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Tenet #2 of Ten Tenets of Change Management

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by Larry Pendergrass, Principal

Reference: Please see the Introduction and Tenet #1 here.

Tenet #2: Learn together why change is necessary.

If you are brought in to be a change agent in a new company or a new job within the same company, the chances are good that you are not well-known by the new people with whom you work. You have not yet earned their trust, but they will follow you because you have the position power. The CEO disease[1] starts right away, on day one, as you receive positive feedback from your teams even while they question your wisdom, your capability, and your right to be in your position. In this circumstance, going off into a dark room alone or with a single chosen confidant to analyze the organization’s problem and to come out with a set of stone tablets in proclamation of a new vision will not engender a strong followership. It is often a mistake to hide your decision-making process when it requires others to implement it. But in this case, it could spell the difference between success and failure in your change management process.

Borrowing from Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And education of those people that will be called upon to suffer through the impending chaos of a changing organization will benefit any leader driving that change. Rather than force-feeding your results to your staff, a more powerful approach is to learn through joint diagnosis of the problem. You may already have a sense for the problem, or you may have been given the perceptions of your sponsors. They may have even told you specifically what they know to be the issue and expect you to make corrections aligned with their assumptions and perceptions. All the more reason to dig in and not only convince yourself that these changes are going to effectively address the main issue, but also generate the knowledge and awareness in others needed by your sponsors, your staff and your other partners in change.

A few years ago, having come off a significant change management success, I moved into a new role. My new organization required many of the same changes as my previous job, changes that had taken place over a four year period and significantly improved our impact and effectiveness. I knew for a fact that these changes were needed in my new role; it wasn’t hard to spot. So after a period of gathering data and showing respect for the past (per Tenet #1,) I moved into high gear in my new role and pressed for change. I was on a mission, and I was under some pressure. But these were different managers, some who reported to me and others with whom I had influence without direct authority. I was not working with the same team as my last job, my last change management success. Skilled and knowledgeable as they were, they had not jointly diagnosed the problems with me. I had taken a short cut. The situation in my new role was quite in contrast to my past challenge. What I saw as fundamental problems holding us back were as assumed to be unchangeable, even necessary trade-offs in this new organization. In fact, the role for some of these managers and directors had been specifically developed as a response to the issues I was seeing, a stop-gap measure. People were relatively satisfied with the status quo. Changing to improve the situation just didn’t seem like that big of a deal to my new team.

It took me a few months to realize that I was not able to gain any traction because we had not diagnosed the problems and understood a new vision together. We had not done any joint analysis to both calibrate and motivate toward change. Eventually I realized my error. But I lost months of time in this change management process because I didn’t recognize that this set of managers had not gone through the same journey as the managers in my last job. These smart and capable people were coming from a very different history and set of assumptions.

Enlist the aid of your key well-respected leaders to benchmark the competition, understand the shifting tide of your customers, research the emerging technologies, read about new practices in execution, and in general understand what is preventing or threatening your leadership in your industry, both from inside and outside of the company. It is a strong motivating tactic to learn along with those who will become your most important allies in the fight. Through a joint diagnosis of the problem, few will be left who challenge the need to make the change.

In my next blog I will show why a key group of leaders to guide the organization is critical to your change management success.

[1] The CEO Disease was first described with this title by John Byrne in “CEO Disease”, Business Week, Apr 1, 1991, p52-59. There is a wonderful description of this problem in Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee. The CEO Disease is the condition that leaders (not just CEOs) face when few people will give them honest feedback. This gets worse and worse as they climb the ladder. The result is that over time, CEOs lose an accurate sense of self, having only positive feedback from those around them. The only cure is to grab on to those brave souls who will give you honest feedback, even though it’s painful to hear.

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