A marketing exec friend of mine gave me a call the other day to catch up. After swapping stories about families and our current work, he finally asked after years of knowing me, “What exactly is change management anyway?”
I had to think for a moment before answering him for a couple of reasons. First, because he’s miles away from IT, HR, PMO’s and the project world, and I didn’t want to lose him to jargon. And second, because I am constantly tweaking a variety of pithy elevator statements designed to answer that succinctly, powerfully, and in a manner that would immediately resonate with potential clients. I had to think through which one would be best for him.
In these situations, I generally apply the Aunt Claudia Rule. If my Aunt Claudia understands my explanation, then I probably have it right. I’m not questioning my aunt’s intelligence. She’s a sharp cookie. But her native language is Italian, and she hasn’t worked professionally since the 1960’s. In her world, if you want someone to change, feed them well and they’ll do anything you want . . . there’s something to that!
So, I answered my friend saying, “Change management is the process of helping organizations plan for, lead, implement, and manage the human side of projects like technology implementations, merger integrations, or restructurings. We help make sure that people are supportive of the change and don’t create problems that cause missed deadlines, budget overruns, or poorly used new capability.”
“How do you do that? What do you do?” he asked.
I thought about taking him through an example and explaining things like as is/to be analysis, leadership alignment, business requirements documentation, readiness assessment, stakeholder analysis, communications planning and execution, training and knowledge transfer, and how to catch people doing things right. I thought about explaining the difference between technical challenges and human challenges, and the approach for solving human challenges. I also thought about talking about urgency, organization alignment, resistance, and vision.
Instead, I applied the Aunt Claudia Rule and said . . . “I listen.”
I listen to make sure we understand the needs and concerns of those who are receiving and those who are implementing the change. I listen to understand executives and project sponsors. And I listen to understand the culture and values of the organization.
Then, with that understanding, I use a variety of tools to make sure all of these groups help to make the new thing successful.
By listening to the organization, we begin to see through the eyes of those people who will experience the change. We empathize. And that gives us the ability to know how to engage others by linking the change to what’s important and motivating to them.
“Oh, I get it,” he said. “It’s a lot like marketing… except here you are influencing organizational behavior instead of buyer behavior.”