Change isn't the Problem, Management isn't the Solution!

Photo by Kyle Glenn on  Unsplash

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

It occurred to me this week, as I was doing the final preparations for a client visit, that most of what I speak on and write about has to do with what is commonly referred to as “change management,” yet I hardly ever use that phrase. I think the reason for this is two-fold. First of all, I have no desire to jump on some bandwagon and be lumped together with all the “Change Management Experts” out there, who may or may not have ever personally led any kind of transformation at all, and secondly, I believe the term “change management” perpetuates an entirely false connotation. I believe the greatest issue with change management has to do with failure to recognize that “change” is rarely the problem, and “management” is rarely the solution!

Let me put it another way. If the change you are implementing is beneficial and people can see what’s in it for them and the team, they will be all over it and little to no management will be necessary. On the other hand, if they don’t see it as beneficial and see something in it for themselves personally, no amount of management is going to be able to gain their commitment. They may reluctantly comply and do what they are told in those situations, but no sustainable shift in culture or results will be produced as a result of “managing” people into a change they don’t see the need for.

Let me clarify that I’m referring to any kind of change that involves human beings and requires a different set of behaviors from them to make it stick. In those situations, it is impossible to be successful without implementing what some people refer to as “soft skills.” Think of successful change management as the combination of two components: 1. A physical change to systems, processes, procedures, tools, equipment, or other elements involved in producing the desired results; 2. Everything else that needs to be done to make sure that people affected are involved and bought-in and they take the necessary steps to make sure the change produces its intended results. While the former requires a certain level of functional competence, the latter can never be achieved without the proper application of transformative leadership skills and a clear understanding of how culture transformation proceeds.

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I realize these two components are broad categories and there are many sub-categories and actions under each component. However, I categorize them this way to make the point that companies are generally better at the first component, which has to do with “managing the project,” but fall short in the second, which is all about “leading the people.” The former requires the change to be implemented efficiently, while the latter depends on the transition being led effectively.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you rename your change management initiative to include the word “transition” or “transformation.” Call it what you want, but please be intentional about distinguishing the change from the transition, and management from leadership. Both are necessary, but they are very different and require different sets of skills, tools, and approaches.

I have great respect for project managers who can make schedules and timelines and manage the details of a project. I am grateful for those who have talents and skills in this area, because without them, my organizations would not have had half the success they had. Certainly, the more complex the initiative, the more important it is to have a skilled project manager. However, the cultural and behavioral integration and transition are just as important in making the change stick, and this is where leadership makes a difference. It’s not about a wholesale change to the way we manage projects, but rather the actions that leaders take to create an environment that is conducive to extraordinary execution and continuous improvement.

So, “What does that leadership look like?,” you might ask! To demonstrate, let’s describe the typical problems that exist and then take a look at remedies that leaders apply to overcome them.

Here are a few samples of behaviors that reduce the chances of the team creating synergy and delivering extraordinary results:

·         The overall goal of the project is not clear

·         The relevance of the project to the greater vision of the company is not clear

·         It is not clear what’s in it for individuals and their respective teams or departments

·         People are bringing in baggage from the last time the same thing was tried and failed

·         In the absence of a regular progress review process, the project manager is either micro-managing or hesitating to ask for the status of action items, so as not to come across as distrusting team members

·         There is hardly any informal communication to address issues between formal meetings

·         Team members are hesitant to surface issues

·         There is no excitement about the project; it feels like drudgery

·         Team members have not been given the tools and processes to do their jobs adequately

·         The process to identify action items and follow-up on their completion is rendered ineffective because team members routinely miss commitments and act like it’s not a big deal

·         Team members avoid having the crucial conversations about missed opportunities and team dynamics, and talk about each other, rather than to each other

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that even one or two of these dysfunctions can ruin the team’s results and morale. Leading transitions successfully requires the anticipation and prevention of many of the items mentioned above in the planning phase. Just as importantly, close attention and swift action are necessary to make course corrections on team dynamics and personal accountability on a going basis.

The person who is leading the transition ought to have a balance of courage and consideration so that he/she is willing to surface the tough issues and work thorough them with the team effectively. They need to establish multiple channels of formal and informal communication to ensure information flows to and from the team. They need to pay close attention to the silos that form and actively break those down. They also need to have a sufficient amount of empathy to be able to observe and comprehend the team dynamics and individual behavior patterns and make the right interventions to get then back on track.

Of course, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to “Change Management” and as such, there is much more that can be said on this topic, but I believe if you take on a paradigm that change management is really about leading a culture transformation, you will set yourself on the path that will ensure your eventual success.

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You can now listen to the new 5-part audio series, “Transforming Your Workplace Experience!" This audio series serves as both a great standalone introduction to culture transformation, as well as a companion to our previously available free culture transformation guide. In the series, I walk you through some applications and examples of the concepts presented in the guide, so that you can more effectively put them into practice and get motivated by the progress you will start making. I know that after learning and applying the concepts and distinctions that I present in the guide and audio series, you will be more qualified than ever to create extraordinary cultures that consistently deliver breakthrough results!

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About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.

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As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!

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