Where do we learn to lead change? For some of us, we start develop our skills in childhood. For me, team-based activities such as volleyball, precision figure skating, and marching band served as a significant learning laboratory for many of life’s lessons. I learned perseverance, sacrifice, leadership, and hard work. I also learned to help my teammates deal with challenges we faced such as changes in coaching and staff members, rules and regulations, and the turnover of team members.
For others, we learn to lead change through our professional experiences. Project management, a facet of so many of our jobs, is a natural foray into leading and managing change. We may not think of it that way, or have a label for what we are doing, but we are certainly attempting to muster support for a new way of working and help the organizations we serve become more effective. That takes a considerable amount of skill. Some seem to possess this skill naturally, while others need to learn and practice it more deliberately.
I’ve been working on a consulting project with a friend of mine, where we are supporting an organization that is establishing a new change management function. For the first time, accomplished leaders from around the organization have been brought together to formalize how the company leads and manages change. This group is establishing a common methodology, approach, and mindset for how it leads change, and how it will teach others to do so.
We have found that there are three sets of core competencies necessary for leading change:
- Consulting Process Knowledge
- Group Process and Dynamics
- Change Management Theory and Methods
Recently, Barbara Bunker and Dick Axelrod led a series of sessions at the Organization Development Network Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. They described work they were doing to build organization development competency in HR business partners with some of their clients. They too, found that the same set of core competencies was important for laying a foundation for leading and managing change.
What have you discovered from your own work? What do you believe is critical to becoming a change leader in your organization?
rick maurer says
I like what you have to say. I suggest one addition to the Change Management Theory and Methods and that’s understanding resistance. Of course good OD practitioners get this, but many of the change management processes in use seem to treat resistance as 1. something to get past, 2. something to overcome, or 3. the book just ignores it altogether. That’s where our profession can add significant value to change projects. (As I pat both of our backs.) I look forward to reading more of your posts.
Thanks for contributing, Rick! I think you are very right about the common approaches towards resistance. I always think that resistance is a powerful source of data. What is it that we can learn from someone who doesn’t just fall in line and execute they way we (think we) want them to? I had one client who thought they could just “train it” (e.g. the resistance) out of their people. Unfortunately, they have realized that this doesn’t work, mostly because their assumptions are flawed (e.g. “It must be a lack of understanding, right? Let’s just tell them and train them again!”) Some of the most successful projects I have participated in have come when we looked for and embraced the challenges people were offering against a proposed new direction. We learned a whole lot, and usually ending up seeing and planning for a broader view of the system we were impacting because of the valuable perspectives of the resistors! And, low and behold, when we engaged the resistors in the change process to help us overcome deficiencies and disconnects they identified, they often became the most vocal supporters.
I look forward to following your blog as well.
rick maurer says
I like the idea of training them out of it. Maybe you should market that!
I developed a pretty simple approach to resistance. There are three levels:
1. I don’t get it. 2. I don’t like. 3. I don’t like you. Too often we think that resistance is Level 1 – or that we can “train them out of it.” when, in fact, it often is Level 2 fear or Level 3 distrust.
I like your description of successful projects. It seems so simple and obvious, but sadly, (to quote someone who I can’t recall) common sense isn’t all that common.
Great model of resistance – I like the simplicity and clarity! I’ve been meaning to read your book, and I will get to it soon. Thanks for priming my mental model on resistance – very helpful!