Using the empty rhetoric of change to justify or impose change

With apologies to Bob Dylan, the times are always a-changin’. But if you buy into the rhetoric of certain practitioners of management-speak, then you’d think that the impetus for change occurs at those magic moments when they happen to be in charge.

Under such conditions, an assumed need to change becomes the catch-all justification for virtually any change. We have to change, so let’s change this! And if you oppose the change I want, well, then, you must be AGAINST CHANGE!!!!!

Or perhaps a given challenge or problem is used to justify a specific action. Times are tough, so we have to close this department! We’re in a competitive environment, so we have to cut your pay (while raising ours)! So stop opposing change!!!

Of course, it’s a logical fallacy that any given set of circumstances necessarily justifies a specific response or action, but organizations get away with it all the time, and a lot of people go along for the ride. After all, on the whole, we are much better at identifying or creating problems than we are at projecting the efficacy of proposed solutions. Unfortunately, the perceived pressure to change, whether self or externally generated, can lead to a lot of bad and hurtful decisions.

Okay, I realize these points may sound somewhat abstract to people accustomed to saner work environments. But I’m guessing that if you’ve been in an organizational setting where a lot of lousy decisions are made in the name of change, then you know what I’m talking about.

8 responses

  1. I agree and have experienced this insanity along with over 150 other employees working for the same company. It makes me consider that continual change is also a ploy to skirt accountability.

  2. Yes, accused of misconduct, insubordination, having a bad attitude, rebel, against change, old and out-dated, not innovative, not progressive enough, can’t think out of the box, – I have been accused of all this because I caution the need and approach to change and all of a sudden I don’t belong in the management ranks. I have always contributed my thoughts but they are never what leadership wants to hear. All to often in the Federal Government, daily things are changing but those that are dictating change never really think the whole process through, so the employees thrown into these horrible and disruptive changes are left to pick-up the pieces with little or no resources and try to establish a functional process, procedure, program and are judged when questions are asked of the visionaries (who have no idea on about the daily work processes or the workload – sometimes I think they believe we are just sitting back waiting for an assignment from them – but they are wrong. The visions are just that phylosophical ideation, perceptions of what they want but little or no thought goes in to the planning and execution. They are really book saavy, they are young, they are graduates of a variety of highly regarded universities yet they are not people smart, they have no heart and they are ignorant of the worklife and chaos they create within their own organizations. And then they wonder to to improve employee engagement – really?

  3. Only way they can justify their jobs. Cause problems so they have something to “do” as those at the top, who have no clue what’s going on and don’t want to because they left “administration” in charge to take care of things so they don’t have to, as they waste their money on people who destroy their ability to make income. I guess it will be figured out once the company goes down the tubes.

  4. Your phrase “empty rhetoric of change” says it all…..I always found policies meant for changing things for the better to be nothing but rhetoric. What good is a policy for “appropriate conduct” if it doesn’t apply to everyone?

  5. I am so thankful that you touched upon this “change” topic, David, which, as you know, has even been the main message of recent US Presidential campaigns. I have thought about this issue so much, have experienced way too much of it, and am currently in the midst of a long overdue Bowie marathon weekend, and have listened to various versions of Cha Cha Cha Cha Changes . . . (I do not mean to diminish your Dylan reference, just an old Bowie fan here). Just remember that Bowie follows that line with, “turn and face the strange.” Spot on.

    In my two decades in management/quasi-management at a national nonprofit, with every new executive director along came the “must change now!” rhetoric. Yawn. Most of the time that meant that some would lose their jobs and that the new person in charge would attempt things that we veteran employees had already thought of and carried out innumerable times already. And the reason why we were no longer doing whatever the change was? It did not work. It got so bad at one point that we seasoned staff members were instructed by key board members to just shut up and let the new leader make whatever changes they deemed necessary, even if the same ones had been tried and had failed repeatedly (even if it just failed a week ago! Shhhhsh!!!). Yes, towards the end, we were silenced, muzzled. My Kafkaesque yrs . . .

    Now I find myself working daily with the Silicon Valley kids. Just WOW. Talk about constant change for the sake of change, for that is the very nature of that particular region/beast, much to its own detriment, imho. It is seemingly about nonstop change and it outrages all involved (except for the change-makers, of course). And there is no COMMUNICATION about any changes. You just wake up one day and BAM! It’s all changed! Now you get to spend that day or many days trying to figure out what in the hell they did and how you will need to readjust to accommodate their changes. Massive time waster (and insulting on some visceral level, even).

    I have been saying this for a few yrs now because I see it everywhere at this point, and I could swear that it stems from Silicon Valley’s growing influence on society: If you are not in a constant state of change/flux (you know what I mean), then you are losing — you are a BIG LOSER. Boo Hoo on YOU, you LOSER! That seriously is the attitude that prevails. It seems to have permeated anything and everything. And that was the cause of the death of my nonprofit career. That mentality prevailed over ALL, with the appointment of a new executive director who worships at the feet of the Silicon gods. It was at the core of all that we were being forced to churn out at the speed of light (and for reduced salaries, but of course).

    I see the same thing on Facebook. Ever notice how FBers become incensed when FB makes unannounced changes, changes that we all question with the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” line? It happens every time, pretty much.

    Humans do not seem to be too fond of change, especially when it is not their own idea. Humans especially do not like changes that they are not fully prepared for, not made aware of before hand, not included in the planning stages, not told about at all. That, I see, is a KEY element in this whole CHANGE issue. No one likes to be caught off-guard, to be left out of the loop. It is then that change becomes shock. Who likes to be shocked?

    Change is a constant and is necessary, of course. But I am far too familiar with the specific type of change that you refer to, and it is not pretty nor helpful, even, much of the time. It is downright painful and can be very costly on all levels. Can you say PTSD?

    And I really do believe that when changes are necessary, that COMMUNICATION every step of the way would help to take the sting out of the slap. BUT, we are also living in such backward, DEVOlutional, Orwellian times that communication and transparency are now mere smokescreens, double-speak. I am so very disheartened to see that so many new leaders and new companies are of the belief that the less you keep your constituents/clients/associates/the public informed, the better. But I see this pretty much everywhere, especially from the 20-somethings who are leading the pack (Beware of the Diamond Dogs — lol).

    And I wholeheartedly agree with one of your commenter’s reference to the Hegelian Dialectic/problem-reaction-solution syndrome that is being used as a means of control more than ever.

    My apologies for the length of what I wrote and any errors therein. Late-stage borreliosis and spelling/grammar/brain function/brevity are at odds with each other. It is a constant battle. Isn’t everything?

    Here’s to much kinder, gentler times.

  6. I’m appreciative of these thoughtful comments. I wasn’t sure if folks would understand the significance of this topic based on a short, “think about this” type of post. But obviously it resonates, and thank you for taking the discussion to a more sophisticated level.

  7. .. I love it when you get all abstract on us. :’ )
    Truthfully, I recognized at once what you meant in a totally non-abstract way. Good to hear someone say it. (..well *write* it.. but you write fluidly enough that it feels like a conversation.)

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