“To those whom much is given, much is expected.” ―John F. Kennedy
What do we do with what we have learned? What is our “obligation”?
There is no advertising on this site. You might wonder why I give so much away. You might conclude, “Oh, it’s marketing.” Yes, it is marketing, but I could do marketing much more cheaply (time-wise) than by researching and sharing so much information on change management.
1. Bigger than us
I believe that change management, deployed judiciously, is the most powerful and important capability of our lifetime.
We live in an era where each of us copes with, modifies to, and has the opportunity to step up to, tremendous amounts of change. The degree to which we are good at this affects our well-being, our personal lives, our families, our businesses, and our economies―our quality of life as communities. That is big.
“Change management” is not just an organizational tool to be leveraged for ROI―it provides insights in ways of living in this dynamic world that can make people’s lives better. Change management can clear up confusion and ambiguity; it can restore some levels of personal control; it can engage people in their lives.
2. The Pac-Man diet
What does your knowledge of change management do for you? Are you hungry for more answers? For more clarity around what works and what doesn’t? For answers about what to do in “situation X” to be more effective? Sometimes we operate like Pac-Man (play the Google game here https://www.google.com/pacman/)―we gobble up as much learning as we can get, race around deploying our tools, but then run into a challenge we can’t solve and have to start again somewhere else. This can be incredibly unsatisfying. Sound familiar?
What is the next level of play?
The answer is not to run faster. I believe the answer is giving back. Let me explain.
3. The incongruity that stares us in the face—gluttony in the face of famine
Many of us grew up in the age of extended educations. We believe in the power of learning. For some of us it is an embedded value. We eat and eat and eat at the buffet of intellectual curiosity and continuous improvement. We become fat and arrogant.
Many of the best practitioners I know are PhDs―they have both broad and deep knowledge. We all read every new book on the subject, take additional courses, debate approaches on cases.
In some ways, we are painting the kitchen in the Titanic because, while we talk and read and digest, many organizations are operating at high-school levels of understanding in change management.
This is not intended to be pejorative to those organizations or their leaders. Many of them have been extraordinarily successful. They have not needed change management. Their leaders may have a cursory understanding, and it may even appear in their position descriptions, but they are not living it at any depth nor practicing with any rigor. When they face real change (think J.C. Penney, Nokia, Time Warner), they are unprepared. They are starving for an understanding of what they face but don’t even realize it. Because of this, they often address strategy without incorporating an appropriate execution approach.
We think our challenge is trying to ‘sell’ a solution to extraordinary leaders who don’t know they have a problem. I know this pain. Most of you know it also. We face it every day. But we cannot surrender. Maybe we need to think about it differently.
Perhaps the most important struggle we face is not learning, but coaching. If we meet leaders where they are―with mutual respect and compassion―we stand a chance of working together to make a difference. Many elements have to align to make this successful (as discussed elsewhere in this blog). Most importantly, we have to establish peer-level respect with leaders based on the value we bring to the table and we have to create an awareness of the problem. The well-being of our organizations, our communities, and our economies benefit by our resilience and tenacity.
I have heard many practitioners say, “It’s hard to be a prophet in your own land”. I understand the challenges that internal practitioners face, not the least of which is the entry point that position in the organization chart stipulates (more about this in an upcoming post).
Outside of engagements, the best way I know to systemically address this famine is to share the knowledge we have, to teach as many others as possible and to acknowledge the obligation that this knowledge brings to pay it forward. Building awareness and capability will contribute in many ways. I hope you will join me in this work.
A note about the toxic middle ground
Marketing and self-promotion are fine―there are places in the market where this is expected and appropriate. Just be up front about it.
Part of the challenge with sharing is that it is marketing. There is no getting around that fact. Regardless of the intent, spreading the word inevitably spreads the reputation of the sharer. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but can be tricky because it is based more on perception than intention.
The reality is that whenever the specter of self-promotion is perceived it damages credibility. If sharing becomes marketing, or looks like marketing in sheep’s clothing, then trust is eroded. I have been challenged both by my own ego (by being preachy sometimes and by emphasizing our material) and by others who react when they see even a company name and it triggers their reaction. It’s an ongoing challenge to find the right balance.
The acid test I use is this: Is the information a value-add? In other words, does it clarify, augment, or expand the subject? If it does, then I consider it legitimate.
I made a personal commitment when I started this blog in 2009 to present information from every source. This means that I reference and quote competitors. When the purpose is to share the best information, it comes from everywhere. I believe in the approaches we have chosen so it is natural for me to reference those. The only balance I can add is not only to reference our work, but also to add value by sharing additional information that is useful to readers.
It is important to stay out of the toxic middle ground―sharing must be pruned of gratuitous self-promotion. It must be as objective and complete as possible.
How do we promote change management?
Try to remember what it has been like on your own learning journey. Consider how you responded to change before you had this depth of understanding. I was often confused, either stymied by the ambiguity or spinning in circles. An understanding of the nature of change and how we humans transition gave me a map, gave me language to discuss it and make sense of it. We can share this―everyone we know can benefit from these insights in both their personal and professional lives.
Here are some things that I do with clients and in my communities. I’d love to hear yours.
- Be patient and pushy. The best coach I ever had was a hand on my back, gently but firmly nudging me forward. Be sensitive to the discomfort that this will create. Discuss it. Contract for it.
- Make meaning. In midst of complexity and ambiguity it is easy to lose sight of where we are. Always provide reminders of context and progress. Acknowledging progress validates the hard work. Clients can lose sight of the way that they are applying change management capability and the different outcomes they are getting. They benefit from knowing that all of the reactions are predictable, normal, and (even despite the discomfort) must be managed.
- Volunteer for non-profits—Offer pro bono consulting, coaching, training, etc.
- Spread the word—Give speeches for students (classes, clubs, sports associations), Lunch n’Learns, Chambers of Commerce, Boards of Trade, Project Management chapter meetings, etc.
- Spend time with people entering change management―Shorten their path by sharing your experience. Mentor when you can.
- Collaborate and compare notes with other practitioners―Everyone’s path is different. We each bring different insights, learning, and experience to the table. We have a lot to share with each other.
- Lead a Community of Practice―This can be within your department or organization or your local community.
- Share resources—Email or tweet great content, invite your network to attend the events with you, share back your findings and learnings—maybe even start your own blog.
Having said all of that, let’s not lose our sense of humor and humility. This is a long road and we will need it. Some time ago while driving with my youngest son, 10 years old at the time, we were talking about his haircut. He was considering a new style. What he said, so matter of factly, almost made me pull over: “Mom, I don’t like change. I know you do change so, no offense, but I don’t like change.” I don’t know whether I was more surprised that he was self-aware and articulate enough to know that he did not like change, or that he knew what I do for a living. It reminded me that no matter how much influence we think we might have, embracing change is a personal journey―our only real role can be to help others understand it.
And that is powerful enough for me. Are you in?