Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

What is THE critical organizational capability for 2011?

Well my vote won’t surprise – but this might – just before the recession hit (BTW are we back to this point yet?), Boston Consulting Group did a survey of 4700 executives in 83 countries “Creating People Advantage: How to Address HR Challenges WorldWide Through 2015”, April 2008 (1). The coverage in Bloomberg BusinessWeek pointed out a surprise:

“1/3 of US companies anticipate installing a head of change-management

with authority and standing similar to that of a chief financial officer by 2015” (be still my heart)

 … “only 11% of executives say their companies have such a position”

However, the current reality is that VERY FEW organizations (including those who say “we do that internally already”) are really fully leveraging the current array of Change Management thought leadership.

What might the full array look like?  This is a white paper we produced in Sept this year addressing CM in the context of innovation – a 3×3 matrix identifying 9 components: “Call to Action: Power innovation bandwidth with the 9 pistons of the Change Management engine” (here). 

To be very pointed, this is to say that transformational change requires MUCH MORE than “leadership”, “communications” and “training”.  It requires all of those but also much more and much more deeply than most organizations currently practice. Do we have a point of view on what this might look like – well yes here.

Why is this important to me? Well I do believe that the organizations that are the life blood of our economies (yes, it’s that big and important) need to evolve – it’s more than a “culture of innovation” although that might be the thin edge of the wedge.   And that Change Management is a critical organizational capability to achieve this in any deep and sustainable way.


(1) So the link on the BCG site for this report actually goes to an updated version dealing with the financial crisis – so here’s the BusinessWeek article

WikiLeaks Paradigm Shift
December 7, 2010, 4:46 pm
Filed under: - Personal Reflections | Tags: , ,

The headlines on the latest WikiLeaks events focus on the information disclosed and particular situations but are there larger issues at play here?  Perhaps we are looking at a paradigm shift that presents some dangerous dilemmas.

Many have said such exposure will force openness and transparency.  Actually I am concerned that it will either eliminate difficult but necessary conversations or force them further underground.  As far as a world where we all participate – well, as much as I’d love to believe that we could have a “townhall” of equally informed participants to have rationale debate about our political options I have never witnessed this – have you, really?  We are not capable of that in our small town of ~45K inhabitants on a single issue!  I just don’t think it is feasible. 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?

The business of changing a country – Reflection 1

Much has been made of Obama’s election campaign – on the public rhetoric of change. Certainly one cannot argue its effectiveness – regardless of your political persuasions – this man has become the ‘leader of the free world’.

I am currently reading “The Audacity of Hope”, author Barack Obama.  It was a gift from a friend – we often talk politics and she had read it. I was skeptical – figured it would be a thinly veiled marketing pitch and, perhaps it is, but it is actually quite … good. 

It is interesting to know learn what he professes, in his own (or authorized) words and to consider whether he is walking his talk.  A couple of quotes to give you an idea:

  • “… what’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.” (p22)
  • ” When we dumb down the political debate, we lose. For it’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet challenges we face as a country.  It keeps us locked into either / or thinking.” (p40)
  • “What are the core values that we, as Americans, hold in common?  That’s not how we usually frame the issue, of course, our political culture fixates on where our values clash.” (p52)
  • “In every society (and in every individual), these twin strands – the individualistic and the communal, autonomy and solidarity – are in tension ….”

These are not the typical manifesto rallies – these are more complex arguments.  The challenges of getting enough of the voting public to understand these concepts to give him room to make complex change happen in an adversarial political arena is probably why most have never taken this approach. But it may be the only right way. 

This is not to say that his politics are ‘right’. It is to say that the notions of a higher bar of political debate, developing resolutions for apparently contradictory policies, focusing on the values that bring a group together while recognizing the tensions that pull them apart … these are the real challenges of leadership. 

It has become clear that no political leader is perfect (certainly Opposition parties never lets the public forget it) and that the current political environment focuses on those imperfections while real issues are undermined in the interest of getting elected in the next term.

Certainly a new order of leadership is required.  After all, to quote a more widely recognized brilliant mind:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein

The honeymoon is over for President Obama. Although it does not appear that he has taken his foot off the gas from the moment his win was announced (something I do admire), the glare of the media and the frowns of the hawks must be wearing thin. Now begins the real tests of a “president” – action under the most intense pressure.  This is a job I would not want – it’s grueling nature will run down the soul of any mere mortal, as lesser men have discovered some earlier some later.

His platform has been clear from very early on – some could argue from before this book.  He has sought the counsel and engaged of both experts and partisans. The fact that he has not wavered much from his platform should not be surprising – the planks are macro in nature and he has also stated that his bi-partisan interest lies in how one gets there. 

Is he an active and engaging sponsor – certainly publically this is an easy feat when compared to his predecessor but is it enough?  Can he maintain enough Democratic support? Can he penetrate the political requirements of partisanship to  get traction for his BHAGs?  This is not for the faint of heart – at some point one hopes that the players will take a step back and consider that some are all or nothing propositions.  The healthcare initiative faces extraordinary challenges from reaching a consensus (or close enough) appreciation for the definition of the current situation to understanding the agendas of the stakeholders (from the different segments of the population, to the different states, different government levels and agencies to healthcare providers).  This cacophony alone would torpedo many an effort. 

We have a unique opportunity in history – a President who has placed a value in transparency, in engagement (despite its risks and challenges) and front row seats.  It promises to be an interesting four years.