Transformational change is not for the faint of heart. Following a career path as a change practitioner or transformational change leader can be an emotional roller coaster.

It takes a special individual to facilitate the processes required for organizational and personal change. We can’t be naïve about the forces at work. Culture shift is not for the faint of heart. As roles change — at all levels of the org chart — emotional reactions will run the gamut, and change-induced pain will be commonplace before the destination is reached.

Practitioners must steel themselves, because giving up partway through this obstacle course is a mistake. The only way out is to proceed — to go all the way through.

The Right Path Is Not Always the Easiest Path

There are certainly instances when large transformational change efforts do not pan out. I have been called in for post-mortem reviews of programs that did not meet expectations and goals, and I have discovered one factor that often is not talked about: the change practitioner themself.

It is sometimes the case that change practitioners reduce the scope of change activities to reflect their levels of comfort and competency. If they are new to the game, communication and training activities may be executed as a primary focus, leaving out of the scope more difficult areas, such as resistance mitigation and development of sponsors and people managers.

This is not surprising. Change managers and practitioners are people too. Like all of us, they are susceptible to wanting to take the path of least resistance and effort — achieving requirements and goals with as little risk as possible.

Because change management is a newer discipline, most internal or external clients lean on the change practitioner to tell them what needs to be done to achieve desired results. If the change practitioner lacks training, certification and/or ability, the recommended programs are generally lacking in many important aspects.

It is not always clear what activities or steps might be missing in a change management strategy or plan. The easiest solution is a strong change framework with agreed-upon tools and plans. This can enable visibility for both the client and the less-experienced change practitioner.

Courage, Grit and Guts

The area that is typically avoided by the less-seasoned change practitioner is the necessary and rewarding work with each of the direct supervisors and people managers who will be impacted by the change. This work includes facilitating, identifying and remediating against potential end-user resistance, then providing the necessary one-on-one coaching to help these supervisors and managers mitigate their own resistance to the change.

Working on change activities for a large group is less stressful. It takes only a little time to draft and send an email or newsletter about some aspect of the change. It is much more fun to create an entertaining or training video than to engage in direct and often uncomfortable one-on-one dialogue.

Mass audience outreach does not make the change personal. However, that change is most certainly being viewed as personal by the affected direct supervisor or people manager.

It takes courage, grit and guts to be willing to walk into uncomfortable conversations covering the best way and attempt to remedy the negative emotions tied to change impacts. But taking that step is the difference between generic organizational change management and actual people change management.

At 1898 & Co., my colleagues and I believe people change management is an important component of what we do because the simple truth is organizations don’t change — people do. As change practitioners, we strive to push just over the boundary line of comfort and into the zone of discomfort. That’s because it’s where the growth, learning and true transformation happens.

It’s easy to simply announce a change via an email, newsletter or staff meeting. We may expect it be adopted and used without delays or friction. Of course, that would be naïve.

Although it might seem daunting to tackle the messy and uncomfortable, true transformational change must start with a clear definition and agreement of the people manager’s role in times of change. We must get their individual agreement to buy-in, and then we must help them with the skills necessary to manage their people through changes.

 

If we want to remove obstacles to change, remove nonessential steps that may be causing friction.

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Dana Houston Jackson is the lead principal change adviser at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. A straight shooter and advocate of new thinking, Dana prides herself in simplifying the complex in a “box-poking,” 25-year career in organizational development and change management. Some of her clients include energy, utility, technology, manufacturing and construction companies, government and academia, and nonprofits.