In the Beginning…

 On a bright April morning in 1979, the legendary founder and chairman of the newly minted conglomerate, City Investing, walked into that year’s first strategic planning session and declared, “The only permanent element in our business is change.”  We all just sat there and waited for him to continue. He didn’t. He got up and left the room. 

George Scharffenberger was not given to idle chat or impulsive remarks. He was a man of few words but a brilliant strategic thinker who had been a rising star at Litton Industries before taking over at City Investing. He was among the early industry leaders in the 70’s who saw diversification and M&A as the most efficient paths to growth. These men invented the first pure conglomerates.

I was a trainee at that meeting, sitting in one of the straight-backed chairs placed around the perimeter of conference rooms in those days to accommodate the grunts who were there to take notes and explain to our bosses what had happened in the meeting after it adjourned. Even in my youth, however, I was alert enough to notice that my career in management began with Scharffenberger’s remark: “The only permanent element in our business is change.”


 Thinking about change, and what Scharffenberger was getting at, dominated every planning session that year and for many years to come. At first, we asked ourselves why we hadn’t thought about change before. Eventually, we realized that it was a human instinct to resist change. The more familiar we become with our surroundings, the more comfortable we feel. Until Scharffenberger shocked our minds by counter-posing the word “permanent” (unchanging) with the word “change”, we were not aware that most management technique up until then was designed to create “tried and true” procedures that could work for many years to come.  We were trying to manage away from change, never realizing that change was the permanent element in our employees, markets, product life-cycles, and manufacturing technologies. Finally, we concluded that all management is the management of constant change. Scharffenberger was delighted.

Then There was Light…

 ·         By 1982, Julien Phillips, a consultant at McKinsey & Company published a change management model in the journal Human Resource Management. Placing people at the core of change-thinking was a fundamental contribution to developing the concept of change management.

·         Then in 1993, Daryl Conner published Managing at the Speed of Change that focused on the human performance and adoption techniques that would help ensure technological innovations were absorbed and adopted as quickly as possible.

·         John Kotter at the Harvard Business School, in his book Leading Change, defines change management as an approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations to a desired future state. The main focus, Kotter says, is to address the people and organizational factors that provide a catalyst to change in the organization.

Finally, a Dawning…

 From humble beginnings, back in Scharffenberger’s conference room, change management has morphed into an industry that seeks to manage organizational change. Here we break down change management down into three main areas:

1.       Teaching employees to accept and adapt to change.

2.      The role of teams in change management.

3.      The role of leadership in change management.

Beginning next week, with a discussion of leadership’s role in managing change, this blog will focus for the next three weeks on the functional aspects of managing in an ever-fluid business environment. See you then.