Change management: deciding whether to ‘push’ or ‘pull’

It is said that the only thing that’s constant is change. Whether it is technology related or there is a crisis and processes have to change, it involves coming up with a change management process.

There are two kinds of change management processes that are most often used: the “push” and “pull” models. And no this is not one of the animals from a Dr. Seuss story! The push model is used when change is a matter of survival and the pull model when change is looked at as an opportunity.

The “push” model is the crisis-oriented approach, also known as the “burning platform” model. This is based on a true story of a catastrophic fire on an oil-drilling platform, which killed nearly 200 men. The handful that survived did so by jumping 15 stories from the platform to the ocean, they understood that they had to jump or die. It is a rather graphic illustration on what pushing change means.

Change is imposed, almost in a command and control manner, by convincing people that the pain of doing nothing is greater than the change proposed. This type of change management is used when people are unwilling to change or have a “this too will pass” attitude. This model is used more often when a company is experiencing difficult times, when change is a matter of survival, of staying alive. In this case, change is used to change the entire enterprise. There are fewer, bigger changes. These changes are low risk and are closely monitored.

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The “pull” change management method is based on that change is viewed as an opportunity. It assumes that people are willing to change and there is something “in it” for them. This is based on a participatory style of management, where the vision is shared rather than dictated. The pull change management is most often used in good times, change is focused on leveraging internal capabilities, improving competitive positioning. The change may focus on finding the killer product or service that would allow the company market domination. But in order to succeed it needs organizational agility and flexibility and a culture of continuous innovation. It must be able to respond to threats quickly as if this process is bogged down; new successes will supersede dealing with threats, which eventually may put the company through difficult times.

Is one better than the other? Even though common sense would tell us that the “pull” method is a better change management process, this is not always the case. There are advantages to both and it depends on the context of the change which method should be put to use. Both can be used in implementing different phases of a change, with only the management style changing.

Have you had experience with these two models that you’d like to share? How about questions? Share them in the comments section below.

Catherine Aczel Boivie
Catherine Aczel Boivie
Dr. Catherine Aczel Boivie is a widely respected executive with over 30 years of experience in the leadership of advancing the value of information technology as a business and education enabler. Prior executive roles includes: CEO Inventure Solutions and Senior Vice President of Information Technology/Facility Management for Vancity Credit Union; SVP of IT and Chief Information Officer at Pacific Blue Cross and Canadian Automobile Association of British Columbia. Catherine is also an experienced board member serving on several boards, including those of Commissioner for Complaints for Telecom-television Services, Canada Foundation for Innovation and MedicAlert Canada. Dr. Boivie is the founding Chair and President of the Chief Information Officers (CIO) Association of Canada that has over 400 Chief Information Officers as members across Canada. She has been publicly recognized for her contributions, including being named as one of Canada's top 100 most powerful women by the Women's Executive Network in the "Trailblazers and Trendsetters" category and the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee medal for being a "catalyst for technology transformation".

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