Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Us vs them. A virtuous cycle of confessions and resolutions series. Part 2

 “A healthy self-love that leads to true happiness is what Rousseau called “amour de soi”.  It builds up one’s intrinsic well-being as opposed to feeding shallow cravings to be admired. Cultivating amour de soi requires being fully alive at this moment as opposed to being virtually alive while wondering what others think.”Narcissism is increasing. So you’re so not special”, New York Times,  Arthur C. Brooks, Feb 13 2016

dreamstime_s_59832435 cat mirror lionIn the previous post we looked at why we do this work – because passion is important for the journey. Now we will look at how we practice.

Over the past few years as change management has developed and matured (and continues to do so) various schools of thought have risen in popularity.

Over the past 5 years, as we have begun to gravitate around associations, we have started to obsess a bit on a process-driven mindset. You know the prescription: do assessments, design a change plan, integrate it with the project plan, deliver the activities that will change people (usually communications and training), work through your checklist, and “ta da” install the change (yes, I over simplify to make a point).

As a professional discipline, this manifests as training to get certifications that demonstrate expertise.  Some of the Associations include requirements to demonstrate experience (and I rather favour The Change Management Institute’s focus on competencies).

However,this all seems a bit backwards to me – process and even competencies cannot prepare an individual practitioner – “a fool with a tool is still a fool”.

We often pay lip service to the notion that “leaders go first”.  Seems to me that we could reflect on that as change practitioners – we go first.  We can’t support leaders properly if we are triggered by their discomfort during the change journey.  We need to be centered first.

“Us” – The self as primary instrument of change

So, while industry associations and standards are important, I am regularly reminded that regardless of the methodologies I know and tools that I can access, the single most critical asset we have to leverage is our own self.

I think of the insights of Charles Seashore, Mary Nash Shawver, Greg Thompson and Marty Mattare with respect to the “self as instrument of change” [1]:

“In this model, the Use of Self is a link between our personal potential and the world of change. It starts with our understanding of who we are, our conscious perception of our Self, commonly called the ego, and the unconscious or out of awareness part of our Self that is always along for the ride and on many occasions is actually the driver. This understanding of Self is then linked with our perceptions of what is needed in the world around us and our choice of a strategy and a role in which to use our energy to create change.”

The Anchor point

If “self” is the anchor point then, for me, judgement and integrity built from experience are integral. This still feels right and solid.  It still feels like my right foot firmly planted on mother earth.

This plays out in the change as:

  • Role modeling the desired mindsets and behaviours: confidence, determination, focus, flexibility, problem solving … resolve
  • Remaining centered while coaching others through their experience of the disruption, which often plays out in dysfunctions that might at first appear to be unrelated

The realization of the importance of personal anchoring, validates the imperative to re-invest in self regularly – both through physical and mental rest and rejuvenation, mindfulness and reflection as well as through training on concepts and tools.

“Them” – Removing the bias of “Self”

Even as we recognize what drives us and how critical we are to the process of change, we surely need to recognize that we bring certain biases to the organizational change equation.

This fact must be incorporated into the center of gravity of our change work so as to ensure that we are actually serving the best interests of the organization.

We need to remove ourselves from the equation.

We need to:

  • Be self-aware that our own mindsets are in play
  • Recognize that they will drive some of our own reactions (we will be triggered – more on this in the post 3) and
  • Be very deliberate about removing those reactions from analysis and recommendations (eg to the extent that we must even put our own ‘survival’ in the organization on the back burner)

I often think of a conversation with a senior practitioner about 3 years ago who said that when she sits down with a Sponsor at the beginning of the change journey she says “If I do my job right there will be points in time when you hate me.”  Those are strong words expressed in the stage of unconscious optimism and I am sure they are startling.  I have begun this practice and find it makes space for some important contracting while we are still calm.

Integrative thinking, objectivity and direction

All of the factors above, and probably more, are constantly in play.  It’s quite the balancing act.

At such junction of analysis I often recall this reference from Roger Martin’s “Opposable Mind”[2]:

“More than 60 years ago, F. Scott Fitzgerald saw “the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” as the sign of a truly intelligent individual.” 

Here the opposing ideas are:

  • Personal motivations and “self” VS the well-being of the organization and the effectiveness of strategy designed by others
  • Survival VS removing “self” from the organizational change equation

The way this plays out for me is that leaning into an organization’s change with full personal commitment is relevant up to a point then it is important to step back, find objectivity and set direction.

Next up …

When we invest in ourselves as a primary tool for change, there is a risk that it becomes personal.  What happens when we find ourselves stuck in the middle of the change – triggered and defensive?

It can happen to any of us.  In fact, given the high-stress environment we are working in, it might be more likely to happen to any of us.

Next comes another confession or two and how I am working through it.

Really appreciate your thoughts, feedback and exchange.  And if you’re getting something out of this please do share it on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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4 Comments so far
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Gail, thank you for sharing your thoughts and ruminations, which always trigger reflections for days to come.

The senior change practitioner’s initial conversation with her sponsor is a powerful one. I can see how saying “If I do my job right there will be points in time when you hate me” would create space for future contracting.

I am considering a variation that could foreshadow a typical sponsor decision-making scenario: “If I do my job right there will be points in time when you will think I am a barrier to the change, when speed seems more important than quality.”

Often, speed is the currency of change for leaders where the perception of progress guides them to “stay on plan” or “keep momentum,” unknowingly laying landmines that will explode before the change is successfully adopted. Creating this mental trigger upfront may create the space I need for us to step back and discuss the risks of “just getting it done.”


Comment by philbuckley01

That’s a powerful insight Phil. It seems to me these are both important. One is an emotional argument that speaks to a sponsor’s own discomfort and the other a rational argument.

Personally I find the conversation about speed easier (not easy of course but easier than the emotional one) to have in the moment.

Of course, at that moment I am also managing my own stress preparing to ‘tell truth to power’. Triggers are in the upcoming post 😉

Comment by Gail Severini

Such an excellent article, thank you. I shared it on my linked in profile. If this is not ok, let me know and I will remove it immediately.

Sent from my iPhone


Comment by Cheryl Pinto

Thank you so much Cheryl. Shares are golden and I am very appreciative.

Comment by Gail Severini

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