Future of change management – Convergence 2017
March 16, 2017













Dr Michelle Austin, Senior Manager


I recently had the privilege of addressing the future of change management at Convergence 2017.

Globalization and constant innovation of technology result in a constantly evolving business environment. Phenomena such as social media and mobile adaptability have revolutionized business and the effect of this is an ever increasing need for more and more change, and therefore change management1. We know there’s a need for organisations to meet a constant change mandate. So what does this mean for the future of change management as a discipline and a profession?

There is a paucity of research or thought pieces into what is predicted to be the future of change management. However Prosci have asked this very question. Their 2014-16 trend predictions2 showed us that the appreciation of change management has grown and that more organizations recognize its value as a strategic initiative.

In 2015 Prosci asked 1,120 change practitioners to describe what they expect to happen in change management in 2017- 20183. They identified the following four trends:

  1. Greater awareness and support for change management as a discipline – in other words – more acceptance and credibility for change management as a core competency.
  2. Broader, more complex application, such as larger numbers of employees engaged in change management and, significantly, 77% of participants reported the integration of change management with project management, with the two disciplines working in tandem.
  3. Increase in job openings, both in the number of permanent change management jobs and the development of dedicated Change Management Offices.
  4. Greater need for training and education in change management, such as designated training sessions for change leaders and the integration of change management training into existing learning and development programs

LaMarsh consulting also predicted future trends in change management, centred around organisations recognizing that they need to build the capability to manage change into a core competency; that we need enhanced sophistication of the tools we use to collect data, to analyze it and to build and implement our change plans; and that senior leaders will soon be coming into their roles with heightened ability and commitment to successful change management and to their role as sponsors.

So what does Synergy think? Well, as usual, we think a little differently. Here are our seven key predictions for the near-medium future.


In 2012 dealing with uncertainty was the number 1 priority for CEOs. Uncertainty destabilises our brain! Uncertainty is a powerful stimulator of fear, triggers a neurochemistry response, and often correlates with distrust. Uncertainty will most definitely need to be addressed more robustly by change managers of the future. This will mean we can’t do what we’ve always done – because things are evolving too quickly; governance is too slow and cumbersome and change efforts take too long.

Change will become unpredictable or unprecedented. Organisations won’t be able to keep up. Change is constant. It is also necessary for success.


In the future the rapidity of changes will be overwhelming – the only way to try to keep up will be to use as much automation as possible. This automation has already begun – for example, doctors use robots in hospitals to remotely visit patients.

There is a great deal of automation for the office that exists now4, for example:

  • Automated marketing, blogging, social media
  • Evernote – note taking, records audio, syncs to the cloud, insert documents
  • Expensify – for reimbursements (automatic, from your phone while you’re away)
  • Open source digital file storage, file sharing, backups
  • Kisi – Access management to your office and systems via smart phones
  • Issuetrak – FAQ software with automated customer support
  • Help scout – automated helpdesk support
  • FunctionFox – automated project management solutions
  • Sendbloom – automated customer account management
  • Float – automated budgeting
  • HR: Workable – automated recruitment; Planday for automated shift planning, employee communication, payroll; Certspring for automated onboarding and training
  • Nest – automated thermostat control
  • Optimum energy – automated software to reduce energy use
  • Managed by Q – automated booking for cleaning services

However, these are superficial. How about automated processes to measure benefits realisation and report against them? Or Stakeholder management data that is automatically collected and updated in your system and reports?

When we say “automation” We’re talking about machine learning algorithms running on purpose-built computer platforms that have been trained to perform tasks that currently require humans to perform.

Updating excel spreadsheets, reports, and weekly project plans fall neatly into this category. In an article entitled “The 5 jobs robots will take first5” middle management came in at number one.

Using automated data will help us to tailor approaches to stakeholders – more about that in a moment.


Big data is extremely large data sets that come from a variety of sources. Big data comes from messages, updates and photos on social media, readings from sensors, GPS signals from phones, online shopping, and many more.

They are analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations – typically about human behaviour. We are talking about data so complex that traditional data processing is inadequate to deal with it.

To put it in perspective it is estimated that Walmart collects more than the equivalent of 20 million filing cabinets worth of data every hour from its customer transactions. And that data was from 20126. Every digital process and social media interaction produces and fuels big data. It’s what we do with all of that information that will begin to impact more and more on change management into the future. Organisations are going to need data management strategies – there’s too much to contain, let alone use.

In my research for this topic I found quite a lot of articles on how big data means organisations are going to need different change management strategies. This will be a big focus in the future of change management as organisations struggle to capture, analyse, and use the data they have available.

There are not so many articles that say how big data will affect change management as a discipline.

We do know that big data will allow increasing personalisation with users. Technology is now built with deep insight discovery in mind7. Change management is going to have to find a way to leverage that insight.

Understanding the data is one step. The next after that is working out how to use it to make an impact.

Design thinking will be important, to give people a chance to have the information and controls they want. As the Global Deputy Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook stated recently “putting people in control of their data is central to their value proposition”8.

Decision making is likely to change off the back of increased knowledge about our business and our employees9. Historically businesses relied on making important decisions via HiPPO – the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. This may not be necessary, or desirable, with the influx of big data. There will be a need to combine the intuitive thinking of the HiPPO with the quantitative reasoning of the technological experts. Change management has to be embedded in, and leverage, this change.

Real time data is making more and more of an impact on society. For example, location data from mobile phones was used to infer how many people were in the parking lot of Macy’s on Black Friday – the start of the Christmas shopping season in the United States. Retailers’ sales could be estimated before trading even commenced9. One would hope the data was also used for safety and security! Closer to home, the

Department of Human Services’ Centrelink Confirmation eServices for businesses currently provides online access to real time information about customers. You can confirm a customer’s eligibility for your rebates, concessions or services.

Forgive the dad joke, but big data is the next big thing in change management.


A rigid and fixed system will not allow innovation. We need to stop with all the small actions that seek perfection. We will have to present work in different formats and in different stages of development10. This means a need to collaborate more and co-design more.

Change management needs to keep up with the technology. We will need to partner with tech-savvy people and groups, and combine project and change technologies.

To institutionalise change in the future we will need specialist change architects to design the systems necessary to embed the change in corporate routines11. Technology will be critical to rapidly and effectively facilitate collective behaviour. The change manager of the future is going to need to be multidisciplinary.

The industrial revolution taught us that when traditional jobs disappear and technology takes over, we need to make sure we are all sufficiently educated to take advantage of emerging technology and systems. We will need new skills, new competencies, new institutions, and new mind-sets.


Currently we are geared to thoughtful risk management, excessive documentation, and making changes fit the paradigm of the business, rather than making the business fit the paradigm of the change. This is a mind-set that is going to have to change. Quickly. We need a growth mind-set – where we take risks, embrace a culture of accepting failure. We will need to move for transformation, not incremental change. And embrace adaptability and innovation.

Change managers will have to re-invent existing models, or create new ones for managing change. They will have to have a good view of the enormity of the big picture, as well as the eye for detail.

Those implementing and adopting change will need to capitalise on their change capability, just to keep up, let alone thrive.

Those with an internal locus of control – a belief that they are responsible for their own success – will do better than those with an external locus of control. We’re going to need much more ownership on the ground, and a way to connect people to projects and outcomes to keep this internal locus of control.

We need to create space for people to thrive, and empower them to be part of the solution. We will need to create some certainties (to anchor people), then embrace the ambiguity. We will have to focus on what matters, and foster strategic intuition – tap into those who can recognise patterns or opportunities that we can’t see12.


At the risk of alienating myself from the Performance Managers let me just put this out there. We think the future of successful change will be Change Management Offices leading programs, rather than Project Management Offices.

Project management is about achieving the new state. Change management is about achieving success in the new state13. We need both. We need both to be integrated and understand each other’s discipline.

Why do I think change should be change-led and not project-led into the future?

  • Because at the end of the day change is almost always about people making changes in their day-to-day world.
  • Because change managers have a holistic view of change in the context of the environment.
  • Because change is getting more and more complex, and people are still at the heart of it all. Who better than a change manager? Or perhaps, a multidisciplinary manager who can integrate the core concepts, objectives, tools and techniques of both disciplines.
  • An interim step towards that would be far more integrated approaches, where PMs and CMs work together in partnership to achieve both installation and adoption of the future state14.


Change management used to be focused at the team level. Then it moved to the project, then program level. More and more now change is at the enterprise or organisational level.
The next logical step in the sequence is for change management to move to the societal or citizen level. To help enact greater societal change. The needs are already there – in exercise adoption, in smoking cessation, in management of obesity, in combatting homelessness. But I’m not so sure there’s change managers involved in those societal issues, at a level where real change can be influenced and enacted. We need change management positions in our political arena. We need a change manager as prime minister!

In conclusion, for the future of change management to be a successful one we will need to invest in ourselves. We will need to secure for ourselves the relevant skills to succeed15.

We are going to have to partner with designers, teachers, architects, technologists and the like – because we won’t be able to do it all. Change management will need to become a much broader discipline.

As Anurag Harsh said in a LinkedIn article last month: As technology continues to pervade every aspect of human life, change—within us and around us—will remain the only constant15.

I have covered what we think will change in the discipline and profession of change management in the near to medium future. There’s one thing, though, that I am certain will remain the same, which is: that the lived human experience will remain the foundation of successful change management. It doesn’t matter how much automation, or how much data you have, it’s the people who will have to use those advances to change the way they do their jobs. Change management always has, and always will be, about transformation through people.


  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Change_management
  2. http://blog.prosci.com/blog/2016-change-management-trends
  3. http://blog.prosci.com/blog/4-change-management-trends-for-2018
  4. https://blog.getkisi.com/25-top-office-automation-tools-cant-live-without/
  5. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-jobs-robots-take-first-shelly-palmer
  6. https://hbr.org/2012/10/big-data-the-management-revolution
  7. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paularmstrongtech/2017/03/03/how-big-data-is-going-to-change-over-the-next-three-years/#a57c3937bd31
  8. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paularmstrongtech/2017/03/01/facebook-plans-to-get-the-next-billion-by-introducing-more-data-driven-services/#4ea981741d7a
  9. https://hbr.org/2012/10/big-data-the-management-revolution
  10. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/innovation-fear-based-cultures-why-hire-lions-dogs-michael-graber
  11. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/the-underlying-structure-of-continuous-change/
  12. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/the-underlying-structure-of-continuous-change/
  13. https://www.pmiwdc.org/sites/default/files/presentations/201210/presentation20121023TysonsLunch.pdf
  14. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140804002003-7145156-project-management-vs-change-management
  15. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-automation-create-destroy-jobs-anurag-harsh