Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

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

Who do you seek out when you are faced with something new? Someone who has done it before, of course. Leading and managing change is fraught with risk—nuanced, contextual, dynamic, and difficult to decipher. Judgment is acquired over time and experience. It is a rare opportunity to speak with a seasoned practitioner in change management and get his or her insights.

This is the final post in the interview series with James G. Bohn, Ph.D., Director, Global Change Management Office, Johnson Controls. For Part 1 please click here; for Part 2 click here.

8.       Inspirations and Aspirations—Who inspires you? Individuals you work with? Do you mentor others? Do pro bono work? Writing? Networking?

Albert Bandura has been my inspiration for nearly 20 years. What I like about him is that his research is readable. I think in many ways it is humanistic. It has helped people in many ways. His work on looking at human freedom from a cognitive point of perspective is just amazing. It’s just fun to read and he is such an iconoclast. He is my number-one read and I’ve even got my daughter, who is a lawyer, reading him as well. 

As far as other inspirations, I am motivated by anyone who persists. It could be a single mother who has worked her way through school. It could be anyone who persists through difficulty and personal change—someone who has overcome a physical handicap. My brother has had polio for 50 years. He has been an amazing inspiration to me—I tell him that all the time. So it’s more about looking at people who persist and using that mentally to say, “This can be done. We are smart people. We just have to figure this out.”

One thing that inspires me and might be outside the norm would be really good fiction. I have just read different authors through the years that have characters that have persisted or overcome, like James Michener. And finally, you’ll get a kick out of this. I also love the movie “Rocky” and have probably seen it 35 times. It’s actually an annual ritual for me.  The very first one where this guy persists and toughs things out, through fear and all the things we go through as human beings. 

Finally, I spend time studying theology for perspective.  Old ideas that have stood the test of time provide me with inspiration and grounding. 

9.       Futuring—If you could imagine one discovery or innovation that would radically improve our CM work, what might that be? What is missing from our “standard” body of knowledge?

I really believe that what’s missing from our standard body of knowledge is an understanding of the relationship between individual motivation and change. I think we are segmented to think that there’s achievement motivation that can drive some people to do some things—there’s power motivation, there’s affiliation motivation—all those different components.

Like any body of knowledge where there is fragmentation, I am looking at the gaps. As practitioners, we just really do not have a way to take the individual motivation and learn how to harness it in a way that’s really effective just yet. I know there is some research out there around it but I just don’t think there’s an easy way to think about those categories. Some of the stuff that has been developed is a bit to glitzy or schmaltzy for me. I’m even skeptical about approaches like Myers-Briggs and that might be heresy in this industry. I am just looking for a basic sense of what motivates an individual and how can we nurture that. I think there are pieces of it all over the place but I don’t see a linkage between individual motivation and change.  Others may challenge that and that might be an interesting tipping point.

10.       Rejuvenation—Helping others through change (leaders and change targets) can be emotionally fatiguing. How do you renew? Re-fuel?

Well, it goes back to some of those things that inspire me, like the annual ritual of watching “Rocky.”  One of the things I do to refuel is, at the beginning of every year, I take a small notebook and write a list of 10 goals. And the way I go back, and this is probably one of those achievement motivation things, is I look back and say I wanted to do xyz this year and just to see that well, I’ve been working at that and I’ve actually accomplished a bit of this. That’s a sense of deep internal satisfaction, that I moved the needle on that, I did something with it.  Even though I worked really hard and it was difficult, something actually did change. Just knowing that the things I want to accomplish are actually starting to occur, that feedback loop is really satisfying. 

I will say I try to find time to be alone, to get a bit of solitude here and there, even a couple of hours or an afternoon to go for a walk.  The other thing to re-fuel, as we can, my wife and I try to get away to places like the mountains or a bodies of water to get absorbed by something else. A place that offers a sorbet of life where we are not focused on work for a while. I know it is hard to do in this day and age. That’s probably been practiced by smart people for a millennium.

Bonus Question: Ask it forward—What question(s) would you like to ask other practitioners?

There is one. What is it that brings the greatest joy to you in this work?

I think this could be inspiring to all of us.

Thank you, Jim.

Thoughts? Reactions? Please share in the Comments section.

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6 Comments so far
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These are great examples of questions to ask that can assist those who need a little guidance or perspective change when faced with something new in their career or lives. Happiness and personalization of practices are important elements. Through his responses, it also shows how experience, time and challenges can become humbling and grounding.

Thanks for the post!

Comment by Kimberly

Thanks so much for commenting Kimberly. I agree completely that “experience, time and challenges can become humbling and grounding” and Jim is a wonderful example of practitioner who takes that to heart.

Comment by Gail Severini ©

Oh and by the way, Jim and I are on a panel together at The Association of Change Management Practitioners on April 2 “Success Secrets of Trusted Advisors” along with Mike Nestor from Bayer, Liz Guthridge from Connect Consulting and Deb Nystrom from Reveln Consulting. More here:

Any chance you will be there?

Comment by Gail Severini ©

I appreciate the information. I’ve decided to focus on my children (2, and 4 months) until they are older. In the meantime, I’m working on my degree and preparing for when I step back into the corporate world again.

Thank you for the link!!

Comment by Kimberly

I enjoyed the interview and found the questions to be right on spot. Change is at best a challenge and at its worst fearful. it is always such a relief to have someone to depend on that has been through a change and can give support even if it is only the knowledge that we are not alone. The risks involved and the fear of making a wrong decision can be alleviated with the help of someone who has been down the same road and can guide you along the way. Great questions and answers! Thanks.

Comment by Judy Keith

Thanks so much Judy. Jim is a terrific practitioner. We are on a panel together next week, “Success Secrets of Trusted Advisors”, at The Association of Change Management Professionals ( Any chance you will be there? Best regards. Gail

Comment by Gail Severini ©

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