Feb 12 , 2021
Three Ages in One Generation | How Change has evolved

Did you know that our generation has gone through three industrial revolutions already?

It’s very important that when we work with clients, I understand exactly where the starting point of their mindsets are and then build from there. By looking back at a brief history in time you can acknowledge how we’ve progressed when it comes to change as well as three distinct power models of organisations.

Industrial Age

The first age that we have seen within this generation of work is the industrial age. We owe a hell of a lot of technology development and progress to this age, but what was interesting about this age from a human dynamic point of view is power or influence was all about control. Everything was all centred around a production line or a system that produces widgets, outputs or services that were generally homogeneous. Leadership really took on a form of top-down control, and everything was measured around output and quality.

What that meant from a change manager’s perspective is if an organisation in an ‘industrial age’ function actually wanted to go through change, it was often top-down driven, and you had to do it or lose your job. What was interesting as well is leaders were the only ones who seemed to have the full view and picture of what was going on in an organisation. Often that information was withheld, and it was more war like in approach, with generals at the top, directing the troops at the bottom.

In addition no feedback would go upwards, downwards, or leftwards. You either did your job right, or it was a failure and there were consequences. We then saw a lot of organisations then shift very quickly into the information age.

Information Age

This is where the adoption of technology started giving us a lot more insights and information that were previously not available within an organisation. You would then be able to get a complete picture of not just your production and your sales lines, but also a lot of human and HR data that went into this. What’s interesting about this age is the power model and the influence was how much knowledge you had. You would have these visionary leaders like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs from Apple who had these great visionary ideas, but what helped them become so great is because they had all the information and people would look up to them in awe.

A lot of these leaders were very courageous and there was a culture of hoarding information within the leadership group and an entitlement to all this information available because of the information age and the technology they invested in. It was often one-way feedback again from top-down.

For the change management space this lead to the birth of the professional change consultant who was accredited in a specific type of mystical methodology and held all the information in their specialist space.

So when preparing a change strategy or transformation strategy, that change manager was looked to as the expert or the professional. Change was very much about sitting in a dark room and building a change plan or a strategy in isolation. We also saw that with a lot of the big four consultancies who I have worked for myself, a lot of the time was us creating these amazing, beautiful PowerPoint change strategy presentations, and then exhaustively trying to convince people that this was the way forward (“we know best as the experts”). That started becoming challenging as we moved into the next stage, the imagination age.

Imagination Age

I like to refer to this as the age of connectedness, because what happened which drove us into this age was the democratisation of technology. Now we are able to have a huge amount of computing power, thanks to cloud and mobile devices, all within our own pockets. So information is now freely available; if you want information, you can Google it, you can YouTube it.

The power dynamic here is less about how much you know, but more about how you can generate ideas. People in these businesses like the Googles, the Facebooks, and the Airbnbs of the world are seeing ways of collaborating, not just within their organisation, but directly with their consumers and their champions as well. So power becomes about your ability to create, foster and facilitate ideas, and less about your technical knowledge. This is what really change management is about today.

It’s less about you knowing everything as the change manager, but accepting that you come with experience, and you will facilitate the process because everyone in the organisation you’re practicing with or you’re supporting actually knows their business better than you. And by having this connectedness with your consumers allows you to get way better information, faster, quicker, and that’s democratised. So it’s more about having this information, sharing it, and facilitating a process to move forward.

That’s really what our methodology is about from a change perspective. It’s about 360 feedback, looking at information as insight, and collaborating to find solutions that are inclusive and take a lot of different perspectives into account. Having the skill to carve out options and get agreements around a single way is where we’re finding ourselves in the change space. As well as the need for new, connected and inclusive types or ways of rolling out change, inside and outside organisations.


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