For the last few years, Resilience Alliance has been a sponsor of the conference hosted by the Association of Change Management Professionals. This year, in addition to our sponsorship, I will also be speaking (look for a forthcoming blog entry on the topic!) It’s been interesting to see how this organization, and the profession of change management, has developed over time.

When I entered the change management arena more than 20 years ago, its roots were primarily in the Organization Development field. I came in from the field of Industrial/Organizational Psychology, joining a company called ODR (founded by Daryl Conner) in a research/assessment development role. At that time, the major consulting firms were just building change management capability, and we worked with E&Y, Andersen (now Accenture), KPMG, and others to help train change practitioners. The Managing Organization Change (MOC) Methodology was our primary approach, and in the pre-Internet days, a lot of our business was in printing and selling hard copies of tools (Sponsor Evaluation, etc.) that aligned with MOC, and delivering training and certification programs to teach people the fundamentals of change management.

We taught change agents to apply tools to their initiatives, and also equipped practitioners to deliver training to other agents, to targets, and to sponsors. There were several levels of practitioner training, with Level III being much less focused on tools, methods, and core concepts and much more focused on “practicing the craft”–having candid discussions with sponsors, conveying tough messages, reframing, etc. There were a lot of role plays of tough situations, case studies, etc.

What was once a relatively specialized craft has now become a common language for people in business. Virtually every organization has some sort of approach to change management. There are quite a few methodologies out there, many of them owing at least some of their thinking to the earliest ones, including MOC. And, just as has happened in many fields, a desire for standardization and codification has emerged. ACMP has been one of the main organizations leading the charge to develop a set of practice standards and a professional designation and certification. They’ve done a great deal to involve experienced professionals in designing and reviewing the standard.

I reviewed a draft of the proposed standards, and I have to say that I have a wide-ranging set of feelings about where this is all going. On the positive side, I think that many of the things that were a core part of the craft so many years ago have been expanded, refined, and tested, and have settled into a body of foundational knowledge that is pretty solid. I feel excited by the fact that the application of these concepts and principles has now become an integral part of many organizational change initiatives and has potentially increased the likelihood of success.

And yet I worry sometimes that we will get caught up in processes and tools–that the DNA of Project Management and Business Process Reengineering will focus our attention on what we are doing, but cause us to lose sight of how (and perhaps why) we are doing it. That the spirit of the OD world–the focus on use of self as an instrument; the importance of practicing the craft of having difficult conversations and inviting people to confront their own blind spots; the recognition that this work has a soul and a spirit and a moral imperative–will be lost along the way.

Perhaps in some ways we are returning to the way we thought about it 20 years ago–that there are basic elements to the practice, sort of like learning the alphabet, and that these elements are now so well-accepted they are “entry stakes” for doing good work in the area. And that there are multiple layers of knowledge and skill and changecraft that build on the basics and provide a pathway for entry-level practitioners to work toward becoming true masters of the craft.

It will be interesting to see, at this year’s conference, how the spirit of change management as a profession continues to evolve.