change part 2: managing change

Managing change is tricky.

Mostly because if you are managing it you probably have a to-do list that is so long sleeping is nowhere on it. You find yourself staring at the mid level manager who comes through the door who softly says “I am not sure the people are happy with all this change” and you have to stop yourself at the last minute from saying “no shit Sherlock.”

Organizational change, even if you are a great delegator, means you are being bombarded from a zillion directions with real issues and real non-issues none of which are actually on your own to-do list (which are the things that kind of insure the organization actually make it through the change transition).

But. Despite it all there is a really critical aspect that can help.

Experiencing what the on-the-ground people are experiencing.

Not just lip service but real experience.

until it happens to youNothing, absolutely nothing, matches experiencing the change.

Now. No one expects the senior manager, even some junior managers, to step down and do the day to day job during a change transition. But to truly manage change nothing beats actually going through the experience of it, in some form or fashion, with the people who are actually making it happen.

What about empathy? Sure. Empathy helps because it shows some glimmer of understanding.

But empathy by throwing parties and focusing on the ‘destination’ ain’t gonna cut it.

This is about the journey. And making the journey together … bumps and all.

So. Experience comes in a variety of forms (or let’s say aspects). I guess beyond the initial plan construct I would suggest as a manager/leader there are a couple of key things in the experience sharing:

1. Communication. Recognize that communication happens (between the people within the change as well as amongst all levels) so decide to manage it rather than letting it manage you. Communicate openly, often and in two way discussions. Try and tailor your messages to the audience. Ah. Here comes the experience part.

Step in, experience something on the ground, communicate while in the experience and then “of the experience” to others.

Let’s say you visit the third shift and see what’s happening. Don’t interrupt their workflow but communicate. Talk about what’s happening (and who know … you may actually learn some actionable thing).

And then share that experience with the others.

2. Organization Participation. Let’s face it. Participation increases a sense of ownership and control. People want to be part of the solution so find as many ways as you can to involve yourself and them. Once again experiencing it helps (sure better than a ‘suggestion box’).

3. Be visible (not just with words). Someone in some business book a long time ago called this “management by wandering.” Now. I am not big on management by wandering (in general) however during a change time it is a valuable technique. On several levels it is valuable. The visibility factor is obvious. But the observation factor (being observed by others … actually seen beyond a memo or an email) is probably underrated. As you will see in Change 3 & 4 I discuss when plans break apart. Well. They do. And if you are in the midst of the shattered pieces it is easier to see what is salvageable and what is not (in addition you may actually observe better pieces being developed right before your eyes).

Experiencing what is happening is a great leveler of the playing field.stages of change

Everyone in your team or organization will feel differently about change (or let’s say some typical groupings will emerge on how they think about it).

For some the emotion is excitement enjoying the adrenaline rush associated with change.  They seek to change large and small things in their personal lives so in business it is a natural action. Their enemy is monotony.

For some the emotion associated with the word change is anxiety and fear.  Losing control is not something they embrace and any type of change, regardless of the size, will send them into a tizzy (and are typically vocal about it).  They enjoy knowing what will happen, when it will happen, and to what degree it will happen (e.g., what is the plan).

Regardless of the variety within an organization “change happens.”  It is inevitable.  In fact, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle says, “There will always be an element of uncertainty in the universe.”  So, if something is not certain, wouldn’t that indicate there is change on the horizon?

So leaders should take note it is better to manage change than react to change (we all know this).

And in managing change everyone needs to remember that Change Agents, or people who initiate change, can be some of the most well-liked or deeply-despised people in any organization, office, or even family.  There are expectation to live up to with energy, out of the box thinking, foresight & flexibility and conviction.  I can almost guarantee if you are a change agent, and you are successful at it, you are both loved and hated.

Once again. A great equalizer? Experiencing it. To get beyond ‘like or hate’ and to earn their respect (which may be more important than being liked or hated in a change transition) you have to experience what people are going through.

Lastly. Where on-the-ground experience really benefits.

You have put the plan in action (and this doesn’t have to be organizational like I am focusing on but could also be purely from an individual perspective) and change is happening. And even with a tight plan true change is typically organic where the plan is set and some seeds are planted and the growth is not systematic or even always predictable. To manage this you need some flexibility to work in this environment and be aware of the progress and ready to ride surges in change transition. You may not be able to control and report progress as easily as with systematic change, but with this organic change, when it starts happening, it can happen quickly. You will be surprised how often being involved in some way within organizational change that you; a leader (a change agent) can affect the speed and the outcome. It may sound odd but true change agents seem to draw critical change pieces like a magnet (I have seen it time and time again).

So. Wrapping thus up. Managing change. The interesting thing about managing change is that you need to be prepared to accommodate flexibility (e.g., change) in all aspects of everything.

The plan will change.

The people will change (attitudinally as well as comings & goings sometimes).

Maybe even some words in the forward vision may change (as long as the intent doesn’t change that is okay).

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Written by Bruce