Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


Insights in Change Management—Interview with Kimberlee Williams, CEO ignitem (Part 2 of 3)

7 critical elements Kimberlee Williams Ignitem.wmfChange 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 Kimberlee Williams, CEO, ignitem. For Part 1 please click here and Part 3 here.

4.   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?

I recommend baking “The 7 Critical Elements” into every initiative. It may sound like a lot, but professionals actually find the framework I use very intuitive, visually indelible, and easy to remember: “inspire, guide, navigate, innovate, translate, energize, manage” (ignitem). Here is a breakdown:

  • Inspire: Tell the compelling story about the transition or gap that needs to be closed representing the “motivational spark” to achieve it, including emotional not just rational reasons. It’s often helpful for a skilled change leader to shape the story with the sponsor to assure the story is properly structured and can be told throughout implementation by the sponsor and other leaders.
  • Guide: Change leaders needs to assure they effectively position their role to guide the sponsor and other power players, often in politically charged or ambiguous environments. This includes quickly moving from being a “pair of hands” to a trusted advisor, with a special focus on feedback and sphere of influence.
  • Navigate: Acquire a deep understanding of the players, their interactions with one another (outside of the usual organization hierarchy), and their preferred outcomes.  Ideally, this involves a visual way to map with the sponsor where influence needs to be applied to achieve desired results.
  • Innovate: Ensure that teams are representing the interests of the ultimate customer in a coordinated way. Surface pieces of solutions that already exist inside the organization (where possible) rather than immediately defaulting to the design of new solutions.
  • Translate: Enable people managers to have conversations with their teams where, together, they take company goals and make them real for the work group. This includes closing the gap between corporate strategy and local implementation.
  • Energize: Identify individual differences and motivations for personally making the change, even when the change will be difficult. Create the local discussions and support mechanisms between individuals that support true change.
  • Manage: Put the organization enablers in place in advance to assure the change is sustained, creating “accountability agreements” with functional organizations needed to deliver the enablers. Shift the dialogue from project/initiative update reporting to ongoing operational discussions.

The three most important decisions I make are:

1)  The actions I choose to ethically establish and maintain a position of influence with the sponsor and lead players throughout the implementation (often in a noisy field of stakeholders, consultants, and others who are angling for their own interests)

2)  The steps I will take to shape (and develop) my sponsor to exhibit behavior required for successful implementation of his or her priorities

3)  The highest-value activities to spend my time on to get required outcomes; that sounds pedestrian, I know, but I find most change leaders spend way too much time on the activities of assembling change management plans or on building a change management function when they should be directly influencing line-leader behavior that truly delivers dramatic business outcomes

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

Business acumen. We need to understand the overall functioning of our company’s business.  But, more than that, change leaders need to be able to articulate their sponsor’s precise business landscape extremely well so they resonate when they speak eyeball-to-eyeball and can anticipate the issues that are likely to emerge.

This includes key levers of profitability, strategic priorities, value chain, market conditions, and so forth. If you can’t, the best you can hope for is to be a “role player”—someone who is optional, but may be brought in to execute a series of tasks that may not be perceived to be particularly valuable.

Attaining this level of business competence will require significant effort for many change professionals, but the pay-off is being recognized and invited in as a business partner, rather than having to push your way in (which is where many change managers find themselves today).

Again, this gets back to the necessary shift from change manager to change leader—no matter what your job title. Not coincidentally, deep business acumen also opens up avenues to increasing levels of responsibility, more interesting projects, and higher levels of impact, influence, and income.

Our Achilles’ heel as a community is that practitioners (at all levels) too often use the common language and methods that define us in ways that alienate our business clients. In our unspoken desire to be acknowledged as “real” professionals, or perhaps our personal need to share in a collective identity, or to raise our clients’ level of knowledge/acceptance of change management before they are ready, we inadvertently misplace the emphasis on our discipline rather than on our clients’ business needs.

Pushing our approach doesn’t accomplish any of these; there are better ways to create the sequence where clients pull for our expertise because they desire the outcomes we can help them accomplish and then we help them learn the value of our contribution.

Lead with the business problem, never the methodology.

This is the same methodology-business paradox that every function suffers at one point or another. Change management and change leadership are emerging disciplines and, as such, they will travel the maturity path that other functional disciplines, including HR, marketing, Lean Sigma, operational excellence, and others have followed. The trick is to understand how to ride and accelerate that wave.

All that said, I am confident that many of our practitioners will graduate from being role players to change leaders, because they will make it a priority to:

  • Understand the change maturity curve,
  • Become excellent at “translating” what we do into outcomes that are irresistible to our business leaders so they will pull for our support at every level of maturity, and
  • Develop the personal engagement skills to influence the business toward higher levels of utilization of our skills and services while assuring accountability for execution rests firmly with the business.

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

There are lots of traditional change management tools/techniques resources on the market, but in the spirit of growing past those I would like to recommend that people look to “adjacencies.” In other words, don’t just keep diving deeper and deeper into the tactical nuts and bolts; instead, look to related areas that can strategically expand your skill set.

An easy way to do that is to evaluate your skills in any of “the 7 critical elements” listed above. Usually, change managers have the most skills in the areas that touch the workforce—“Translate” and “Energize.” Scores often point out areas for improvement in the up-front elements, which require deeper persuasion and influence skills—“Inspire” (storytelling), “Guide” (engagement skills), and “Navigate” (ethical political skills).

For those, I recommend:

  •  Storytelling: “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte. John Wiley and Sons, 2010.
  •  Engagement skills: “True Professionalism: The Courage to care about your people, your clients, and your career.” By David H. Maister. Simon and Schuster, 1997. (This is about professional service firms, so you will need to adjust to your internal circumstances, but the advice is on target, especially Part III: Clients)
  •  Also recommended here is Peter Block’s seminal work “Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used” Third Edition. Pfeiffer, 2011.
  •  Politics: “Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success” by Rich Brandon, PhD and Marty Seldman, PhD

Of course, I invite change leaders to explore the online resources and coaching I offer across those 7 elements as well. 

Part 3 coming soon.

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