Nov 8, 2012

Change-Management Misconceptions

Before I get going on my main point, let me briefly define change management. Simply put, it's the framework for taking an individual, a team, or an entire organization from its current position to a more desirable future position. The goal of change management is really to minimize the negative effects for those enduring the transition. Obviously, the reason why that's the goal is because if the negative effects are greater than the benefits one believes exist at "the end of the tunnel," then more than likely, the change-management efforts will get stopped dead in the their tracks. In order for change to take place, the individual, team and organization have to somehow, someway, believe that making the change is WORTH embracing anything that gets in the way in the meantime.

Now, there are many beliefs about change management. One common ideology is the belief that the best way to get people to change is to create a sense of urgency. Another very common concept that's been used in this realm is the term "the burning platform," which was coined by Daryl Conner. But, the thing is that there's a massive misunderstanding (in my opinion) when it comes to these ideas. We hear "urgency" and "burning platform" - and our mind immediately jumps to "JUMP!" I mean, let's imagine ourselves on an actual burning platform, I'm sure we'd feel a sense of urgency to get ourselves off the platform (at whatever cost, whether we can swim or not, and whether it looks like we'll live or not). In that moment, what might we feel? FEAR. PANIC. ALARM. How about LIFE OR DEATH? I think so. Well, that's the problem. "Urgency" and "burning platform" don't need to mean (and maybe were never meant to mean) "scare the pants off your people, so that they do whatever you tell them to do." No, no, no. I think we have it all wrong.

Recently, I watched a wonderful explanation by Daryl Conner about what he intended to mean by the "burning platform," and I was ecstatic to see we're on the same page. As you'll see if you watch this video here it's more about courage and commitment.

I'll illustrate my point with an image. You are the captain of a plane (the manager of your team). You want them all to learn how to skydive well (collaborate, use their resources, make cautious, but courageous decisions, land successfully, etc.), so you put everyone in your plane, and head for the heavens. At 14,000 feet, you tell your passengers, "alright...I'm about to open the door. I'm going to give you five seconds to jump. After six seconds, I'm skydiving out of this plane, and you're left to fly yourself home if you don't jump."

Now, if we had misinterpreted "the burning platform" concept, we probably wouldn't have taken into consideration the following:

Did we teach them how to put on their parachute pack?

Did we educate them on how long they should expect to free fall before activating the parachute?

Did we give them lessons on how to handle high winds?

Did we instruct them how to turn & twist, in the case they need to adjust where they land?

Did we walk them through what to do in the case of an emergency if their parachute doesn't activate?

And lastly, did we help them practice their landing, in order to avoid injury?

If we had properly understood the concept, we would have shown our team how to make the jump. And the only way we could have trained them through each of the steps, is if we had actually gone through the process ourselves. That's the secret of good change-management managers...they don't scare their teams into something they've never considered enduring themselves. Instead, they venture into the foreign territory first. They check it out. And then, they share that experience with their team, in a way that properly prepares the team members to head in the direction of change. Not that the manager needs to know everything, but they need to at least understand what they are asking their team members to do.

Ignorance Is NOT Inspiring.

It takes courage to jump out of a plane. It's plain stupid to ask others to do it without preparing them. The best way for a manager to execute proper change-management practices within their team, is for the manager to courageously jump first. If a manager doesn't help his team handle the transition toward change, once his team gets started, how does he possibly expect them to survive the skydive?

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