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A Two-Penny Pontification About Change Management
Jeff Pasternack

So back in 1995, some allegedly really smart people wrote a book called Discontinuous Change: Leading Organizational Transformation. I say allegedly because I don't actually know if David Nadler, Robert Shaw, A. Elise Walton and Associates are smart or not. I guess they were smart enough to write a book that one of my graduate school professors forced us all into buying, so that must count for something. Now that I think about it, 30 students times $50 a book…that's pretty smart. Today, of course, I can buy the book used on for $3.95, so maybe they're not smart in a longevity kind of way, but at the time, buying new was the only way to go.

Anyway, the book rambles on about many different organizations that continue to do things they way that they always have until some industry force (like looming bankruptcy or shareholder lawsuits) causes them to make a sudden shift. This shift is what they call discontinuous change. For many doctors, this change was HIPAA. Oh, now stop rolling your eyes. This isn't going to be one of "those" types of articles written by every health care attorney and consultant. This one will be different, really, I promise. And you know you can trust me, because I'm the guy who showed you how to commit account takeover on an attorney allegedly representing a big corporation and turn $150 of your dollars into $12,000 of his.

In addition to my identity theft research, I've been working on this project with a medical group has been using the same billing software for more than 10 years and they've built their entire organization around its mechanisms and quirks. They realized that they needed to change to something else and the really interesting thing is the process by which they've gone about finding a replacement.

The head of each department has been at their respective jobs for more than 10 years and many subordinates for five or more years. They live and breathe their system and supporting processes. And yet, the minute the CEO announced that he wanted to make a change, everyone jumped at the opportunity and within two weeks, they'd found a new system tailored to their specialties. No expensive consultants, no tons of hours spent pouring over demos. They saw a system being used by another physician, asked a few questions of him and ordered the demo. Three weeks and one visit from the salesman later, they're in contract talks and it should be wrapped up in another two weeks or so. How painless.

The thing that amazes me is that there is no resistance from anyone. Not a single person has expressed any hesitation about making the change. In fact, everyone is so excited for the change that they're doing everything they can to push management along the path. In fact, the only hesitation has come from the IT folks, who just want to be sure that the new infrastructure can be put in place in the time frame being dictated by management. How strange it is to see techies asking the rest of us to slow down!

The authors of Discontinuous Change blather on mystically about change agent machinations such as the Generative Strategy Cycle versus the Strategic Doom Cycle. They ramble on about genuine communication and organizational dialogue. You know what, wait a second. I am about to be unfair. They don't really blather or ramble. They pontificate in an erudite fashion and seek to uncover the mysteries of organizational change by presenting case histories of Xerox, Proctor & Gamble and AT&T, among others. The hope, of course, is that we'll be able to see the similarities between our business situations and those of the big'uns and use their ideas to navigate through the waters of our own period of discontinuous change.

Many of you are leaders of practices with less than 50 staffers. For the most part, the top few folks say "Go Do" and everyone else does. There are few planning committees and likely no complex cost-benefit analyses that consider the net present value of money, the cost of process change and the total cost of ownership. We of the small business world discuss these matters amongst our peers and a hired gun or two (read: attorney and accountant), point at the images on the screen and command that our will be done. The manager makes it happen and there's some training, various technical and process hiccups and the like, but a few months later, we're steamrolling along and the rest becomes history.

As leaders of small businesses, we are agile and nimble. We actually can do something now. With a little bit of research, planning, a quality IT support company, a few bucks and a dollop of luck, we can usher our businesses through a change in operating software. Does knowledge of the three components of heroic leadership help us make this change better than ignorance? Is awareness of the components of change management all that critical? Could it possibly be true that everything you needed to know about change management you were taught when you learned to cross a busy street and had reinforced when you learned to drive?

My answers to the first two questions are a definite maybe. The answer to the last question is a resounding yes. If your answer to the last question has you trying to remember the specifics about how you were taught to cross a busy street or how to drive, take a tip from the Partnership for a Drug Free America and talk to your kids. If your answers to the first two questions are yes, then buy this book. Its actually pretty good and not all that dry when one considers the topics published in various medical journals and newspapers these days. Ah…present publication excluded, of course.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group and author of the TechnoPeasant Review. If you have questions about technology or comments about this column, please write to him at


Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at