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change skills Archives - Garrett's Change Management Blog

Change Management Consultants Shouldering the Load


Here is a short list of things that could be on stakeholder’s minds:

  • Previous change history
  • Layoffs
  • Stagnant careers
  • Leadership changes
  • Performance Management
  • Rules and Regulations
  • Governance
  • Their family
  • Their health
  • Organizational Myths
  • All the invisible “What If’s” (the possible bad ones not the “what is possible’” kind that I like so much)

Yes the list is much longer…

Is there anyone who is willing to listen so they can come to terms with some of the things on this list (talking with a good listener is lubricant for capacity to change). THERE IS!

Change Management Listening

Listening is the most important competency for a change management practitioner.

I have seen a few change management consultants  (usually of the project focused mentality) who fail miserably with this competency (and sully the reputation of those who are empathetic).

We are not psychologists (although I have met a few practitioners who are). We are not therapists. We are not judges. We are not walking grand juries.

That out of the way, we are mediators. We are sounding blocks. We are conduits for information. We are, really, responsible for people’s comfort.

Knowing that we listen.

We do not have to agree (although we rarely signal when we do not). We only disagree as devil’s advocates to help people think things through (a skill within the competency of listening). We know change can be hard when information is missing. If we are good we like to see change happen and people grow and develop (organizations too, but that will happen when the people adapt).

Another list- of the things our listening skills can address:

  • Leadership- leaders HAVE to bounce things off someone, to anticipate, to get better and to avoid big mistakes.
  • Employment issues- every union negotiation with the possibility of change should have a CM listener involved.
  • Internal politics- people will do what they do to get ahead (HR mid level leaders are you listening- you are the most guilty of pushing your own agenda). We can help smooth out, with our ears and actions that follow, missteps from selfish agendas.
  • Fear- I do not like to call this out when it comes to change, but since I have spent a few years listening I know people do get scared. Assuage is one of my favorite words.
  • Lack of confidence- my own favorite form of listening, to reinforce talent, expertise and skill.

This list is much longer too…

Change Management practitioners must shoulder the load. Through the act of listening they can carry a remarkable heavy burden.

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How to Build Change Management Competencies

My competency light list gave you 10 capabilities for a good change practitioner or leader.

The ability to:

  1. Listen.
  2. Curious.
  3. Inquisitive.
  4. Analytic.
  5. Empathetic.
  6. Big Picture viewers.
  7. See tangibles.
  8. Understand time- past, present and future.
  9. See patterns.
  10. Compare, contrast, differentiate and relate.

These are not things that you go to a class for (although I can see a class design in my head that would help you address them…). These are not things you will automatically learn in a Masters program. These absolutely are not things you will acquire with “certification”. Having watched different types of people practice the career of change management, at times I wonder, if these are not actually character traits that get developed over time.

Let’s address these from a personal perspective (I will tackle the list from an organizational perspective in a later post).

How can you develop these?


Learn to focus on the reception of information rather than the dissemination.

It is not about what is said as much as what is heard.

To develop this ability you must learn to pay attention to non verbal clues, to responses, to interaction with information (was there conversation? was there paraphrasing? was there silence? are you hearing the information repeated in other places?), to energy levels, to the amount of silence (listening works in both directions), to a host of things that give you a framework for how information is received (and interpreted).


These traits/characteristics/competencies build on each other and support each other.

Curiosity gets reinforced with listening skills.

Curious breaks through when you ask questions because of the way information was received.

So to develop this trait look to understand people, the exchange of information and the things that motivate.

Make a list of reasons why your stakeholders would participate. Then ask questions to see if you were correct in your assumptions. Learning to look for where you are wrong (from someone else’s perspective) is a curious attribute when it comes to change management.


This might be curiosity on steroids.

To be inquisitive is to always look for a little bit more information, understanding and knowledge. To get that you have to ask good questions, want to know the answers, even if you do not agree, and be good at going to a level of filtering that puts everything in some kind of perspective.

To get better at this start asking more questions. And then ask yourself why you asked those questions. Be inquisitive about yourself and your own motives and you will get better at understanding the same of others. Remember motivation is a crucial element of change.


Slow down once in a while with all that childlike energy and questioning to bring in numbers, facts, examples, outside opinions- anything that can bring empirical information into the information exchange. (Yes I realize opinions are not empirical- with CM there is a fine line).

On your next change initiative put the numbers and facts (even the guesses are good input- they may end up being facts) and decide if they hold water, decide if you are using the right measurement, decide if that information is the right information. Analyze.

Go out and practice on some empirical data that you have little connection to . Analysis sounds so scientific. But numbers are easy to make up and fudge. And anyone can create a survey or study that gives them what they want. Look for those situations where numbers are fudged. It will hone your analysis.


This is listening on steroids.

You can listen (and you have to listen to be empathetic) but do you care?

Can you understand from a different angle? From someone else’s eyes and vantage point?

If listening and curiosity and inquisitiveness are skills then empathy is the competency that requires all of them.

My suggestion for those who are not so good at the empathy thing (very common these days with certain types of people) is to start by doing a few things that help others and make you feel good at the same time. Think about it. Those who are not very empathetic are pretty selfish. So why not use selfishness to teach yourself empathy? (Note to change practitioners and leaders this is an excellent example of one way to direct behavior change).

Tell everyone you are going to volunteer for something that everyone agrees makes you a better person- Habitat for Humanity, a soup kitchen, etc. Soak up the praise and then PAY ATTENTION to the people who will benefit from your help. Watch, listen, interact, use those skills empathy is built on. While you are at it stop being so selfish.

Big Picture

This seems to be a trait.

Fully possessing it from birth I can tell you it is a gift and a curse.

If you are looking to develop yourself into a high level enterprise change consultant get used to that.

My favorite exercise is to start from the biggest picture possible for some change and work back to the smallest. Say a client has an idea that has a chance to turn into something (maybe it is some nascent iPhone thing), but it will require new culture, new approach and big transformational change.

The HUGE picture is exactly what that iPhone created. People interacting differently. People reacting to things differently. Evangelical attachment to the change. Big stuff.

The other end of the spectrum is  an idea that needs a place to go. Think that way and you will start to make lists of resources, to do’s and task/phase/stage timelines.

If you are not good at starting with the huge then try from the the other direction to get bigger and bigger with the idea, how the idea touches things and what that idea might mean to others (and the world, if you can teach yourself to get THAT big a picture).

See Tangibles

Change can’t be all big ideas and everyone listening and understanding each other.

Change is about motivation and accomplishment.

Change has to have goals and end states.

Those goals and end states are supported by tangible things- creation of something, visible examples of process change, clear cases of change of behavior, etc.

Seeing tangibles is an easy competency to learn. In fact it may be automatic for everyone. Seeing the RIGHT tangibles, happening at the right time is a stepped up version.

As a change practitioner or leader you have to learn to see the most important tangibles and focus on them.

Initially they are small (quick wins if you like that term). Later they are bigger (and probably built with previous tangibles).

Take something you are doing in your own life- career building, home remodeling, a hobby you are trying to improve on like playing an instrument- and make a list of small and big tangibles. In your path to the end state of that thing those tangibles will be important milestones, places to pat yourself on the back, times for mini celebrations.

Time Awareness

Change is the past having created a need for something new, the new being something that might be hard to see and figure out and right now either getting in the way or being the chance to change.

If you can’t see and feel the way future, present and past connect and relate you will not be very good at change management.

If you think change is about the present to the future you will have problems. If you think change is about correcting the past then different problems. If you think change is about just making things different then they are now- problems (and a lot of wasted time and effort). To be fair if you think change is just about seeing a goal and then working backwards to the present (while considering the effects of the past) you will also have problems (because most people do not think that way, it has to be taught and some change does not wait around for the lecture to finish).

Take the smallest of change in  your role and you life and make a list that illustrates times connection. How does history come into play? What does this look like later? What is happening right now that helps or hinders? Get better at seeing these kinds of lists almost automatically.

Change and CM absolutely rely on this ability.

Pattern Awareness

I am constantly told by clients that they are different.


But not always as true as they think.

Because there is that thing called Human Nature.

We tend to want to put things together in ways that make sense. We tend to line things up, put things on timelines, make lists, create ways to differentiate- basically life is one grand pre school sorting scheme. At some point a lot of those schemes and approaches start to look the same.

A good change agent can just SEE those patterns. One who has had multiple chances to look begins to see a lot of the same things.

People like pattern. People fall into patterns.

Go outside, go for a walk and look for patterns. There is a tree outside my window. I bet I could take a picture of about 5 leaves throw those images into Fireworks (Photoshop has always been too confusing, I am a Fireworks fanatic) and make a tree. I bet I could do that multiple times and get trees that each look just a little different (note to those “I am different” clients- they will STILL be trees).

Now do the same thing at work with something less tangible like people, ideas and process.

Putting Together, Separating and Taking Apart

If you can do that then you can learn to stick stuff together, pull it apart and break it into pieces.

You can see from my list that the competencies behind CM are all about big and small, black/white and grey, short and long, narrow and wide, people and task, individual and organization.

Anything that helps you zoom out and zoom in on the things about change will make you a better change leader/practitioner/change agent.

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