September 26, 2013

Influencing Change vs. Managing Change: Three Strategies to Get Off the Change Treadmill

Highlight ProactiveMost leaders identify the skill of “change management” as a key competency for their managers and employees. More than just nice to have, it is almost considered a survival skill in today’s rapidly changing world of work. Rather than “reacting to change,” which only the slow, flat-footed dinosaurs would do, we assume that managing change is preferred because it implies more focus, concentration, and effectiveness with responses.

But if managing change was such an effective response, then why are so many individuals, teams, and organizations completely disrupted by the very same change that they were “managing?” I believe we need another shift. This time, the progression goes from reacting to change and managing change, to influencing change.

There is just not enough time, energy, and capital available to continue managing change. There is too much change, it is fickle and constantly shifting, and human nature is not compatible with the psychological and emotional toll that it can take. As it relates to the challenge of change, three of the pivotal questions facing today’s leaders include: How can we get off of the change treadmill and proactively create the conditions for our own success? How can we build a deep bench of talent that is flexible enough to shift with our emerging opportunities? And, how can we motivate individuals to take full responsibility for their own growth and development?

Here are three strategies that respond to these questions and can get you off the draining change treadmill:

  1. Cultivate a Culture That Values Discernment + Judgment – So many of the unanticipated consequences of failed change management are the change fatigue and resistance that sink in. Leaders spend so much time and energy getting “people back” that they would be better served to cultivate a culture that values the competencies of discernment and judgment. Discernment is the ability to think critically about priorities and circumstances and to pinpoint areas of alignment and divergence. Judgment is the capacity to decide, align, and move toward areas of alignment. Doing these two things well reduce wasted change efforts by concentrating on the highest-valued opportunities.
  2. Never Stop Scanning – The external and internal environments of the organization are the primary drivers of change. Leaders who enroll others in continuous scanning of both the outside environment (either through a traditional SWOT Analysis or other type of external scan) and the internal environment (engaging in the everyday conversations and listening/watching interactions that reveal the stories of the organization and its culture) are able to determine what is necessary and important while observing the changing conditions around them. By spotting the challenges and opportunities that emerge in real time, they can invent ways to make value-added contributions based on what is most important; and
  3. Follow What Is Real – All challenges and opportunities are not created equally. Getting off the change treadmill requires leaders to distinguish between “shiny objects” that look interesting, but have no real value, and true opportunities to contribute something innovative and meaningful that matches their individual, team, and organizational objectives. When there is clarity and focus on the substantive, valuable initiatives that can and should be pursued, complexity gets simplified and producing the support for alternative efforts is easier.

Managing change effectively has to do with an assessment of the current reality and the priorities it dictates to your organization. Influencing change is about sustaining the clear vision and direction you have for the organization, then making the incremental changes that will create the conditions for you to achieve those goals.

Sostrin Consulting’s comprehensive approach to planning, implementing, and managing change offers solutions to many of the critical needs that arise during organizational transitions. Whether change is inspired from the inside or imposed from the outside, our participatory facilitation methods help stakeholders understand and adapt to a climate of change and focus on what they can do to influence their future. Learn more about our customized consulting here.

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