Questions, obviously, are the forte’ of a consultant.
They reveal information.
They shine a light on perspective.
They help build arguments.
They are the basis for descriptions for communication.
For myself they eventually become End State descriptions.
Questions can have a hidden power.
Changing Behavior with Questions
Let’s say we have a senior leader, maybe the owner of some big change, who tends to talk a lot, listen rarely and come to conclusions (and oh forbid even strategy) by speaking out loud.
As a consultant do you just let them talk and hope you can steer the conversation?
Do you use the power of the question for that steering?
And if so does that do anything more than reaffirm what that leader was going to “talk themselves” (and you, but whatever, they are not likely interested in that outcome) into anyway?
Here is your exercise for that:
Ask questions that force them to listen to themselves talking.
Look to make them explain the path their talking is taking them on. That might steer the conversation or not.
You are looking for them to get forced into (or voluntarily) ask YOU questions.
If this happened over a short period of time with you getting more and more creative in the way you ask the questions their first question to you is a behavior change.
Ask a question and no matter how much you like your own voice you will HAVE to listen (at least a little).
Behavior change #2 you will be looking for is their question that is obviously to themselves (the kind we make inside our own heads). If or when you get that you have gotten to the level where they are not only listening to themselves, but also to what their words may sound like (as in how someone else might hear them).
Behavior change #3 is when they ask you to give them feedback. Obviously that means they are willing to listen to someone else now.
This may take the length of an exchange (as in months). Or in rare circumstances with an empathetic and talented consultant in one or few conversations. Consultants do have the power of being expected to consult. As with any change (even at the individual level like this) be ready with an explanation of why. In this case the why you attempted this behavior change may be because now it appears no one listens to the executive (oh they let that person talk away though). The why may be something more empathetic. Maybe you really see this persons possibilities and you REALLY see the obstacles they, themselves have created. Your why could be a what if.
What if you, leader, heard your own voice, asked for the voice of others and heard them as well. What would THAT End State look like?
Heather Stagl over at Enclaria has a nice succinct post listing, “Four Reasons Leaders Need Change Agents”.
She didn’t mention external or internal although did say, “When there are people in your organization who are dedicated change agents…”. That still does not indicate internal or external. I will save that discussion for my next post.
The Four Reasons:
Heather’s post stands on its own, but, of course, I see some add-ons and twists of thought that might be helpful in the interest of never-taking-things-at-face-value and always-digging-just-a-little-deeper, for knowledge and understanding.
Heather’s take was feedback as a form of crisis protection-recovering from the “cringe-worthy” were her words.
How about feedback as insurance?
Experience in 70 different cultures with four or five times as many leaders, for me, makes it pretty easy to predict what will happen when certain things are done and said. If this change agent to leader relationship is trusting and equal then discussion will reveal potential smart moves and not so smart moves.
Feedback requires something to have happened. Planning and strategy conversations always have an element of the past (can’t predict outcomes without comparison). Those past elements are a perfect time for change agent feedback. That kind is easy because the “crisis” has passed and the discussion may just prevent the next.
All change requires mediation.
This is a crucial role and competency for change agents.
My add here is that is can be very beneficial for the mediating change agent to “pretend” a perspective and then make an argument for it. If they are really good they can do it twice for both sides of the discussion. Complete neutrality isn’t always the most effective approach.
I personally have never liked the, “I hear what you are saying… blah, blah, blah” form of mediation. Sometimes the change agent needs to insert refined opinion into exchanges. (The added bonus is that others- leaders- get taught how to make arguments that can be heard).
Transparency because of lack of authority was Heather’s take.
Back to that trusted partner relationship between the leader and the change agent, my add- the addition of a conduit for information.
Stakeholders love and cling to anyone who represents the owner of the change. If a change agent can walk the fine line of representing the owner without jeopardizing that leader or the change, information can fly back and forth.
In terms of communication adept change agents can quickly flatten the organization. (I have always thought that is the element that drives project managers crazy- we are able to make things happen quickly because we step right past political obstacles).
We understand informal communication which can be the underlying foundation of change or the liquid soil that is a sink hole waiting to happen.
Change agent ability and competency transfers through the organization is Heather’s take.
This is true and most applicable at the tactical level. I have always thought change agents at a tactical level are simply teaching, modeling and mentoring the learning of leadership skills (that we used to have and that companies used to pay to have). Capability when it comes to change is about competency and experience. Change agents bring the experience and can teach competency.
My add is that change agents (especially multi-organization externals) bring a capability that the organization does not, and arguably cannot, have internally. We often make it OK to temporarily go around internal politics and OK to call out organizational root causes. When a light is shone on politics and root causes, capability increases geometrically (pretty darn fast).
The chance for: feedback, neutrality, communication and capability follow a change agent everywhere they go.
I think I found the true role of a change management practitioner.
They are the Messenger.
Whether it is high or low, transformational or transactional, the most visible role (duty for internals) is to relay information back and forth.
This explains why a lot of CM roles have a communication tag on them.
The fact that messages are not often understood shows why the training tag gets added.
Because organizations and individuals do not seem to be too good at transferring information through structure CM roles now have Org. Design and Business Process tags.
Regardless of which of those tags seems the most important for this particular change all initiatives need a Messenger.
Mini Roles for the Messenger
Starting with the owner and working down, most of the messages that go out to stakeholders have to be translated into a different language. It might be the language of function, or group or geography (which may, literally, be a language translation).
When we are brought in early and high there is a chance we can help build an understanding and description of the end state. In those rare occasions there is less translation needed.
Is a higher level of translation.
“What he meant was…”.
With time and, again early entry, we can guide and consult owners to explain in a way and at a level that stakeholders connect with. Those owners learn to interpret their own person message that resonates for the change and the work it will require.
As Messenger we also spend a lot of time delivering messages back and forth. Most are not interpreted or translated. (In fact a lot of it is junk mail that does not get read and its quickly “thrown away”- change models are great at creating LOTS of “junk mail” and “spam”).
The real mailperson sorts, stacks and delivers. They don’t get to decide what gets transferred and what does not. That is usually the case for CM practitioners. We can question though. Imagine if you could tell your mailperson, “if something is junk and you think I will throw it away don’t deliver it”.
We often get to stand on the “hilltop” and predict the future through our wise, sage advice.
On our best days people come from far away for our futurist perspective.
We most often become the Oracle though in those organizations that are the biggest mess in terms of underlying root causes. When there are deep seated problems a window into a brighter future is helpful. (And I would add not a window that someone stuck in the middle of the root cause quicksand can see through or open).
Let’s face it CM practitioners spend an inordinate amount of time scribing the messages.
Sometimes it really is with paper and pen, most of the time with keyboard and screen.
When the scribing is effective it has a lot to do with pictures, diagrams and visual elements.
I have always thought one of my best value/ROI cases is the fact that my questioning of process (which scribing is always buried in the middle of) with adjustments from my suggestions might easily pay for my cost.
We change practitioners are really the Messenger in disguise playing translator, interpreter, mailperson, Oracle and scribe often almost at the same time.
My blog has some white space (black in this case) this summer.
I finally pinpointed what happened.
Looking back over my career I can make a long list of times when power plays affected the ability to get a role, to be successful at a role and to keep a role for the agreed on time.
A few examples:
- Head Hunters
A couple of times I have been contacted by Head Hunters (the real kind not the representatives or staffing firms trying to wear consulting uniforms) and led through cheery “you are the perfect fit” conversations only to be screened out of submission. The power play here is the fact that the person must stay some period of time. Any mention that this is not really an employment role or that it is an internal/external mix situation is a nix. One of those situations has me smiling because the choice they made did not make it through the year, they couldn’t keep the next person and the role is up again (and pushed way down the hierarchy which dooms it to failure).
Don’t even get me started on this one. They do want you in there. They, after all, get paid for parked bodies. They rarely even know who the owner of the engagement is and refuse to admit their job is to make one phone call, fill out a form and move on. That power grab waste of time is what used to be a phone call to the person doing the work, which was one short step from getting the work started. Best story here is the time I finally decided to hold my ground and explain things to the recruiter. That included that fact that their role was really just in the way. (I was irritated because they offered me a rate which was doubled by the next staffing firm- an attempt to power grab what should be MY compensation). They hung up in disgust promising to never talk to me again and to let others know. Take a guess at who made next Monday mornings call for a different role… to me. Yes that very same disgruntled recruiter. With fake happy talk no less!
- Vice Presidents
I have decided this is the most competitive horizontal. Especially if professional services or sales is in the mix. They instinctively push things, especially change, well down the ladder. Half the time they push it so far away they really have NO control. Every time I have an SVP meeting and it is followed by VP looks at my profile I wonder why we didn’t just all sit down for 20 or 30 minutes and talk about their scenario- before any contracting.
- Consulting Firms
This one has actually lightened up a bit (mostly because the consulting firms are having to fight the procurement/staffing firm battle together). For a while there was a ridiculous protection of clients as if they were race horses in a stable. California, thankfully, one of the few non compete states, scoffs at this practice. I have my own firm. I get it. It would frustrate me if someone “stole” my clients. Then I would ask why and improve. And I don’t compete on price anymore so this power play is just kind of comical.
- Middle Management
Are always trying to usurp change- and the messenger. The few who don’t are fantastic to work with. Those are the ones I try to help get promoted so they can move from implementary leader to owner of the change.
- Anyone in any transactional vertical
Every organization has the power grabbers from other verticals- the ones who rarely have change initiatives of their own- procurement, legal, HR, the PMO (this one sometimes does have initiatives for their vertical, which makes them MORE power hungry).
My silence in writing comes from this simple fact- I am an external. I don’t care about power.
I care about solutions and results. I don’t have a title. I chose NOT to have one by being external.
Having to fight so many people I am not interested in fighting is a distraction from accomplishment. And a drain on creative energy.
Replace I with most senior consultants who have somehow managed to work around all these power plays and still stay in business. This isn’t just about “me”.
Head hunters, recruiters, VP’s, consulting firms, middle management and people inside of transactional verticals make for a world of Change With Power Plays.
How many different kinds of permissions are there in organizations?
I started a discussion on LinkedIn questioning the organizational pattern of middle leaders coming up with things, senior leaders approving or not and the organization as a whole thinking that is somehow strategy. Now I am intrigued by the answers to the posts. Most stretched the definition of permission in multiple ways.
Permission from a senior
This is the version that got my cackles up.
It is very common in organizations for work to be decided through a permission process where middle managers (or their hired gun consultants) present in PowerPoint to get approval. (In fact many project processes are an endless string of these interactions). Everyone seems to think this pattern is OK.
Here is what I see:
- Senior leaders disconnecting. It is much easier to place the responsibility for decisions in someone else’s lap. “Hey you told me, in that presentation, that this was going to work”.
- Middle managers taking over. This can sometimes be a good thing, especially if senior management HAS checked out. But it often happens because the middle managers tell the leaders just enough to get approval and then they do it their way.
- Too much democracy. I am all for engagement and participation and ownership at the work level, but there are just some times when ONE person needs to make a decision and be responsible. NO this pattern of up-deciding does not make this happen.
Permission to decide
This was one of the threads of expansion in the discussion. There are many times when we as individuals, and senior leaders in particular, need to give ourselves permission to decide.
I realized today that I have this pattern when I order something online that took research. The latest was a Quiet Cool whole house fan. I looked at ducted versions, the cost for fixing our broken air conditioner, the difference between energy efficient models and the regular classic line, and I thought and compared. But when it came time to push the buy button I had to sit, think more and stare. It wasn’t until I gave myself permission, because I had done extensive research, to decide that I was able to push the button.
Which gets at the problem with our first form of permission. Leaders do not seem to look into things on their own. If they had a little more of a consultant attitude then they would not be setting bad patterns with all those PowerPoint approvals.
Permission to proceed
Sometimes we just get locked in one place and can’t move forward. Maybe something was a setback and we can’t get over it. Maybe we know people do not agree with an approach, but we are convinced it will work if we could just get started. Maybe we see the possibility of only partial success and the work is starting to seem not worth it.
For all these scenarios we need to learn to give ourselves permission to proceed. Nothing ever turns out perfect. But when nothing starts, nothing ever happens. It is OK, and we need to tell ourselves this once in a while, to take the first step.
Permission to take a chance
This one is like the last except in this case we really do not have measures for whether the work will be a success or not.
Maybe it just feels right. Maybe we have just enough parameters to know this will probably work. Maybe we, or our organization, could just use some momentum and this next action is worth the chance.
Permission passed up, to decide, to proceed, to take a chance. Lots of permission processes are happening in organizations.
A vacation (without preloading blog posts) and a more disillusioned than wonderful (Wonderfully Disillusioned Wednesday’s posts reference for new readers) couple of days has created a writer’s block funk.
Being an eternal optimist (admittedly hardened as I get older), roadblocks, setbacks and obstacles take a while to build up enough for numbing “funks”. It happens once in a while though. I have come up with a strategy to get past and overcome this personal version of quicksand. Do something I really like that always works to make me feel better: DREAM.
When I make things up, when I ask why and what if questions about things I always perk up over possibility.
This works for big remodeling projects at home, it works with career development and it works at client sites for change big and small.
The key is to realize you are dreaming. (Few of these big fantasies every become reality).
Dreaming About Change Management
This latest funk has a lot to do with change management as a specialty/industry/practice.
Here is the CM funk list:
- Third parties in the way
- Status quo that is consistent from organization to organization
- Packaged template based, heavily marketed, approaches
- Tactics over strategy
- The Plexiglas ceiling (my new term for the inability for anyone woman or man to rise to executive levels)
- Ridiculous fixation with “resistance” and so resistance-fighting
- Constant homage to guru’s of the past
- Contracting from the middle of the organization
- Invisible or non-existent owners
- Review processes that slow change to a snails crawl
OK I’ll stop (there is a lot more though…).
Because people are people.
Even for dreamers like me it is often easier to just do things the way you always have. When everyone starts to operate that way, one place looks like another. And one person acts like another. And we get “human nature”.
While this frustrates and irritates me I get it. I also get the underlying structure that people-who-become-the-same tend to create.
But what if there was an organization with one person or filled with people who understood the why answer and wanted to do something about it? Just What if…
Let’s make this dream sequence easy (and practical) by matching the previous funk list:
- Consultants especially, contractors probably, would be sourced by internal resources.
Why is it that organizations are so intent on making project management, change management, strategy and planning internal, but are willing to divvy up the acquisition of outside resources? That is arguably the most important role in the process of change. And you outsource it? Direct contracting is in the dream. Practically is has to be cheaper. It certainly ties the organization together tightly with outside influence. Thanks to LinkedIn sourcing is easy these days (those outside recruiters have no secret hiding places for resources).
- This dream organization would work to constantly tweak status quo.
Maybe in the big dream they would actually start from scratch. They would look at their performance management process (and in many ways eliminate it). They would look at the way they communicate (start-up screen comms., a useful well designed portal, a system of one step editing and approval, cascade and direct to stakeholder processes, etc.). Creating this organization from scratch is my own ULTIMATE dream. This is the one I use when I am depressingly “funked”. If I ever get to help create this dream I will be able to say I made it, officially, in this career. Anyone else share this dream?
- Templates would be for recording information not guiding process.
Enough said about that funky and pesky-like-a-mosquito-at-night problem.
- Strategy first.
There are organizations that mostly just do tactics. They say they have a strategy, but it is more strategic implementation. Quarter to quarter to the next quarter with no one realizing four quarters make a year and a couple of years make a strategy. In this dream place high level talk would be about 3-5 years from now. Later conversations would be about what that means for today and tomorrow.
- Actual hierarchy.
I never thought I would say this, since I am not a fan of directive organizations, but companies really need to go back to old-fashioned org charts (that get published, that people can see and use). That status quo, group think thing creates a LOT of buck passing. The nature of business and society here in the US at least over the last 15 years or so is lots to the top few and little to the others. Anyone notice the org charts started disappearing at the point this started happening? Org charts are one way to have accountability. I like my dreams to be free-flowing and open. In this one category my dream would have some rigidity, structure and accountability. And it would have a clear way for people to rise to higher levels.
Resistance is an active force against something. People often hesitate and consider and evaluate change. They often get a little nervous about new things (if they learn to dream the nervousness is the kind you get before a great performance). In my mind (or dream) resistance is sabotage- active, on purpose and meant to hold something back. And of course it doesn’t exist in my dream (or in the real world).
- No reading.
I would like to say this is kidding. You can read my stuff… One of my funk items is that people read one or two things, usually the most available and most heavily marketed (and written at a 7th grade level), and then become change experts by the end of the weekend. It shocks me that so many people just parrot from the past- nothing original from them. And then they suck everyone around them into their guru initiated low-level approach and perspective. In my dream people read with a discerning eye and they act having read A LOT (from every angle). OK maybe in my dream we have to go all the way back to the education system and teach discernment (Note: the new teaching standards, because of the internet and opinion over fact, have this built-in to the new approach-Kudos to whoever pushed that).
- Contractors contracted in the middle.
It makes sense for specialist resources to be contracted in the middle. These are the people who do the work of an employee. They are needed because the organization does not have that capability, because that expertise is only needed for a short period of time and/or because the organization wants to learn that talent. (That is the spot where contractor starts to cross with consultant). In my dream middle of the organization leaders do what they do well-tactical approaches to strategy.
- Visible, existent (and accountable) owners.
In my dream world senior leaders know how to create long-term strategy. They know what those creations mean to them and their peers personally. They care about both the organization and the people (and they are rewarded for that [and rewarded realistically], not personal gain). When they have that mix-we have moved to the dream stage now-they own the results. They are active. They follow through. They actually DO some of the hands on work. Lately my dream has looped in the Board of Directors. Because in the grand dream they were once these dream owners. Now they oversee that process. They OWN accountability and results. Through others yes, but they have the leverage to make it work.
- One stop exchange.
My answer, in my dream and the real world, to the question, “If you could do one thing at every place you assist what would that be?”. The easy answer is reduce decision-making around exchange to one stop (OK maybe two to compromise). In the dream people are good at talking, interacting, keeping up with information inside and outside their organization (you know like consultants). Because they do this, are like this, when it comes to deciding things and interacting they have thought things through. When you think through you do not need quite as much editing and review. (and no the permission process is not “extra” thinking).
So there you go. It took close to 1400 words and my longest post to break the funk. Funk broken though!
The, my, change management dream has: direct contracting in the right place, flexible status quo, templates as data, strategy first, Org Charts, possibility, discernment, active Owners and one stop review. To see even one of these happen would be a dream come true.
Lots of talk, again and evermore, about CM as science or art.
(My take is that we need scientific artists and artistic scientists).
Both sides have some great arguments and excellent explanations about what science is and what it tries to accomplish vs. (it is usually versus) it is hard to crunch human behavior into one or few variables. Without control of variables science doesn’t work so well.
What I find interesting is that LOTS of the academically oriented (along with the groupthink group) practitioners are hob-knobbing about this science thing and no one is doing any real studies (no, Prosci and neuroscience do not count- one could be duplicated in Survey Monkey and the other is legitimate science twisted for gain).
If, just if, someone did some science that REALLY applied to CM what would they study?
(Please chime in with comments. I am using stream of conscious for this…too busy with client work to be able to think :-)
- Positive vs. Negative
- Seeing the Future and Seeing the Present
- Root Causes
Positive vs. Negative
I would like to see an experiment around change and attitude.
One version would be whether a positive vs. negative attitude in stakeholders matters. The other would measure the approach of the change team/group.
Starting with a positive approach to everything before layering over the negative makes change possible. I am guessing the study would show that reversing the order makes change VERY difficult.
We have our comparison too. Take a change that had a resistance fighting approach vs. one that used the end state as a focus point.
Seeing the Future and Seeing the Present
I have done my own mini experiments with this just by adding a future focus lens.Those who do not understand this viewpoint have a really hard time with ANY change. When they do change their perspective the change begins to get questioned, and spun around and looked at.
That intense look at the future and the change (and THEN the present) works. I know it does. Having real science (that I didn’t pay for) to support my assertion would be fantastic.
We have many, many studies out there about motivation.
The problem is it all gets crunched into a layman’s triangle that illustrates survival (do we have to couch everything in fear and instinct?). It all leaves me wondering if food is more important or a hot shower under a roof (actually showers are way more fun outside so the roof thing must not be that important).
Show me a study that proves common sense is the best motivator and I will use it in my own practice of CM as science. Show me a study that shows taking risks has some hidden benefit and I will use that too (I can think of lots of benefits for taking risks).
I used to be in the camp of “leadership charisma guides change”. Now I am not so sure. I have seen many leaders with zero charisma that had lots of followers.
I am guessing the study that could show charisma as a positive attitude, “let’s try this” thing would be valuable for the change arena. Not that egotistic, I am the king kind of charisma though.
This one would worry me a little.
Practicality can sometimes kill change. It is easy to come up with “practical” arguments against taking risk. ‘Cause let’s face it every change is a risk.
If somehow this study showed that looking at things realistically in order to develop a change journey was the right thing to do I would quote the study.
This one I would PAY for. And then I would shamelessly market the results. I promise I would avoid marketing at a third-grade-stuff-into-a-shape level.
Do a study that shows the reason change management FAILS is because it chases symptoms rather than root causes. PLEASE!
Shoot the heck out of that bogus 70% stat. and show that actually 97.3785436% of initiatives fail. Because they pretty much do.
The reason they do is because the methods layer the same-ol’ over what is already there while spending a lot of time on the symptoms all over the organization. No one wants to touch the elephants that are the root causes.
Science could easily prove that.
Want science for change management? Maybe test: attitude, time perspective, motivation, charisma, practicality and root causes.
Up high on the things that get in the way of change is decisions. Or more refined: Lack thereof and difficulty getting them.
When I am really disillusioned I want to scream, “just decide already!” or “just make someone responsible for this!” (then go back to the first scream).
It really isn’t that simple this decision-making thing (and for that I am wonderfully disillusioned).
Decision Making Options
Command and Control
This is the easiest right?
The highest person on the ladder for this particular thing makes the decision. They always make the decision (that is why we call them decision makers). They decide, everyone else follows (or obeys depending on your perspective). It is simple. LOTS of decisions get made.
For anyone who has followed (or been commanded to follow) a bad decision you know why this category can make you disillusioned. In many ways the status quo of command and control makes it very hard to address, call out or reverse bad choices. Theoretically those decision makers can be easily fired. After all the trail is clear.
That rarely happens. When it does that person takes their resume to a new place where there is no track record. Rinse and repeat.
The wonderful part here though is that it is easy to find and go to the person who HAS to make the decision.
Which is why some organizations slide into empowerment mode.
That clear trail to someone to blame gets mixed up if you start empowering people and sharing responsibility. Empowerment is wonderful, but it can also be a mask for ineffectual leadership.
For change, empowerment decision-making is wonderful, but empowerment must come with clear responsibility and rewards for success. Adding the opportunity to be mentored past mistakes is nice too (and reinforces the organizational ability to empower).
Put a representative from different functions, specialties or areas of your organization (the mix depends on what the steering committee was SUPPOSED to be for) together with a regularly scheduled meeting and let them decide. It is the perfect cross functional decision-making structure, right?
Or it is a place where decisions go to die.
Without mediation these kind of competing interests do not do a good job of making decisions (if they are the results are usually watered down and ineffective- think government).
Organizations quickly realized that so a status quo set up started. Let other people gather information, maybe even basically make the decision for you (those are usually called options and you only have go to one to decide), present to you and then you decide. Actually not you. You and all the others on the committee. For the committee sitter this is a wonderful spread of responsibility. For a CM this is disillussionary. (Although we do sometimes pull in revenue for that previously mentioned mediation).
Or you can just make sure everyone agrees.
The only time consensus makes sense is when you have a small group that knows they share responsibility for something. A project team is the perfect example. You probably still have competing interests but end state views are usually fairly close (it is the path and the lists that vary). These groups can decide. They may bargain a little- you get your choice this time I get mine later.
Small groups are willing to be bold. If consensus makes for a solid, rather than watered down choice then it is wonderful for everyone to agree (said with a little disillusioned snark).
Organic decision-making just happens.
I think organic decision-making is a response to no decisions being made. It is the “I will do it myself, then” approach. The wonderful part is that it often works. Agreement can have a powerful momentum. If an organization develops a pattern of individually being on board when they really do not care which way the decision goes then any decision automatically has a group of adherents. It is like built in consensus for boldness. That is wonderful.
When the whole thing plays out willy-nilly and decisions (a lot of them bad) are like presents on Christmas gone wild it gets not so wonderful. It can be comical when everyone wants to be on the decision-making band wagon. I get disillusioned when the good decisions don’t get their fair credit. Organic organizations still have a gossamer thread of command and control- just enough to often render the power of organic powerless.
Whether by command and control; empowerment; committees; consensus or organic, good decisions are fantastic. Bad decisions or no deciding at all can make you a little disillusioned. Figuring out how to get things done through the right decisions is wonderful (and often the forte of change management).
My list from the first ACMP speaking engagement post:
- As a profession we suffer from groupthink.
Many practitioners are inexperienced (internal and external) or at least one company practitioners.
3. Organizations are not structured for change.
4. The models and methodology being used are old, tired and misguided.
one that is skilled in only one area; also : one that has success only once
Change management, except at the lowest smallest level (and probably even then) requires the ability to compare, envision, interact and check things off the to-to list. It is more art than science. It necessitates interaction at multiple levels (and sideways and diagonally) with many different kinds of people. It calls for an understanding of status quo and people. It cries out for the kind of person who can put things in context while pulling in explanations of possibility. It also requires someone who can teach and mentor some of these capabilities.
One Trick Ponies
Internal One Company
The ultimate one trick pony (they are really project managers with a little layered CM) is the internal practitioner within a function.
They will likely be practicing push change management. They are tasked with getting people to do things, even when those people are unwilling (and maybe especially when).
They do well with eight step processes that force urgency and play nice with project management.
Even if they did want to use the flair, outreach and sensitivity that a senior consultant would bring to the work they can’t. One because the system at that level gives them little flexibility and two because they haven’t had to deal with the range of interactions that reaching out requires.
In fairness this ultimate one trick pony role is fantastic to have early in your career- as long as you are mature enough to have very open eyes (and ears). It is here where you will be able to see what does not work for CM. You will spend endless hours with dictated deliverables (if your CM is heavy internal then this is demands from the promoted one trick pony). You will always have to ask permission for any kind of interchange outside the small walls of control invisibly set up for you. (When you do get that permission you will have a “CC”list a mile long which completely defeats the reach out). In this career you have to be able to see and know why change does NOT work so you can do better.
Internal/External One Consulting Firm
This is the glorified ultimate one trick pony.
These are the big firm consultants who list all the clients they have worked with. Don’t be fooled. It is a long list of a barely external version of our previous pony. They are constrained by their organizations approach (again just a fancy version of the same bad steps from above). They are on a constant mission to increase revenue- up or out without bringing in the cash. The ones who stay are locked in to the most extreme version of CM status quo I can think of- rote, deliverable based approaches that have more to do with staying power than solutions.
The partners in these organizations have been in their roles for at least ten years (most many more). This is the top of the hill one trick pony. They are working with senior executives who have a lot of status quo to protect (illustrated by the fact they brought in the big firm). The consulting firms work in a distinct hierarchy so their approach will too. Operate that way for ten plus years and you have very little flexibility.
At that high level with C leaders and boards a good CM (with a lot of “tricks” available) is like a Gumby doll.
Just out of School
You aren’t even a one trick pony yet (although you do have the degree).
But, if you are lucky enough to get in a scenario where a good “pony trainer” can guide you, there is a chance you can scoot right past the one trick stage. IF you move on. Regardless of where you start in CM that should not be the place you are two years later. Stay longer and you go native with all its intendant status quo, hesitancy and to-do’s.
I sometimes think success with CM is about trying it all. Because your real role is to help people to see trying things makes sense.
One type of Engagement
There are consultants who are strictly IT. Say the SAP CM. Or the Workday CM. OR the HR CM.
Do the same thing over and over in this arena and you become a project manager. Nothing wrong with that role (we would not exist without it). If you are a CM you chose not to be a project manager. We need to keep our labels straight.
At a certain point in my career, right in the middle, I was asked, “have you done a FULL engagement?”. Or “have you done a full engagement for blank (usually SAP)?”. Or “have you done a full engagement, with blank, in this industry?” I would respond (even if the answer was yes) with, “are you looking for a change practitioner or a subject matter expert, because they are two different things”.
Yes it helps to have a full (whatever that means with CM) engagement. Yes it helps to have done more than one engagement within an industry. You could just as easily cobble together those requirements with multiple clients. The first part here, the middle there, another first part, the rare sustainability engagement. I would argue you are much more talented than the glorified one trick ponies who stay on engagements for more than two years. (By the way that would probably be a contractor not a consultant- that differentiation will come up at the ACMP panel discussion).
Anything mid-level or above that crosses at least one vertical and loops in more than a couple senior leaders requires a change management practitioner with varied experience. CM is about tweaking status quo. To have practitioners who have thrived on something one baby step ahead of status quo makes no sense. Practitioner, leader, one trick pony, get out of your box. Try a different trick. Make sure your successes are TRULY different. Then you can call yourself a change leader.
Continuing with some background for my participation on the panel: Perks & Perils: Optimizing Internal and External Change Management, April 16th at 4 pm PST for the Los Angeles ACMP conference:
For the panel discussion we have some definitive competencies and talents to discuss that match mostly internal practitioners, mostly external consultants and those that fit both (yes, it could be argued that all are needed for any practice of change). As a first step here I thought it might help to impart some of what I have seen on multiple engagements at different client sites (names withheld, of course).
As a reminder I called this list out in my first post:
- We, as a profession, suffer from groupthink.
- Many practitioners are inexperienced (internal and external) or at least one company practitioners.
- Organizations are not structured for change.
- The models and methodology being used are old, tired and misguided.
- A new level of what I would consider heavily tactical change management from internal change practitioners.
A few client partners I can think of are an imperfect/perfect form of project manager. They get that change at its base level is about getting things done (and getting things to happen) that pull toward end states. So they call meetings with a specific decision as the end point (even though those meetings should be called by the leader[s] responsible for the decision). They craft role descriptions as the change process moves forward to make sure that those kids of decisions will be made later AND that someone will be held accountable. They basically play cop and parent at the same time (or maybe it is parent and boss).
- External consultants (OK maybe most were really contractors) becoming internal practitioners.
This is positive for two reasons: one is that it keeps the difference between consultant and contractor/employee clear and two that internal resources now have a little more of that external boldness. Those client partners I mentioned came from external roles.
- More awareness of the components of change.
Yes people may hesitate to change. How many people blindly move to a new thing? Yes the people component IS a risk. And yes people cannot be managed (for any length of time). At the point CM practitioners begin to manage individuals problems start (no, that is NOT resistance, stop fighting it as if it is). This awareness also translates into a genuine appreciation of external influences down to the individual. It is nice to get to a place where we are welcomed and, breath, respected.
- By trying to make everything internal and letting that structure build organically and internally organizations are setting themselves up for scenarios worse than the status quo they are trying to break. I have seen 25 competing change entities at one organization. Nothing like an internal fight to the finish, while still tying to create and sell products! This organic surge is also making it much easier for executives to not be responsible for decisions and to scapegoat (although for an external I guess this is a positive now the internal practitioners have become the scapegoats).
- All this work and all this effort and lots of giddy excitement from all the people interaction are moving organizations forward about one step. Because none of the entities for change that I have seen are really addressing root causes. Performance management is never even mentioned. Cross functional interaction is only happening at an organic level (which requires a high level of relationship something people barely have time for WITHIN their functions).
- All too often the wolf is guarding the hen-house. Change can move slow because of politics, extra requests, too many deliverables, too much desire for measurement, too much control. Many (no not all but most that I have seen so far) internal practitioners like to be in charge of data and information. They like to manage the interactions of people (guide works much better and requires a level of disconnect that someone who is controlling does not have the competency for). In short they often reinforce those things which slow change.
The environment is getting better. I, personally, am moving from disillusionment toward the commoditization and cost cutting of internal change management to a willingness to partner when the competencies of years of external consulting are respected, rewarded and leveraged. There is a new focus on people, individual and talent, not just with practitioners- that’s wonderful. I fully expect to feel bad (and proven mostly wrong) regarding my current honesty about internal practitioners. That would be the full circle of being Wonderfully Disillusioned.