Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

The power of change management. Pay it forward.

“To those whom much is given, much is expected.” ―John F. Kennedy

What do we do with what we have learned? What is our “obligation”?

There is no advertising on this site.  You might wonder why I give so much away. You might conclude, “Oh, it’s marketing.” Yes, it is marketing, but I could do marketing much more cheaply (time-wise) than by researching and sharing so much information on change management.

So, why?

1.  Bigger than us

I believe that change management, deployed judiciously, is the most powerful and important capability of our lifetime.

We live in an era where each of us copes with, modifies to, and has the opportunity to step up to, tremendous amounts of change. The degree to which we are good at this affects our well-being, our personal lives, our families, our businesses, and our economies―our quality of life as communities. That is big.

“Change management” is not just an organizational tool to be leveraged for ROI―it provides insights in ways of living in this dynamic world that can make people’s lives better. Change management can clear up confusion and ambiguity; it can restore some levels of personal control; it can engage people in their lives.

2.  The Pac-Man diet

What does your knowledge of change management do for you? Are you hungry for more answers? For more clarity around what works and what doesn’t? For answers about what to do in “situation X” to be more effective? Sometimes we operate like Pac-Man (play the Google game here―we gobble up as much learning as we can get, race around deploying our tools, but then run into a challenge we can’t solve and have to start again somewhere else. This can be incredibly unsatisfying. Sound familiar?

What is the next level of play?

The answer is not to run faster. I believe the answer is giving back. Let me explain.

3.  The incongruity that stares us in the face—gluttony in the face of famine

Many of us grew up in the age of extended educations. We believe in the power of learning. For some of us it is an embedded value. We eat and eat and eat at the buffet of intellectual curiosity and continuous improvement. We become fat and arrogant.

Many of the best practitioners I know are PhDs―they have both broad and deep knowledge. We all read every new book on the subject, take additional courses, debate approaches on cases.

In some ways, we are painting the kitchen in the Titanic because, while we talk and read and digest, many organizations are operating at high-school levels of understanding in change management.

This is not intended to be pejorative to those organizations or their leaders. Many of them have been extraordinarily successful. They have not needed change management. Their leaders may have a cursory understanding, and it may even appear in their position descriptions, but they are not living it at any depth nor practicing with any rigor. When they face real change (think J.C. Penney, Nokia, Time Warner), they are unprepared. They are starving for an understanding of what they face but don’t even realize it. Because of this, they often address strategy without incorporating an appropriate execution approach.

We think our challenge is trying to ‘sell’ a solution to extraordinary leaders who don’t know they have a problem. I know this pain. Most of you know it also. We face it every day. But we cannot surrender. Maybe we need to think about it differently.

Perhaps the most important struggle we face is not learning, but coaching. If we meet leaders where they are―with mutual respect and compassion―we stand a chance of working together to make a difference.  Many elements have to align to make this successful (as discussed elsewhere in this blog).   Most importantly, we have to establish peer-level respect with leaders based on the value we bring to the table and we have to create an awareness of the problem. The well-being of our organizations, our communities, and our economies benefit by our resilience and tenacity.

I have heard many practitioners say, “It’s hard to be a prophet in your own land”.  I understand the challenges that internal practitioners face, not the least of which is the entry point that position in the organization chart stipulates (more about this in an upcoming post).

Outside of engagements, the best way I know to systemically address this famine is to share the knowledge we have, to teach as many others as possible and to acknowledge the obligation that this knowledge brings to pay it forward.  Building awareness and capability will contribute in many ways. I hope you will join me in this work.

A note about the toxic middle ground

Marketing and self-promotion are fine―there are places in the market where this is expected and appropriate. Just be up front about it.

Part of the challenge with sharing is that it is marketing. There is no getting around that fact. Regardless of the intent, spreading the word inevitably spreads the reputation of the sharer. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but can be tricky because it is based more on perception than intention.

The reality is that whenever the specter of self-promotion is perceived it damages credibility. If sharing becomes marketing, or looks like marketing in sheep’s clothing, then trust is eroded. I have been challenged both by my own ego (by being preachy sometimes and by emphasizing our material) and by others who react when they see even a company name and it triggers their reaction. It’s an ongoing challenge to find the right balance.

The acid test I use is this: Is the information a value-add? In other words, does it clarify, augment, or expand the subject?  If it does, then I consider it legitimate.

I made a personal commitment when I started this blog in 2009 to present information from every source. This means that I reference and quote competitors.  When the purpose is to share the best information, it comes from everywhere. I believe in the approaches we have chosen so it is natural for me to reference those. The only balance I can add is not only to reference our work, but also to add value by sharing additional information that is useful to readers.

It is important to stay out of the toxic middle ground―sharing must be pruned of gratuitous self-promotion. It must be as objective and complete as possible.

How do we promote change management?

Try to remember what it has been like on your own learning journey. Consider how you responded to change before you had this depth of understanding. I was often confused, either stymied by the ambiguity or spinning in circles. An understanding of the nature of change and how we humans transition gave me a map, gave me language to discuss it and make sense of it. We can share this―everyone we know can benefit from these insights in both their personal and professional lives.

Here are some things that I do with clients and in my communities.  I’d love to hear yours.

With clients:

  • Be patient and pushy. The best coach I ever had was a hand on my back, gently but firmly nudging me forward. Be sensitive to the discomfort that this will create. Discuss it. Contract for it.
  • Make meaning. In midst of complexity and ambiguity it is easy to lose sight of where we are. Always provide reminders of context and progress. Acknowledging progress validates the hard work. Clients can lose sight of the way that they are applying change management capability and the different outcomes they are getting. They benefit from knowing that all of the reactions are predictable, normal, and (even despite the discomfort) must be managed.

In communities:

  • Volunteer for non-profits—Offer pro bono consulting, coaching, training, etc.
  • Spread the word—Give speeches for students (classes, clubs, sports associations), Lunch n’Learns, Chambers of Commerce, Boards of Trade, Project Management chapter meetings, etc.
  • Spend time with people entering change management―Shorten their path by sharing your experience. Mentor when you can.
  • Collaborate and compare notes with other practitionersEveryone’s path is different. We each bring different insights, learning, and experience to the table. We have a lot to share with each other.
  • Lead a Community of PracticeThis can be within your department or organization or your local community.
  • Share resources—Email or tweet great content, invite your network to attend the events with you, share back your findings and learnings—maybe even start your own blog.

Having said all of that, let’s not lose our sense of humor and humility. This is a long road and we will need it. Some time ago while driving with my youngest son, 10 years old at the time, we were talking about his haircut. He was considering a new style. What he said, so matter of factly, almost made me pull over: “Mom, I don’t like change. I know you do change so, no offense, but I don’t like change.” I don’t know whether I was more surprised that he was self-aware and articulate enough to know that he did not like change, or that he knew what I do for a living. It reminded me that no matter how much influence we think we might have, embracing change is a personal journey―our only real role can be to help others understand it.

And that is powerful enough for me. Are you in?

Related Links

9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you for your willingness to share!

Comment by Michele Studer

Thanks Michele. I took a peak at your LinkedIn profile and consider this a high compliment from someone with such a strong background in Program Management. Really appreciate you taking time to comment.

Comment by Gail Severini ©

Very good article, Gail. i self reflect a lot, perhaps because I want in and I haven’t found the way yet. Your thoughts ring true to me in many areas. I consider you one of my mentors. I wish you were closer so we could chat once in a while.
Dora Dixon, Toronto

Comment by Dora

Dora, I also wish we were closer and could chat more. Let’s find ways to make that happen! You have an incredibly intuitive and insightful approach to strategy execution – I am sure that you are already weaving change management into your work.

Comment by Gail Severini ©

Thank you for this article. As we say in French: C’est un cri du coeur! It is a cry from the heart…not sure it has the same meaning in English Your article resonates a lot with me. This is certainly one of the top three articles I have read on your blog.

Comment by Jean Deslauriers

Jean, you are right on – and I love the phrase “C’est un cri du coeur!” Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It means a lot coming from an experienced practitioner such as yourself. I hope that we will have an opportunity to meet in person again soon. Are you going to ACMP 2013 ( – we are planning to be there.

Comment by Gail Severini ©

Good stuff as usual Gail.

For me, as an experienced external practitioner it is often difficult to NOT give everything away.

It can be frustrating to realize a lot is going out and not much is coming in. As CM practitioners I think we need to see that as the world we operate in.

If we truly value the big picture of our work (a tone you carried in this post which I completely agree with) then this giving, defining, clarifying is essential to our well being.

I am convinced (despite some models out there that seem to suggest otherwise) that change is not an individual pursuit. We have to give, to trade, to dialogue, to team in order to reach end states. And we have to do this together.

Comment by Garrett Gitchell

“And we have to do this together” Bravo!

Comment by Gail Severini ©

[…] “The Power of Change Management. Pay it Forward” is an impassioned call to spread understanding about change and change management. It is also permission to share given by a blogger to herself. I know exactly where that comes from. CM, I think, requires a person who gives more than gets (and is perfectly fine with that). The better we are at giving over assuming reward the better we are as practitioners and,  as the blog post suggests, the better the world is for that. […]

Pingback by This is Bigger Than Us | End State Change Management

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s