The recognition of change management as a profession has grown exponentially over the last 10 years. As practitioners we have access to a number of sophisticated assessments, dashboards and surveys to enable us in our change management projects. In this blog, I’ll focus on the human aspects of change. In my experience, paying close attention to individual transitions is what can make or break change projects.
Every individual’s experience of change is unique
The wonderful thing about human beings is that we each have our individual quirks and strengths. It’s my fascination with human nature that drew me to change management to begin with. In my experience as a change practitioner I’ve learned the importance of observing and coaching people on the process of transitions from an emotional perspective. I’ve participated in many meetings where certain stakeholders have demonstrated resistance, questioning the reason for change, saying things like “well that just isn’t going to work here” or on one occasion …“it’s just too late for change management”. I’ve found the change curve a powerful model to guide individuals in discovering where they are on their emotional change journey. Sometimes people are in denial, hurt, angry or stuck or have accepted a change too soon without having engaged with what will be different for them in their day to day role. Understanding where people are emotionally helps to diagnose solutions to help them reach acceptance. Often individuals will come up with their own solutions if they are given the space to express themselves and feel that they are being heard.
It’s got to be real
Communication, communication, communication is our mantra as change practitioners and one of our key deliverables is the trusted communications plan with key messages about change. A word of caution – never underestimate the power of listening. Push communication is a viable strategy as long as there are feedback loops and opportunities for people to be heard. I’d like to share a conversation I had with a leader who was quizzing me about the benefits of a system implementation. His questions about the system soon turned into a declaration that he was new to his role and was finding it difficult to communicate the change to his team. This was a breakthrough and from that moment on I worked with him to help him communicate in his language and in his style. It was my second meeting with this leader. In the first meeting I’d spent too much time talking and downloading information. I learned and decided to listen the next time – it paid off. However, we don’t always get a second chance so here are three gems I want to offer on the importance of listening:
Remember – It’s not about you – too often we listen superficially because we are thinking about what we want to say or we wait for the person to breathe so we can get our point in. Being comfortable with silence is one of the most important qualities of an exquisite listener.
Stay in the present– try not to think about your to-do list or your next meeting. Be in the present moment and honour the time you have with your stakeholders.
Clarify and repeat– remember to pause and ask clarifying questions. Repeat back what you have heard to validate that you have listened.
Look out for ladders
There are times when people resist change because they assume they will have a similar experience as they did in the past. For example, previous change efforts may have taken a long time to implement or training may have been delivered too early or too late. Look for people climbing these “ladders of inference”. The Ladder of Inference is a model developed by Chris Argyris, a systems thinking guru and describes the cognitive process that we go through, usually without realizing it, to get from a fact to a decision or action. Literally jumping to conclusions based on beliefs that we hold and not checking data and facts. If you experience this behaviour, coach resistant people by asking why they believe that this change will be the same as their previous experience. Help people access data and facts to test their assumptions.
As change practitioners we wear many hats, we are coaches, analysts, facilitators and communicators. Often we give a lot of ourselves emotionally and need to take time to re-energize. Find a member of your tribe to confide in and support you during particularly difficult times. Also consider getting your own coach. I’ve found practicing meditation helps me stay grounded and emotionally resilient. I recommend Wendy Quan’s www.thecalmmonkey.com which has some fantastic resources and recordings to help you practice mindfulness and meditation.
My closing comment is this – years ago a manager told me that I had chosen a very difficult profession. The profession was change management. It was a path less travelled and has not always been easy but I’m happy that years later it continues to be a passion!
About the Author: Maria Hudson is the founder of Intransition Consulting Inc, a change management and communications consultancy based in Vancouver. As a Prosci certified change management professional, Maria has more than 20 years of experience in the field of change management.
Maria has practiced change management consultancy in the U.K. and Canada. Maria’s clients include organizations in the public sector, UK government, Media, Retail and Healthcare. Maria has also worked as a management consultant for Sierra Systems Inc. based in Vancouver.
Maria is also qualified to administer the Myers Briggs (MBTI) psychometric assessment and has an MBA from the Open University. In addition, Maria is a certified Reiki practitioner.
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