The Change Messenger

ChangeMessenger

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

Translator

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.

Interpreter

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.

Mailperson

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”.

Oracle

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).

Scribe

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.

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Why Consulting Will NEVER Die

This must be some sort of mid career evaluation, or the change practitioner in me refusing to be silent when a voice needs to be heard. I am on a string of posts that question consulting, a little on the practice and a LOT on the environment.

Here is the current run if you want the lead in:

  1. The latest in the Wonderfully Disillusioned Series- Consulting
  2. 5 Things That Have Ruined Consulting

 

Why Consulting will (actually) NEVER die:

  1. We all have a lot to learn. Executives and leaders (who hire and receive advice from consultants) are part of that “We”.
  2. With Change consulting there are some things internals just cannot do. Which brings up an interesting thing to think of: Can an employee “consult”?
  3. True consultants are tenacious. We know we have experience, advice and perspective that is valuable, is needed and should be marketable. We will always find ways to illustrate that to owners and leaders.
  4. Consulting can always just be a scapegoat .
  5. Symbiosis and Parasitism. Consulting can be both. The first one might die, but the second will always live on.
  6. It can be unbelievable how different the inside is from the outside. As a consultant I often ask myself, “how to they NOT know this?” (I meant one particular thing, but this applies to my statement too).
  7. The big firms will always find a way to insert themselves (see #5).
  8. There will always be “backs to be scratched” (see #5 again).
  9. Everyone wants to (and usually tries) be a consultant.
  10. Consulting works. Anytime one person takes and translates the advice of another with more experience and utilizes that help to change things, there is a chance for geometric improvement and success.

 

Consulting will never die because it is at times parasitic, symbiotic, a scapegoat, a learning process, the outside in, the insertion of tenacious practitioners, the trail left by revenue grabbing big firms or something that..wait for this…can actually WORK.

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5 Tips for New Change Management Practitioners

As with any career there are lots of hidden things that degree, that “intro to _” class and those templated CM “certifications” will not tell you or show you.

5 Tips

  1. Leave your ego at the door.
    This is not a career to run into with your feathers fluffed looking to be seen.
    The best of us do our work behind the scenes. When we take the limelight it is with strategic (and tactical) intent. Our egos are best transferred to others. Asserting your ego (especially if you are an external) can be a fast way to the door. There is no food on the table on the other side of that door. Asserting your ego as an internal does not make for good change management.
  2. Think about your own end state.
    What will you be and what will your environment look like close to retirement?
    Will you be a thought leader, transformational or huge engagement consultant? Or will you have perfected the tactics and tactical implementation of small to medium-sized projects/programs. The first means you should be external the second internal.
  3. Never get locked in to one environment.
    Move, either to different companies, different places or at least different jobs within a company.
    I snicker (and, yes, cringe) when I look at profiles on LinkedIn of people who call themselves change management consultants (or some similar term) who have only worked at one or two places. As a comparison I personally have worked inside 70+ companies (add some numbers for different environments since some of those were Fortune 100). Any chance I might understand a ton of things about change and corporate change compared to a one trick pony “CM”?
  4. Don’t stay too long.
    Politics and protecting your own interest will sand down your change capability and motivation. Two years will make you an employee- legally and figuratively. This tip is different from the last one, because this one says at two years leave, “no matter what”(I can smell the smoke from potential blogging flames…).
  5. Learn.
    Not so much the latest fad (“brain research” will run its course as did all the other OD and CM fads).
    Learn the things and learn to use the tools that facilitate this role. Become a wiz at the full Adobe Suite, brush up on Excel (please do not become a wiz unless you plan on switching to the PM role), grab a grammar book, start a blog to practice, volunteer somewhere and do change management in a safer environment, grab a mentor (before the un-“certified” ones retire), learn about business structure/org design, find an executive or two to have coffee with and field CM questions and do the same with sample stakeholders for the full length of your career.

Thinking about Change Management as a career or just getting started? Leave that ego at the door, start seeing the future- including your own, don’t get locked in or stay too long and learn. Oh and take a big breath this career is much more difficult than it sounds- you have to be made of armor.

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Project Managers- 5 Things to Know About Change Practitioners

Project managers, thanks to the addition of the change management consultant line item, are getting a taste of change management and switching from a competitive to a cooperative approach. Many organizations have, smartly, realized these are two different roles with two different skill sets. (Yes many can do both roles or exchange roles but these two do not make for a good SINGLE role within any major project- and certainly not for any kind of program or initiative)

5 things for PM’s to think about

  1. We do not want your job.
    Or your particular influence, or any of your particular power.
    You want to get things done, check off the list, accomplish. We want to do things right, consider people and business and create solutions (end states) that last. That is a perfect combination. We can be partners. Either as right hand people for your role, when we are brought in middle-of-the-organization, to  guide you in your implementation strategy OR as valuable liaisons to the owner, leaders and influencers when we contract higher up than your hierarchical placement. Fight with us for power (which we care little about) and you are wasting a valuable resource.
  2. We have a different measure of success.
    On time and budget are your usual measures.
    How often do you depart and the budget goes out the window from mistakes, missteps and errors? We, change practitioners, can give you some answers. We come in before, after, during and in and out. We see a lot (and we tend to be asked to fix a lot). What if you got the reputation of not only satisfying your time and budget measures, but also leaving solutions and infrastructure pieces that sustain your work? You might even get credit for building the foundation for the next project/change/solution.
  3. We don’t jump to take credit for things.
    Get on the good side of a CM and you might find lots of your checklist items getting satisfied with much less input and work from you.
    We rarely look for credit for accomplishments because we think well into the future. We are gone before our true work is visible. You should leverage this both to get credit and to create credit from our work. If you see that connection we will help you.
  4. We see well into the future.
    Your focus is the things that need to happen to complete this project. Our focus is on the environment and scenario after your role is over. We move backwards from that end state to gauge what needs to happen, be added and be accomplished. We both want the same things, in some ways, we just come at it from different angles and directions. If you understand that and leverage it, nasty mistakes can be avoided. Or look at it this way, our measure of risk is different than yours- and a valuable addition to your work.
  5. We focus first on people.
    You focus on ROI, business results, metrics.
    We are being asked, more and more, to be both business AND people experts (business process, organizational capability, job roles, competency measures tied to strategy are now solid pieces of my own resume- not change specific). Your biggest risk, always, is people. Either the motivation of people or the lack of resources. We fully understand how that makes your role difficult and we like tackling that difficulty.

So project managers or PMO’s as a whole, if you are waging a battle against the power levers you have or might fell slipping away, stop, take a breath. At least from an external perspective (those employed next to you may be on a different mission) we are looking for many of the same things you are in terms of work, strategy, tactics and results.

Change Practitioners (the good ones anyway) do not want your job, measure success differently, don’t take credit for things, see the future and focus on people. All five of those thing can be very helpful for you if you switch from competition to cooperation.

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Beware the Opportunist

ChangeOpportunist

This little note is spinning around LinkedIn picking up “likes” as it goes.

See my, “Half Full or Half Empty- Change Management and Perception” version.

This is funny from four angles and an extra:

Optimist

Sees the glass full.

In fact, as I mentioned in my previous post, sometimes thinks they can WILL the glass full.

When the opportunist succeeds the optimist cries. When the opportunist fails (and there is always a measure of failure against action focused approaches) the optimist sighs. I am an optimist. I sigh a lot. I, personally, get no pleasure (well not much) out of failure due to lack of planning.

The optimist becomes a Realist when they begin to see that end state of a full glass and realize the long path to get there.

Pessimist

Sees the glass half empty.

And, as mentioned in the previous post, sometimes swears they can see the water going down.

When there is failure the Pessimist gets affirmation. When there is success luck and superstition are often cited as the success factors.

A Pessimist becomes an Optimist, and maybe a Realist, when they, one day get a chance to drink the water from the full glass. It has to be the kind of water that has the taste they like. Otherwise, (see luck above).

Realist

Sees the glass for what it is.

‘Could be half full, ‘could be half empty, “why dwell on that?”.

A practical or pragmatic Realist may use some measure to decide whether something needs to be done about this glass thing.

A Realist becomes an Optimist when they value a full glass and then see the water rise. Vice versa for becoming a Pessimist. A Realist can turn into an Opportunist fast if those measurements look enticing and they think they can get a head start on the competition.

Opportunist

Sees the water.

The glass is just the vessel.

Is this person our hero or antagonist? (Or the pest that steals stuff from the garden at night?).

Change guy view: if action is needed it is great to have the opportunist around. If thought should prevail for a better end state then the opportunist can actually become a saboteur.

Opportunists (the title hints of this) tend to do things from a selfish or self-centered perspective. Did they share the water? Not likely. Did they use the empty glass as leverage for something (possibly, Opportunists do tend to be able to make something out of nothing… salespeople ring a bell)?

In the end, as our note suggests, the water is gone with the Opportunist thirst quenched and snickering.

The score on the note- Optimist lost big time, Pessimist is now right and Opportunist took advantage of the other two.

Beware the Opportunist those of you who ponder possibility or failure.

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Permissions

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.

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Change Management Dreams

quicksand.fw

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

The Funk

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…).

The Dream

Why?

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.

What if?

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.
  • Possibility.
    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.

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Fast Change Around Us- Life in Space

image

When social media and advanced technology (going to space is high on the advanced list) come together we have Space Fast Change Around Us. Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, has created a video series to help answer all those living in space questions. I am not one to go to videos (I would rather search text and picture based- videos seem too slow and are too time consuming). But…

This series makes me understand how people can get completely absorbed in videos and burn an incredible amount of time. We have permission for this series though because we are learning right?

We all need to know how to:

Brush our teeth in space

Sleep in space

Wash our hands in space

Cook spinach in space (to have Popeye energy for all those spacewalks)

Make a peanut butter & honey sandwich in space

Because I know you are curious: How to use the toilet in space

This is Fast Change Around Us: the ability to look at a long list of videos of people living in space. What’s next, virtually accompanying a group of astronauts on a Martian picnic?

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All Strategy is not the Same

Gail Severini’s post today, “the Enlightened Program Manager-Partnering with Change Management” got me thinking.

She says (correctly by my experience):

“The reality in most organizations is that strategy is parsed into Strategic Business Units and/or Divisions and the leader assigns it to a program manager to organize.”.

What if all strategy in organizations was not treated the same?

We have to start with those situations where this really makes sense-transformation.

True transformation- not something that just picked up the label because it is big and/or Enterprise wide. If the organization is really going to be different after this change- process, approach,technology and people (yes it is probably all of the above)- then a different kind of strategy is called for.

This would be a strategy that is orchestrated at the highest levels- CEO and Board of Directors. Everything would connect (and would be communicated as connecting) across the organization. If this is a picture it would be one map as a whole with parts and pieces within. And it would not be the map (I have seen many of these) that is drawn AFTER the parts and pieces have been parsed.

As an aside this parsing process is similar to a present to future perspective for change. It almost eliminates any view of the whole. Contrast that to strategy that is whole focused and high in the organization and an end state focus for change. Both give the whole, provide context and effectively put the “parsing” into perspective.

If all strategy were not treated the same there would always be an element that raises work (which carries lots of internal political baggage with it) to a level that is shared by all.

What if the “Program Manager” was above the units and divisions?

One way to do that would be to elevate those Program Managers Gail mentioned to this higher level-if only for the transformation.

This is done frequently in organizations by naming an SVP as the leader (In my taxonomy this would be the Implementary Leader) of the transformation. The inherent problem with this is that now you have a peer leading a horizontal (the one with the “S” ego’s and reputations). In my pie in the sky vision this Program Manager would be a role that stays after the transformation. In fact it might have been a role that was created early on in the organizations history in preparation for the big change every company goes through eventually.

I see this role as the business version of a very high level change management consultant. (In fact they would partner as right and left/left and right, in a perfect world).

The CEO would still need to be the owner and own the change, but this set up would signal to the organization that there is also an important leader to implement (and in this case the support of a senior change person who will focus on the whole, the context and the people).

What if unit and division tactical strategy scaled up?

You could edge toward this structure by creating more scale up from inside the organization to a holistic strategy.

Most companies would argue they already do this with some version of committees, executive summits, golf games etc. I have been in 70+ companies as a consultant and have yet to see any of these arrangements do anything more than quickly parse work. They all basically scale stuff up and then get parse stuff back in (maybe it is more of a grand permission process than strategy).

All strategy is not the same. Approaching transformation as if it is a program of Divisional/Business Unit work streams is status quo. Change and status quo do not blend well.

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What would be Successful Change Management?

No not what is the ROI.

No not what is the best way to measure change management.

Rather, what does success look like?

For the client:

Of course this depends on who the client is. If the client is the owner of the change, success would be getting to a version of an end state that would not have been possible without CM.  Maybe things happened faster than predicted. Maybe the change hangs on longer (or permanently) than originally expected. Maybe stakeholders feel more comfortable about the next change. (See the pattern here leaders? CM is as much about the next thing, or righting the last thing as it is this current change thing… when done successfully).

If the client is in middle of the organization then the future is set aside. Success directly correlates to elimination of roadblocks and speed to success measures (forget end states, and the next change and building anything- in the middle it is about now and tomorrow).

For the Consultant:

Lasting effect.

For that senior owner it may be that the consultant helped build competency or capability for that owners organization.

For the  middle client it may be that all those difficult people issues were handled, dealt with and then things got better.

One is strategic and one is tactical. If  you plan on being successful as a change management consultant you better be ready and able to do both. (Ironically sometimes at the same time).

Successful change management is end states that arrive better, stronger and faster than they would have without the change management consultant. OR projects simply move smoothly and fast (for those middle of the organization clients).

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