Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

“How related are Project Management and Change Management?”

This question was posed on the LinkedIn Group “Chaotic Change” by Joe Rafter,  AVP, Change Management at Yellowbook  and since it was such a good one I thought it warranted re-publishing here.

“Project “thinking” and change “thinking” are related in many ways from the tactical skills to the leadership skills. For more click to this discussion .”

My response?

Agreed 100% – with 3 caveats:

1.  Not every initiative requires Change Management (e.g. a technology hardware implementation that has no visible or systemic impact on users).  However, the greater the magnitude of change the more relevant Change Management becomes, i.e. when speed of adoption, proficiency and ultimate utilization (Prosci terms) are key success factors then Change Management best practices can tangibly improve results.

2.  I see “Change Management” as a combination of 3 characteristics:

  • Change Management Program Practices (example would be Prosci’s methodology, but there are many others as well)
  • Transformational leadership style “Change Savvy” (as described by Herold and Fedor below)
  • Organizational capacity and capability for change

3.  Would also like to suggest that Change Management, while symbiotic, is a very different discipline to Project, or Program, Management.  And, by the way, reading and implementing Kotter’s “Leading Change” (while a great primer) may be helpful for Developmental or Transitional change it is not enough for Transformational Change.

In Strategic Transformational Change Programs we typically work hand-in-hand with the Steering Committee to evaluate, strategize, implement, monitor and adjust.  Change Management is set up as a distinct track roughly 10-25% of the project budget allowance, depending on the complexity of change and the change capability of the organization.

Some resources that you might be interested in:

  • “It Starts with One”, J. Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen, Wharton School Publishing, New Jersey, 2008
  • “Change the Way You Lead Change”, David M. Herold and Donald B. Fedor, Stanford Business Books, 2008, Cal, USA.
  • “Strategic Organizational Change: building Change Capabilities into Your Organization”, Ellen R. Auster, Krista K. Wylie, Michael S. Valente, Palgrave MacMillian, 2005, New York New York.

Thank you for asking a question that we too believe is key to transformational success and for allowing an opportunity to share information that we are passionate about.

Part 3: Re-inventing your career using Change Management Best Practices – Overcoming the barriers
November 25, 2009, 10:52 pm
Filed under: - People Change Management, - Professional Development | Tags: ,

Okay, so now we understand the emotional roller coaster of change (Part 1), and we put together a Change Plan (Part 2) to get us energized. That sounded great.  So what holds us back? Why don’t we make smooth and fast progress? 

Well, putting aside personal capabilities and the job market (certainly not inconsequential), we procrastinate – right? Well, it’s natural inertia at work.  There are also, potentially, other factors at work.  

In “It Starts with One” (1) Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen explore the “mental maps” that stand in our way of unleashing the power “to deliver superior, sustained strategic change”.  It’s good stuff.  They have a model that looks at the three barriers to progress: “failure to see”, “failure to move” and “failure to finish”.  Sound familiar?  Understanding these, and other, natural hurdles enlighten us as to how to overcome them.

One of the first hurdles is the “I get it trap” – the notion that we already know or understand something; have tried it or have a solution that we are just not quite ready to pull the trigger on. Dr. Phil has a nifty colloquialism to challenge this mindset: “How’s that workin’ for ya?”.  Usually this little review generates a pause as we reconsider – and the, now self-evident, answer is “not so well”.  So, don’t duck, dodge, procrastinate or click away. Instead, with an open mind consider transforming ourselves is a project – it is work and we will need to do something different if we want a different result. 

Can you see it? “Failure to See”

The first hurdle that Black and Gregersen note is “Failure to See”.  In the case of personal transformation this means “Do you really know what you want?”, “Do you accurately and fully comprehend your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and clearly see how you want to fit them into the current job market”, “Do you have a clear vision of the desired end state?”.  Often the answer to this is “sort of”.  Well, we might have a range of possibilities in mind.  The more focused the vision, the narrower the range then the more specific your actions can be.

Consider writing out your Personal Objectives for a 3-year horizon.  This can be a draft, a work in progress, modified as the desired end state becomes more clear. It becomes a manifestation of your vision. 

Are you moving towards your vision? “Failure to Move”

So once we have a clear picture of our future, why do we hesitate?  Seriously, reflecting deeply on this will liberate us.  Several possibilities:

  • Too busy, too tired:  Make room in your schedule by eliminating or postponing other activities. To a degree it is about priorities.
  • Too expensive, other responsibilities: Can you eke out a little space, a course or a couple of hours with a Coach perhaps? Inching towards the goal is still progress.
  • Fear of inadequacy: be brave, we all experience it. But resist this. It is part of the journey to go from doing the now ‘wrong’ thing very well to doing the new ‘right’ thing poorly, to doing the new ‘right’ thing brilliantly.  There is no way around it, only through it.
    • Do a Gap analysis (i.e. what skills will I need, which do I have, what do I need to work on?). Begin filling the gaps.
    • Find great mentors – many successful people enjoy sharing their knowledge – it is a mutually rewarding relationship
    • Become a “student” of your goal – if it is Enterprise Architecture then read everything you can find, find courses, find seminars, find Associations, find Groups on LinkedIn.  There are dozens of opportunities.
    • Find ‘safe’ places to practice, e.g. volunteering for non-profit organizations that can benefits from the base that you create. Take some measured risks.

 Are you there yet? “Failure to Finish”

So we start this project, personal transformation, and we struggle.  Perhaps it is not the first attempt or perhaps it seems too big, too impossible, and we pause.

It’s important to remember that a moment’s reaction is a part of a larger context.  Reinventing oneself is not a weekend project perhaps not even a seminar or semester project.  Progress will take time and we may not always control the pace.  We will get tired and frustrated.  The challenges may seem intimidating at times. Two concepts can help us here:

1. Expect to “get tired”.  Change is difficult.  There will be times when the irritations of the status quo pale in comparisons to the frustrations of change.  It may seem easier to stop or to step back to a lesser goal.  What to do? Sometimes we need to push through and sometimes we need a break. Consider the timing and, if “life” permits, schedule a pick-up date.  You might benefit from a review of your Personal Objectives or a word with your mentor. 

2. Sometimes we “get lost” – lose track of where we are in our journey.  Look back and consider what you have accomplished:

  • Have you created a clear and compelling vision? Do you know what you want?
  • Do you have a plan for development (however general)?
  • Have you researched the requirements of the new career?
  • Have you done a gap analysis?
  • Have you networked and met people in the roles on the promotion ladder?
  • Are you developing relationships with mentors?
  • Have you taken any relevant training (including online seminars)?

Remember that your transformation is a journey – track your progress and celebrate your accomplishments.  This is not inconsequential.  Successes along the way fuel next steps. 

Anticipate that there will be set-backs and delays.  Change usually takes longer and more effort that we wish but progress proves it is possible.

If you remain committed to your vision then re-commit to your journey regularly by remembering where you are today, where you were and where you want to be.

Best of luck in your personal change journey.

Has this helped you understand your journey?  In projects, leading and managing people through change is a key success factor for executional effectiveness.  In organizations, Change Management is a powerful differentiator and strategic imperative. 


(1) “It Starts with One”, J. Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen, Wharton School Publishing, New Jersey, 2008

Part 2: Re-inventing your career using Change Management Best Practices – Energizing the Plan
November 20, 2009, 6:34 pm
Filed under: - Professional Development | Tags:

Okay, we understand the emotional roller coaster of change (Part 1) and now we need a plan for our transformational change – our next career transition. We need to get energized and organized.

What are the best practices recommended in Change Management for pulling it altogether? John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor and author is widely regarded a thought leader in how to ‘do’ change. In “Leading Change” he promotes 8 principles. If we apply them to our personal career transformation it might look like this – we need to:

1. Establish a Sense Of Urgency 

  • Understand our timeline and commit to deadlines

2. Create the Guiding Coalition 

  • Assemble our support team, e.g. family members, professional career coaches, mentors

3. Develop a Vision and Strategy 

  • Know what we want and what it will take to get there, e.g. training, professional association memberships, etc

4. Communicate the Change Vision 

  • Share our vision with those who can help us get there, network
  • Create a communication plan and execute it, e.g. resumes, cover letters, etc.

5. Empower Broad-based Action 

  • Begin with small steps and build momentum, e.g. register on job boards and update / build your profile every week 
  • Get rid of obstacles, e.g. assign time in our week perhaps get up an hour earlier each day 
  • Encourage ourselves (self talk) to take some risks, try some activities such as professional association events, that might be outside our norm

6. Generate Short-term Wins 

  • Identify what milestones will look like, e.g. completing the resume, the first interview, the first networking referral, etc.
  • Celebrate them, acknowledge progress successes
  • Send updates and thank you’s to people who contributed to those successes

7. Consolidate Gains and Producing More Change 

  • At each new plateau, following each milestone, review progress and expand the plan 
  • Reinvigorate the process by considering new or different approaches, initiatives, events, etc.

8. Anchor New Approaches in the Culture

  • Once in our new position, we need to strengthen our beach head. We need to continue to develop expertise and to prepare for the next transition
  • Commit to participating in professional development activities once a month, join a committee or Special Interest Group, volunteer for a speaking engagement on a hot topic

One of the elements of change that most intimidates us is loss of control – ‘being changed’ as opposed to managing the change ourselves.  So re-gaining control in such situations requires contingency and ‘Plan B’ planning.  In this case, we can:

  • Contingency Plan: look at what organizations are doing and consider the same, i.e. cut back on discretionary spending, put some cash in liquid investments in case your income is suddenly cut off or reduced.  The more time you can buy, the more control and therefore the more options you have.  Conventional wisdom used to suggest 3 months for middle management and up to 1 year for senior management, however in this economy, you might prepare for a longer stretch.
  • Build your Plan B: create a concurrent path, i.e. while continuing in the current job begin the job hunt process.  Create a resume, get feedback from trusted advisors, begin discreetly ‘floating’ the word that you are looking, research and evaluate your options, monitor job boards and network, network, network.  Continue on this concurrent path while monitoring the status of your current job and either accelerate or decelerate your pace depending on your judgment of the current situation.

What’s next? Well, if you are like me perhaps procrastination – but that’s not all. Whether you call it procrastination, resistance, fear, intimidation or just endurance, the fact is that Change Management best practices have some insights into how to overcome the hurdles. We will look at these in Part 3.

Has this helped you plan your change journey? In projects, leading and managing people through change is a key success factor for executional effectiveness. In organizations, Change Management is a powerful differentiator and strategic imperative.

Symphini Change Management Inc. specializes in transforming businesses by leveraging people, process and technology through change. Implementing change? Building Change Capability? Give us a call 416 845-4030 or email


(1) “Leading Change”, John P. Kotter, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA, 1996  

Part 1: Re-inventing your career using Change Management Best Practices – The Journey
November 19, 2009, 11:17 pm
Filed under: - Professional Development | Tags:

What larger transformation do we face than changing what we do 40-50-60 hours a week?  Yet it is common knowledge that most of us will all change careers between 4 and 7 times in our lifetime.  So we will get good at the transition and it will become easy, right?  Not so much.  Why? Because transformational change is always an effort.  Change Management best practices help individuals change.

Inertia is our natural state. Most of us are creatures of habit.  With our careers we like to get settled and ride the job for a while and perhaps enjoy some change in other parts of our lives, such as dating, raising a family, sports competition, home renovation, stamp collecting or other vibrant parts of our well-rounded lives.  

Managing career transition is a major project, a major transformation that requires a commitment of significant energy. Sometimes we choose the timing and at other times it is chosen for us.

A case study

When I finished High School I told my English teacher that I would come back and take his job (yes, we have laughed about this since).  In the next four years of University I thought I would go into Business (that might be the only decision that has stood the test of longevity) and on completion took a ‘job’ in Policy and Procedures Documentation.  Well, that got tedious pretty quickly (classic 1 year transition) so I changed again into a ‘career’ of consulting, earned my stripes with Business Process Re-engineering. I entered the accreditation process and emerged 3 yrs later with a Certified Management Consulting designation.  Some years later transitioned into Strategic Marketing and spent 15+ years business casing, developing, launching and managing financial services and technology products.  Something was missing and over the past 5+ years I have invested in studying and deploying advancements in Change Management to improve execution effectiveness.  

My journey includes: conventional education and professional training; junior analyst to leadership; standard employment applications (old school and online); subject matter expertise re-training (employer paid and personal investments); employee / contractor/ entrepreneur roles; roles in National and international companies as well as start-ups.  So, depending on which transitions one counts, I figure I am up to 6 major transitions at least, of various transformational magnitudes. This is a common story.

The point here is my experience, like so many, runs gamut of different situations and I have thoroughly enjoyed them all. But it’s a lot and the game is not over yet.

You may have a similar story.  The funny thing is – the change does not really get easier each time.  There is always a struggle when we reach for a change that begins outside our natural reach. 

Change Management Best Practices in Re-inventing Ourselves

Let’s look at applying some of the best practices of change gurus to our process of career transformation. 

We have chosen three key elements of Change Management:

  1. The emotional journey – Kübler-Ross
  2. Leading ourselves through change (Part 2) – John Kotter
  3. What holds us back and how to overcome (Part 3) – Stewart and Gregersen

The Emotional Journey

The Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle (1) is widely regarded as the first meaningful point of reference to understanding how we go through change. Now it may seem melodramatic to compare death and dying to career change but in many smaller ways the analogies are considered very relevant. 

Career change, at least, represents leaving the familiar and the secure.  It can also represent a form of catastrophic personal loss (job, income, freedom) and worry in the event of lay-offs, firings or downsizing.

The original model describes five discrete phases (later models iterated by others include 3 more phases – “Stability” and “Immobilization” prior to Denial and “Testing” after Depression, before Acceptance).  For our purposes the 8 stage model is useful to see how we might transition to an energized, constructive career transformation:

  1. Stability: This is the status quo before any change.  We blithely coast along enjoying the productivity of a great fitting job.
  2. Immobilization: Here we begin to realize that ‘all is not well’.  There may be a niggling concern (recession worries, rumors of layoffs) or an element of shock (plant closings) but we do nothing. We may be a little paralyzed by concern and the ambiguity of the situation. Our self talk: “It’s not that bad”, “The pay is great even if FILL IN THE BLANK is not the greatest”.
  3. Denial: Here we more actively try to avoid the inevitable.  Our self talk and conversations with peers might be along the lines: “I’m fine”, “Downsizing will not happen here”, “My job / career path will not be affected”, “I like my current career well enough”.  
  4. Anger:  Now we are frustrated and the bottled up concerns of the prior stages may be channeled as anger: “Why me? It’s not fair!”, “I have already spent enough time and money re-training”.  However true this may be eventually we begin to accept the change.
  5. Bargaining: This stage involves the hope that we can somehow postpone or delay the change. Often we negotiate with ourselves – “I’ll work on my resume later”
  6. Depression:  At this point we are resigned that we have to change but not happy with the prospect.
  7. Acceptance: Now we begin to embrace the change “It’s going to be okay”, “I can do this”.

Dr. Kübler-Ross noted that not everybody experiences these steps in the same order and not everybody experiences them all, though she believed a person will always experience at least two. Also, of note we may switch between two or more stages, returning to one or more several times before working through it.

Well, this gives us an idea of the emotional journey that we undertake when we face a major change. We can be self aware and prepared to manage the process.

What’s next?  Well we need a plan of course. In Part 2 we will look at the John Kotter’s, a widely regarded authority on change, principles for making change happen.

Has this helped you understand your change journey?  In projects, leading and managing people through change is a key success factor for executional effectiveness.  In organizations, Change Management is a powerful differentiator and strategic imperative. 

Symphini Change Management Inc. specializes in transforming businesses by leveraging people, process and technology through change.  Implementing change? Building Change Capability?  Give us a call 416 845-4030 or email


(1) Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a psychiatrist whose thought leadership was so respected as to earn her twenty honorary degrees not to mention Time Magazine’s honor as one of the “100 Greatest Thinkers of the Century.”

Beyond the “burning platform” – advancements in Change Management

Thought leadership continues to advance the discipline. And occasionally, we dare to challenge the ‘sacred cows’ of our own discipline. In this post we look at the “burning platform” and “Who Moved My Cheese”. This is done respectfully, in recognition that these were advances in their time (but times change) and that every situation is different (just because we have a hammer does not mean every protrusion is a nail). So here we go.

“Burning Platform”

The “burning platform” (1) is often used to suggest that people must fear change in order to move forward.  Likewise, Kotter’s “sense of urgency” (2) is referenced to drive people into the future.

However, considering the pace of change that teams are required to deliver today, operating with this level of ongoing anxiety is a state that is not sustainable. It is the equivalent of idling a car at 5000 rpm for weeks on end – the engine will burn out no matter how well maintained. Instead, a different social contract is required of the employer – employee relationship. Such that expectations are re-set.

A different, measured pace is appropriate – quicker perhaps a speed walking marathon (with all the attendant training and support), but not a sprint marathon.

[Of note, this was NOT the original intent of the phrase “burning platform” –this phrase was coined by Daryl Conner in 1998.  Since this post was published Daryl has published his original interpretation here “The Real Story of the Burning Platform” which is still valid today. Focusing on commitment, resolve and resilience are still revolutionary mindset shifts for many change leaders and practitioners.]

“Who Moved My Cheese?”

“Who Moved My Cheese?”(3), let’s first remember that for its time this book was insightful. However, it was written more than 20 years ago (1998). The reality is that the intuitive message in this seminal work is that it stinks to have change forced on you with no explanation. That was always true but is not helpful enough.  Explaining the change is still not enough.

Both external and internal environments of organizations have changed dramatically and Change Management thought leadership has advanced with them. The notion that change happens “to us” is often still true. However, current prevailing thought leadership advocates toward the continuum of engaging users in the solutioning process and earning their commitment as the optimal way for expediting adoption (reducing resistance).


The world is moving forward and Change Management is advancing with it – are you?


(1) The concept of a burning platform is comes from the Piper Alpha oil rig catastrophe, a massive explosion and fire in the North Sea off Scotland in 1988. 167 of 229 men died. All that survived had jumped into the frigid North Sea from a height of more than 100 feet. The choice was that of certain death vs potential death.

(2) “Leading Change”, John P. Kotter, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA, 1996. “Creating a Sense of Urgency” is the first of eight principles of leading change.  Of note, Professor Kotter continues to publish and expand the body of knowledge on Change Management since this publication.

(3) “Who Moved My Cheese”, Spencer Johnson, Penguin Putnam Inc, New York, 2002. This is a wonderful management parable of four characters – Hem and Haw are resistors while Sniff and Scurry are early adopters – who hunt around a maze for cheese. The cheese is not always in the same place so they have to adapt. The one who adapts most quickly documents his insights in ‘the writing on the wall’. It illustrates different reactions to unsolicited change and provides some advice on how to adapt.

‘A ha’ moments – Making change produce the results envisioned in the Business Plan
November 7, 2009, 5:04 pm
Filed under: - People Change Management, - Project Management | Tags: , , ,

Inside the world of committed change specialists there exists an angst: ‘How can we make this transformation stick?’.  Not just in the limited sense of getting people to adopt the change rather in the sense of the original intent: ‘producing the results targeted in the Business Case’. 

If this were simple, every implementation would go in on time, on budget and ratchet organizational performance by the forecast.  It is neither simple nor given.  So we continue to research and study.  Every so often in our continuous learning journey we collaborate with other Change Specialists or read publications that generate ‘a ha’ moments. 

This post provides a review of “Change the Way You Lead Change”, David M. Herold and Donald B. Fedor , Stanford Business Books, 2008 that articulates a few of those ‘a ha’s.   

Sometimes an ‘a ha’ is as simple as shining a light on a context that had dimmed into the background and sometimes as complex as linking otherwise disparate ideas together for a different perspective — Professors Herold and Fedor do both in this extrapolation of what change realistically is and how to take it to the next level. 

How refreshing!  The authors put leading and managing change BACK into its rightful place – connecting strategy and execution — sounds obvious, but they remind us of the challenges of these realities. 

In fact, they remind us that what we have come to believe is simple is in fact ‘simplex’ — a combination of relatively simple approaches in a dynamic environment of complexity. They remind us that this is why so many change initiatives fall short of targets in execution – often we under estimate, under resource, under discipline the execution of great strategy.  They challenge us to re-introduce a more comprehensive of thinking about change.

Many organizations have incorporated leading and managing change training into their leadership programs.  They have incorporated Kotter’s 8 guiding principles into their Program / Project delivery.  So these standard best practices ‘ check boxes’ are ticked — and yet still transformational change strategies fall short. Why?  Transformational change is different in magnitude, penetration, duration, impact and stress on the organization.  

Firstly, even the most committed Program teams often fail to customize and deeply apply the basic change management capabilities that are available to them.  It’s the ‘dusty treadmill’ dilemma – too little, too late.

Secondly, organizations underestimate the complexity and the dynamic nature of change.   For example:

  • Identifying optimal organizational strategies (itself a fundamentally complex endeavor) does not mean that the organization has the adaptive capabilities to transform.   Assessing and addressing the gap between current and required adaptive capability should be an elementary first step — yet it is often skipped. 
  • Considering who will lead the change — no, really considering the skills, influence and time commitment required for success.  As an aside, it is often flouted as a weakness that leaders “abdicate” their responsibilities to the Program team.  However, there is viable middle ground here such that leader benefits from qualified resources to support them in leading the change — this support can be “engaged” not “delegated”.  Good change practitioners hold the leader accountable for their role and enable them leader appropriately.
  • Understanding, fully, the internal context — the impacts on structures, systems and processes and the track record of the organization under other similar circumstances.
  • And much more.

Experienced change practitioners see that the discipline is coming full circle — from an intuitive leadership attribute to a well-defined discipline comprised of multiple capabilities.    

In the gap between the two however is a place where organizations have tried to train and systematize it into their people and processes.  Transformational change is not that simple or that static.  It is dynamic and complex — simplex.

Herold and Fedor enlighten us of the comprehensive thinking required to transform effectively – and the sophistication of effort to get it right.