Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Part 1: Re-inventing your career using Change Management Best Practices – The Journey
November 19, 2009, 11:17 pm
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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.”

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