Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


Insights in Change Management—Interview with James G. Bohn, Ph.D., Johnson Controls (Part 2 of 3)

Change Management practitioners are in the fray of turning strategy into ROI. This often feels like nailing Jell-O on the wall but seasoned practitioners have insights that the rest of us can benefit from.

This is a continuation of the interview with James G. Bohn, Ph.D., Director Global Change Management Office, Johnson Controls. For Part 1 please click here. Part 3 will be published shortly. You can subscribe to ensure that you don’t miss it.

4.       3D—What are the three essentials that you bake into every CM initiative? What are the three most important decisions you make as a CM practitioner?

First, evaluate: How does the executive level intend to support the change? And part of this requires spending time with them first because in organizations when executives make a change they have a rationale about why they want to make a change that is so essential to success.  There are so many things competing for people’s attention.  The second thing that I major on, and this goes back to my belief that reducing anxiety is change management, is communication to and with people.  And I say this not so much as cliché, I am talking about spending time with people one-on-one, trying to understand “why is it you might react to this?”, “what are those concerns”; keeping them apprised of things good or bad because that builds trust.

And that would be the final one. So the three are executive commitment, effective communication, and building trust. And I am regularly coaching people I work with that every change either builds or destroys trust. You may be able to get through this one by forcing your way through it, but people have long memories.  If you have destroyed trust it is very difficult to get it back. So trust is a big part of effective change.

5.       Lessons Learned—What failure taught you the most useful lesson?

A lack of attention to detail, because I believed already knew how to do something. This has caused me serious challenges in the past. When I already have a concept in mind that I think will work, and it might even sound as insignificant as finding the right conference room to have a meeting or ensuring that I have someone’s email right, if done ineffectively can have a significant impact. 

It’s easy when you have mastered something many times to take it for granted, so it’s a message to myself to focus harder on the details. I focused on this on my last blog post, “Blind Spot #1: Don’t forget to check your rearview mirror.”  It’s easy to fall into, especially as busy as we all are.

I really have to challenge us: how long does it really take to talk to someone about a specific issue? It doesn’t have to take an hour but we have to take the five minutes up front to clarify what you mean. And very often we are dismissing this kind of detail.  Learning from this kind of thing really becomes a victory. 

6.       SWOT—What is most important characteristic or attribute required to be a great CM practitioner? What is the most common Achilles heel?

The attribute of most significance is perseverance and the most common Achilles heel is defaulting to what we have done before (e.g., “I’ll just use this stakeholder matrix…”). It happens in all professions but in ours in particular it might be more prevalent to fall back, for example to follow a methodology flippantly as if we were general practitioners—as in, “I’ll just hand out these pills and it will all go well.” But the other side of that is that so much of what we do is an art. We find places where if we don’t stick with it, if we don’t persist through the difficult things—the tedious things and the things that are boring—at the end of the day we will not get this done.

 I think that when we talk about human behavior, motivation, and all that, it’s very engaging but when it comes to doing the hard work it might not be as stimulating. But if we don’t persevere we will never complete the change, we won’t embed it in the organizational DNA. It will just sit out there in the land of dusty three-ring binders and the people that were excited will just put it back on the shelf, then revisit the same issue months or years later.

The institutionalization of change is the hard part. Inspiring people to action is one thing, helping them sustain this over time is much more difficult and so I think that perseverance is the key.  Organizations are addicts to novelty, but it is persistence to get things done that embeds change.

7.       Touchstones—What are the top three CM resources you refer to?  Recommend to others?

This is probably where I am outside the norm but I read research all the time. There are three complex journals that I read.  I select articles on efficacy and leadership primarily and group dynamics. I read:

  • Journal of Change Management
  • Journal of Applied Psychology
  • Psychological Review

I’ll find a journal article, and I’ll take it on a plane and probably read it three or four times until I really get it because as we both know research is so dense that sometimes it’s hard to master. In fact I have one on ADKAR that I’ve probably looked at 10 times because I just want to keep embedding it in my mind. I‘ve got one on organizational citizenship that I have literally read 20 times (Lee & Allen, Lee, K. & Allen, N. A. (2002) Organisational Citizenship Behaviour and Workplace Deviance: The Role of Affect and Cognitions. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, [1], pp. 131-142). It talks a lot about why people resist change and a big part of this goes back to the notion of being treated fairly in the change process, which goes back to justice. A lot of this is deeply rooted in people’s sense of fairness—I know that sounds very fundamental but I think we forget that and, you know, the people who don’t forget this are the ones who get change done.

Part 3 coming soon.

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