Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Insights in Change Management—Interview with James G. Bohn, Ph.D., Johnson Controls (Part 1 of 3)

Who knows more about change management than practitioners in the trenches? These are professionals who are vested in helping organizations achieve the promises to the Board (the strategy, “the change”) and who have dedicated their careers to figuring out how to do this well. In this series, Insights in Change Management, we will hear the voices of these professionals.

Jim Bohn is a seasoned change management practitioner with deep experience in facilitation, diagnostics, and coaching. He currently works on innovation, development, and standardization at Johnson Controls as Director, Global Change Management Office. He has managed large-scale client transitions ranging from pharmaceuticals to industrial and technology operations. Jim’s projects have ranged from mergers and acquisitions to large-scale IT change across North America, Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Europe. You can find Jim on LinkedIn here and on his blog, The Impossible Art of Middle Management, here.

This interview comprises a series of questions and answers that will be published in three parts:

  1. Part 1—What brought you here? Includes: How did you get started? What’s your definition of change management? Where do you start?
  2. Part 2—Where is here for you? Includes: What do you bake into every engagement? What have you learned from failure? In SWOT analysis, what are the top three touchstones you refer to?
  3. Part 3—Who inspires you? Includes: What gets you up in the morning or keeps you going? What does the future of change management need? As a bonus, Jim answers the question, “What would you like to ask other practitioners?”

This is Part 1.  Parts 2 and 3 will be published shortly. You can subscribe to ensure that you don’t miss them.

Here we go….

1. Your story—How did you arrive at change management? Why did you choose this discipline and why?

Around about 1980, I received a flyer from University Associates, which at that time was one of the premier change management facilitation groups in the world. I was in product design at the time and always knew I wanted to work with people and help people adjust to change. What I had witnessed was that often people would flail through change but sometimes a good leader managed to help people through, whether it was through communications or just anticipating barriers. It was logical to me and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I read the flyer and thought, “This is me—this is what I want to do.” In 1992 I had an opportunity to attend a conference and sit down with a magnificent practitioner and I was convinced. As I was working on my PhD and that set the direction for me. I went on to focus on human motivation. That moment set my goals for literally the next 20 years of my life.

2. Perspective—What is your definition of change management? Is there an aspect that has captured your attention that you continue to study and investigate?

It’s very, very simple—it’s reducing anxiety for people while they are adjusting to change.

I really believe that most people, when faced with something that is complex or new, are not necessarily afraid of it, but they are apprehensive. I think that’s legitimate for anyone. I don’t care if you are an executive of a company, if something big is going to happen you’re going to get that visceral reaction. As entertainers, performers, sports enthusiasts…when the last of the national anthem is sung, there’s anticipation of something about to happen. I don’t think any human being can escape that sensation but if I can help them to reduce that a little bit so that they’re not so absorbed by that shot of cortisol—so they’re not so confused—if I can help stop the emotional hijacking so that they can think a little more clearly—if I’ve done some of that, that’s my perspective of change management.

As to my research, in my Ph.D. studies I came across a course called “The contextual determinants of motivation,” outlining the contextual determinants that cause motivation to increase or decrease. I became exposed to Bandura and started to read a lot of his stuff. This was incredibly meaningful to me but I felt there was something missing. There’s a lot of material on self-efficacy and a lot on team efficacy but not a lot on organizational efficacy—what it is that makes organizations believe they can affect outcomes. I am constantly reading on this. If people in the organization collectively have the sense that they can work together, that they can do anything, that’s powerful. (Jim has written a research paper on this subject, Development and Exploratory Validation of an Organizational Efficacy Scale, Human Resource Development Journal, March 2010.)

3. Starting Point—What do you see as the most significant attributes that differentiate change initiatives and how do you approach them differently? Examples might include transitional vs. transformational, culture, impact dimensions (number of people, change history, locales, positive vs. negative impact, etc.).

In my mind, the most significant attribute is something that is compelling to people. Even if people don’t like the change, if it is compelling, it answers the question of the rationale. If it answers the question of “why,” with some depth and meaning to it, then that will cover a multitude of sins. At the end of the day, people might say, “I really don’t want to do this but I really do get why we are doing it.” That will trump anything. It will trump leadership. It will trump process.  

If the organization clearly articulates why we are doing this, and does it in truthful way with a lot of integrity, people will not necessarily gravitate to it but I don’t think they will resist as much. Consider that every three-year-old asks the same question: “Why?”  Why would we think that adults would not have the same need?

Thoughts? Reactions? Please share in the Comments section.

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2 Comments so far
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Another reason why people defend the old way of doing things is to maintain personal stability or feel more in control. They battle against change out of fear of the future, not because of love for the past.

Change Management

Comment by Change Management

change is very necessary as corporate environment is dynamic, so for growth change is must, but due to insecurity of jobs with the coming technical changes, personnel usually resist change.

Comment by Portfolio Management

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