Change

 

Advances in Project Management

SERIES ARTICLE

By David Bentley

United Kingdom

 



The profession of project management is in its widest sense that of facilitating change. Whatever the context, it is essentially a process of creating something new from an existing situation. How we should best manage the process of change and create the best possible outcome has exercised management thinking for many decades.

It is one of the eternal paradoxes of life, that through the ages we constantly seek the security of continuity, sticking to the status quo, whilst life, and the world that we live in, inevitably changes. Politicians and financiers call for stability in the economy, markets and international relations knowing full well that it can’t and does not happen. Harold MacMillan, UK Prime Minister 1957-63, is reputed to have answered the question put to him by a journalist ‘What is most likely to blow governments off course?’ saying ‘Events, dear boy, events’. The exact words spoken and indeed the attribution is questioned, but the observation is clear. The best formulated policies and detailed planning will always be victim to the unpredictable. The events that continually emerge creating unexpected change.

Over the course of the past half century I have witnessed a rapid and accelerating pace of change. In technology, the advent of the computer and the revolution in access to information through the internet. In transport, from the post war spread of the motor car replacing horse drawn transport to the prospect of driverless cars and in health, evidenced by the extension of life expectancy. In all areas of modern life, we are constantly experiencing change but still we tend to be taken by surprise when it happens and resist it happening.

My professional career has been spent managing many facets of change. As a construction project manager I was involved in the planning and creating of change. Whilst it was, on the face of it, the physical change of building roads, utility plants and buildings, it was in fact that, most of my time in that role, was spent dealing with the unexpected. However detailed the planning and scheduling of the works a three-dimensional structure is being created from a two-dimensional plan or nowadays perhaps a virtual image. The interpretation of the detail required will always mean that the building created is emergent from those plans and change will be an integral part of the process. The time spent on crafting contracts and resolving disputes arising from the changes that happen are testament to that. Working now in organisational change the same applies. We can plan the change in great detail and strive to make the communication of the change as clear and widespread as possible. We can follow the latest model for change management but the unexpected will always happen. People will react in unpredictable ways. Sometimes resisting change that would appear, on the face of it, to be of clear benefit to them. Other times changing in ways that they did not expect themselves and being highly successful.

Whilst pursuing my career in change management I have been challenged to radically change my views on the nature of organisations. To re-evaluate what I was doing when planning a construction project and how I understood the reactions of the people that I was working with and the cultural changes. By chance I happened to choose to do an MBA course at the University of Hertfordshire that included taking a view of management theory that was developing out of complexity theory. A view that accepts unpredictability, takes human interaction as the basis of organisation and pays attention to what is actually happening rather than creating a model of what we think should be happening. It is in taking this complexity-based view that provides us with an understanding of what motivates people to accept or reject change. Providing an approach to managing change that works with individuals to make the choice to change and determines the way that change happens.

The mainstream approach to contemporary management and organisational theory that has been developed over the course of the twentieth century is founded on the application of scientific research principles. That is, by conducting experiments, taking measurements and analysing data we can come to a theory of how something works and then use that knowledge to predict and influence what may happen in the future. The ultimate assumption of this way of thinking being that, given sufficient time and research effort we will eventually discover the ‘theory of everything’ that will enable us to control our destiny.

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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books previously published by Gower in UK and now by Routledge worldwide. Information about Routledge project management books can be found here.



About the Author


David Bentley

Author, Business Consultant
United Kingdom

 


David Bentley has many years of experience working in business planning and improvement through change management at the corporate level both in the private sector and embedded with public sector organisations, with a multi-national engineering consulting company and more recently in delivering organisational and cultural change programmes as an independent consultant.

As a Chartered Civil Engineer, his background is in construction planning and managing projects in the highways, water and power sectors. Working on the introduction of IT systems and quality management led to a career in business and change management and a Director level position with a major international engineering consultant, working on highways network management, in the UK and Australia.

Supported by an MBA and a PhD in Business David has strong leadership experience with teams of change agents and working to deliver significant benefits in business development and cultural improvement. Working in SHEQ management and business improvement for DownerMouchel in Perth, Western Australia, embedded in the state roads authority, Mainroads WA, involved bringing together a team from multiple ethnic backgrounds and melding the public and private sector ethos into an effective working team. David’s particular skills in training and coaching in management, systems development, process mapping and improvement, procedure development, audit and systems accreditation inform David’s approach to successful change delivery.

David’s work as an independent business consultant has involved a diverse range of organisations from providing business planning and support to local charity groups through small not-for-profit organisations to transformation projects for global companies and the provision of management training in the nuclear reclamation sector.

Recent project work brought together David’s range of skills. Providing management training, process improvement and procedure development and performance management was combined with his experience in culture change and mentoring to help in the delivery of significant financial returns, team working and individual performance. Most recent work has included advising on strategic direction, business development and implementing performance improvement strategies for a global support services business.

David is also the author of ‘Choosing to Change – an alternative understanding of Change Management’, published by Routledge, ISBN-10 1138237892 in 2018.