Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Leaders: What is the single most powerful technique to build commitment (and defuse resistance) for your strategy?

A question.  Actually a conversation of questions and lots of listening. Why? Because it’s not what you know that will engage your people – it’s what they know.

So, what do they “know”? What do they believe about this strategy / change initiative / project? If they trust you enough to be candid, you are likely to be surprised – perhaps shocked – and even enlightened.
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Who are “the most fully, crucially adaptive human beings around”? And what does this finding mean for Change Management?

Seeing as the real punch line is why, let’s get the answer on the table: teenagers.  That’s right.

Let’s face it – we were all teenagers once so we should be able to relate to this. The October 2011 issue of National Geographic explores “Teenage Brains – Beautiful Brains” and got me thinking – not only about my own teenage years and those of my sons, but also why some people are more open to change than others.  This particular article considers a phase of human development from roughly 15 – 25 years old and sheds light on the importance of physiology and brain science, in understanding adaptability.
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What is “Change Management”? And, is definition important?

Ask 10 people “what is change management?” and you will get 10 very different answers.  So YES definition is important!

Many Leaders come to the term “Change Management” and intuitively believe they know what it means – and that they are already doing it.  However, behind these innocuous words is a highly specialized discipline that has been evolving over the past 60 years.

Understanding Change Management offers untapped opportunity to drive more value to the bottom line.

The broad definition 

It’s about “managing change”, i.e. taking a strategy and managing the implementation right? Well, yes, in the broadest sense.

My own definition starts from strategic alignment and extends through delivery to seeing the results track in.

Change management encompasses an array of multi-disciplinary capabilities:

  • Leadership and Strategic Planning
  • Project specific capabilities, e.g. Strategic Marketing, Organization Design and Development, Business Process Re-engineering, Technology Implementation
  • People Change Management (PCM), Training and Communications
  • Portfolio / Program / Project Management

Realizing full ROI only happens when ALL of these are INTEGRATED and OPTIMIZED.

Of note, you will see “Change Management” appear on many position descriptions and job postings these days.  This reference typically refers to a general understanding of the nature of change and high level awareness of the process that might be required for straightforward transitional change.

Underneath this broad definition though is a deeper, more powerful, resource – what I term “People Change Management”.  It is increasingly recognized that this so-called “soft stuff” represents the highest risk to transformational change.  It also represents the greatest opportunity for driving value and for competitive advantage.

The deep definition – People Change Management (PCM)

Kurt Lewin got us started and many others have continued the work of understanding how to help people traverse change.  The business notion is that the faster we can get employees to stop doing the old thing and start doing the new thing, the faster the ROI comes in.

Some of the renowned names in the field include: William Bridges, John Kotter, Peter Senge.  Others have gone deeper and applied it to the “hows” of  managing change faster and better:  Linda Ackerman-Anderson, Dean Anderson, Rick Mauer, Jeff Hiatt and our own Daryl Conner.

How do I think of  People Change Management?  It:

  • Reduces people-related risks (eg resistance and misunderstandings) that effect costly delays, re-work, error / waste and turnover
  • Increases and expedites user “adoption, proficiency and ultimate utilization” (Prosci Learning) thereby optimizing business results
  • Encompasses a structured process and tool sets
  • Includes: Leader (Sponsor) support, stakeholder management, change readiness, business impact, communication, training, and change metrics as well as contingency planning and interventions as required
  • Engages users in the change, shares information, improves solutioning and expedites the transition to the ‘new state’ 

How does Conner Partners define “Change Management”?

Change management is the orchestration of change in a way that identifies and addresses the human risks involved in implementing change. This strengthens the individual and organizational ability to handle change well and increases the chances that the change will be put successfully into practice.

Of note, this very tactical and process-driven application of Change Management is deployed within Programs and Projects.  It is substantively different than the generic competency requirement on position descriptions and job posting.

Mastery at this level prepares Leaders and Practitioners to deal with high risk, disruptive change – transformational change.  Mastery often encompasses Organizational Development capabilities associated with: organizational behaviour, organizational design, learning and development, compensation, culture change, etc.

PCM Current Maturity Levels?

Prosci Learning has a neat little Maturity Model here that articulates a development path from novice to mastery.  My experience is that few organizations have reached level 5 – and even fewer have an integrated, end-to-end, execution approach (a PMO is not “it”).

Most organizations are great at some components of change or they would not be around today. However, few (very few) are great at the whole array.

What a great opportunity for developing competitive advantage!  In fact, many Fortune 500 companies are going beyond adding the generic competency onto position descriptions and beyond adding Change Management checklists into project management methodology.  Many are in the process of developing Enterprise capability through Change Management Communities of Practice, Centres of Excellence and even dedicated leadership positions.

Deeper still – specialties within Change Management

In a recent discussion on LinkedIn one of the practitioners I have come to respect, Faith Fuqua-Purvis, proposed the notion of specialists within Change Management (much as within engineering there are Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, etc). I see this as key, for example “Communications” in Change Management is NOT the same as broadcasting information – it is not a PR or MarCom definition – it requires engaging Change Targets in 2-way dialogue. Furthermore, the notion of “risk communication” is also important here – effectively communicating with people who are “in crisis” is very different than day-to-day communications.

The specialities could include:

  • Defining strategic intent at an operational level with a realization focus, e.g. developing Vision and Mission Statements (not as simple as it sounds – I have seen many a project set the wrong trajectory with the wrong vision / mission statement – and this is NOT something that should be a whimsical engagement ploy)
  • Training and coaching sponsors and agents in change leadership/management
  • Enrolling sponsors and targets in this change.  Surfacing and resolving resistance.  Building and sustaining commitment.
  • Developing and deploying communications (informational and conversational, commitment focussed)
  • Anticipating, designing, resourcing and deploying specific types of interventions
  • Risk Management (against proven risk frameworks)
  • Etc

And, by the way, these are not mutually exclusive requirements – to the contrary, they have mutually compounding benefits.

Only when practitioners can clearly delineate

the different specialties and competencies within Change Management,

 describe their benefits and understand their relationships

– only then are they are really prepared to deliver “Change Management” value.

So, while this does not require that our definitions be identical, I ask my colleagues to give more consideration to contextualizing what you do and relating it to what other specialists within the same space do, i.e. don’t sell just your capability. Please consider the breadth and depth of change management and build up the team to meet the client’s best interests.

If you are researching Change Management to deploy within large-scale strategic change, I’d be delighted to share more with you – you can reach me at .

_ _ _ _

Faith and I both believe that Change Management is a critical component of successful business change.  As such, and along with some others, we are committed to expanding the general understanding of Change Management and will be posting multiple articles on this topic over the next several months.  Some articles will be collaboratively written, others written and posted individually.

We hope you will visit both our sites.  To see Faith’s blog, follow this link.

If you want to know more about who we are, you can find us both on LinkedIn. You can also read more about Faith here and if you want to contact us, you can reach Faith here and me at

Related Posts:

Resistance: “it is easier to ‘change’ someone else than to change ourselves”

In Change Management Communities of Practice, project professionals often discuss what to do about resistance.  It often quickly comes down to how to re-direct, re-assign or even fire the “blocker”.

Why it is so much “easier” to get rid of someone else (a “blocker”) than to consider changing ourselves … ? It might be a stretch to learn to take on a difficult conversation with a resistor but that effort has significantly higher ROI potential than any of the other options. 

Do Leaders have to change? continue reading here

Why Social Media IS change

Social Creeper claims it is the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution (outstanding short video here). Skeptical? The video is compelling – consider these quotes:

  • By 2010 Gen Y will outnumber Baby Boomers
  • 96% have joined a social network
  • Social media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the web
  • Years to reach 50 million users: radio 38 years, TV 13 years … Facebook 100 million users in 9 months!
  • If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 4th largest
  • 80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices, people update anywhere anytime, imagine what that means for bad customer experiences
  • 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content – do you like what they are saying about your brand
  • Social media isn’t a fad, it is a fundamental change in the way we communicate
  • 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations only 15% trust advertisements

Social media is challenging and changing: 

  • What its audience thinks and even how it thinks about what it thinks (think about that for a moment or two)
  • The way consumers buy products and services – research, sourcing, reference checking, price comparison, etc 
  • The way businesses market to both B2C and B2B – must become engaging, listen and respond not broadcast 
  • The entire function of Public Relations – it is not possible to control or even shape what is broadcast or published. Must become AUTHENTIC, proactive and responsive

Social media is the Über-user group. For any software provider who once shivered going into a face-to-face Users’ Group, considered providing an online forum but “chickened out” – the genie is out of the bottle.

“The Top 3 Common Mistakes made on a change engagement”

This question, posted on LinkedIn, prompted some very interesting debate.  My full response follows. Perhaps, more important than “mistakes”, the dialogue points to great OPPORTUNITIES for leaders and organizations who seek to become masters of change.   

Firstly, there is an important  distinction between ‘change management’ (CM) and Organizational Change Management (OCM).  The question of “mistakes” resonates in both arenas.  For context, we break it down this way: continue reading here

“noisy and messy and complicated”
February 4, 2010, 8:59 pm
Filed under: - Organization Change Management | Tags: , , , ,

“But remember this –- I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone.  Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated.  And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy.  That’s just how it is.”  – Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 27, 2010

What more needs be said?