Book Review: Managing Change
Managing Change: A How to Do It Manual for Librarians. By Susan Carol Curzon, Facet Publishing, 2006, ISBN 978-1856046015, 144 pages.
This manual for managing change has been around since the 1980s, but has recently been revised and extended. Susan Carol Curzon is Dean of the University Library for California State University, Northridge, and is an experienced and high profile librarian and manager . Her background and position obviously affects the way she looks at libraries and management structures, and this is reflected in the textual structure, language and viewpoint of this book.
One of the book's first offerings is a graphical overview of the author's change management cycle, alongside chapter titles and subtitles. Reassuringly, the graphic corresponds precisely to the content and order of the chapters. The order, content and flow of the text has obviously been rigorously thought out, and is presented with a very precise style and structure. The revised edition features a new section which offers fifteen 'change scenarios' for discussion and analysis.
The bulk of the text deals with the change management cycle itself, and the issues that the individual parts of the cycle raise. The chapters look at: conceptualisation, preparing the organisation for change, organising the planning group, planning the change, deciding what needs to change, managing individuals during change, controlling resistance, implementing change and evaluating the process. The step-by-step approach reflects the author's approach to her subject, with everything placed in a highly structured order and within a tight procedural model. What is not tackled in this book is the potential for a change management within the change management structure itself. No allowance is made for the organic nature of change, that change breeds change, and that the project may need to address these new changes mid-stream, as so often happens in reality.
Two important issues are raised in the first chapter. Firstly, whether change is necessary or desirable at all. One of the challenges of change management is dealing with resistance to change, but the danger of instigating change for its own sake is just as as vivid and real. The second issue raised is that of setting aside time for reflective thinking. Often in the modern workplace, reflective thinking time can be seen as non-productive, indeed as some form of shirking and idleness. However, it could be argued that without provision for reflective thinking time, the danger of over-enthusiatic change instigation, and the likelihood of insufficient planning for change resistance increase dramatically.
Preparation, organisation and planning are rigorously and meticulously dealt with, if one accepts that the world of change consists of well informed and highly motivated managers, who have the best interests of the organisation and their staff at heart. For such a scenario, the options are well covered and documented. The framework for discussion is similar to other models , i.e. Preparation, Planning, Implementation, Monitoring.
Chapter five includes consideration of an area which is often overlooked when looking at new ideas and change; that is, when a group might decide it is better to cut and run, and abort a project. Many reasons are cited for this potential to abort, but the the main one (and surely the most important) is that the project will no longer benefit the organisation. The author goes into some detail about how such a decision might be made, and does not shirk from giving some stern advice about the role and responsibilities of the manager in such a situation.
The section which considers how to deal with individuals during the change process is by far the most intense and interesting. Potential reactions to negative change include anger, depression and a choice of two outcomes: integration or alienation. Whilst pointing out that managers should be aware of deep-rooted emotion such as alienation, no pointers are given as to how to deal with these symptoms on a practical level. Even reactions to positive change can be a minefield; surprise, trepidation and acceptance are hardly big morale-boosting terms. During this process, managers are expected to monitor and assess their own performance at the same time. A tough call.
After the potential pitfalls, challenges and responsibilities outlined in the text so far, the implementation and evaluation processes are dealt with relatively briefly. By this stage of the text, the question-suggestion format is beginning to grate somewhat; the reader can only be asked so many questions before a sense of cynical apathy creeps in: are there actually more questions than answers?
Part II offers fifteen 'change scenarios', where a situation is outlined, prompting a response, and asking (more) questions which hint at the direction of potential discussion. For anyone who has ever been in a training event situation where the trainer hands out a scenario for discussion, and no promise of resolution, the heart-sinking feeling will be familiar. No answers are offered, no guidelines for closure follow. No one can expect precise answers, but a general outline of ways to go, or not go, would undoubtedly be useful.
Although this text is obviously professionaly produced and presented, it might be accused of being procedurally top-heavy. A document produced by 'Our South West' dealing with the same subject  and covering a more modest eight pages, covers much of the same material succinctly, and certainly does not ask so many questions. The nature of these texts is different but the comparison is interesting.
The management structure referred to in the text is worthy of note: usually, we have 'manager(s)' and 'staff'. There is very little distinction made between senior (decision-making) managers, middle management and supervisors. The presumption is that 'managers' will be innovative, well-motivated and keen on worthwhile change. What is not addressed is the potential for staff who are keen on change, meeting resistance from an entrenched senior (or middle) management who are not. How would pressure be exerted upwards, and what would the procedure be? This issue has been tackled elsewhere , and would appear to be an important issue within change management, one that is too important to ignore.
The author is a high-profile librarian, and she obviously has some clout as a manager within her institution. Many librarians are not so fortunate. Their status, their salary, their hard-earned professional qualification are often called into question or derided. It is not uncommon for senior management teams to be unaware of information science issues, or indeed what information science is actually about. When many talented and innovative professionals are faced with intransigent management teams on one hand, and status and salary issues on the other, is it so surprising that many choose not to buy into the change culture? This is one of the challenges facing such a text; who is the intended audience here, and what is the ultimate goal?
This is an excellent manual for those who are new to librarianship, or new to management. For those librarians who still have fire in their belly, and good ideas, but do not quite know how to go about turning those ideas into substantial and lasting outcomes, it will serve excellently as a guidance manual.
For the more experienced practitioner, it will all be fairly familiar. Often, the problem for them is not how to structure the change process, but how to convince decision makers that change is desirable, necessary and achievable, and that they should be part of the change management process.
- Susan Carol Curzon, Ph.D. -- A Brief Biography http://library.csun.edu/susan.curzon/biography.html
- Carnall, Colin "Managing Change In Organisations", pp220-21 Prentice Hall, May 1995, ISBN 0131509543
- 'Our South West' project document: Managing Change http://www.oursouthwest.com/SusBus/mggchange.doc
- Burnes, Bernard, "Managing Change", Chapter 16, Prentice Hall, 2004, ISBN 0273683365