Managing emergent change for business growth

Change needs to be the buzzword for anyone working in the field of project management because after all, change is what project management is all about. However, a change management expert will tell you there are two types of change that need to be managed for projects to go according to plan, and both need to be balanced accordingly.

Different types of change

The first kind of change is planned change, which is detailed, strategic and involves risk assessment. The second type of change is change which can’t be planned for, and this is called emergent change. However, just because this second type of change is unplanned does not mean it is bad – it can actually be positive or impartial. It can even prove to be surprisingly effective.

We can formulate a project down to its finest detail, but life and people will not always conform. This means that we need to allocate space to adjust or change direction according to what is actually happening for projects and businesses to grow.

One and the same

Many project managers freeze at the thought of emergent change because it can feel threatening to feel out of control, but any kind of change rarely complies with a spreadsheet and the changing influences of the commercial market. Emergent change is what actually emerges out of planned change; hence they are really one and the same.

Fear of change

PMs fear change because it can feel chaotic, however, when we look back on an unplanned event we begin to realise that some kind of new order and opportunities did arise from this chaos and this emergent change then changed into routine. This is how all growth happens in life, including business growth. The solution, therefore, is to get comfortable with emergent change and learn how to manage it not fight it.

How to manage change?

At some level, this question appears contradictory, but the answer is that although we cannot directly control change – PMs can lead their team with support; clarifying each emergent change during the emergent change process and encouraging these to develop, flourish and settle into new business growth. Rather like cultivating a flower – all you need to do is to provide the right conditions and the rest will take care of itself.

Resistance is futile

Due to the complexity of businesses, people and market forces in general; it is frankly quite ridiculous to believe that everything can be controlled. You can certainly hope for it, but to expect it will lead to frustration and stagnation. All a PM can manage is their own self-organisation and to influence other factors in a positive way:-

To manage emergent change, a PM can:

  • Have a strong sense of purpose
  • Improvise on the original strategy
  • Hone management skills via change management training
  • Develop the habit of listening and adapting to others
  • Encourage self-motivation in others
  • Show full commitment to change and growth


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