How good can Harvard possibly be anyway? I decided I'd get on a plane and find out. Signing up for the Graduate Certificate in Organizational Behavior at their Extension School, I finished my stand-up comedy set in New York at 2am and headed off to Boston for the 8am class.
Good idea? Well, let's begin by saying that, unlike some of my tertiary education experience - they held my attention.
Despite having very little sleep, driving through the worst blizzard the state had seen in 30 years AND being exhausted from a month long intensive in New York at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.
So, this is a business blog, Craig. Let's get down to it. My first course was Change Management. Here are some thoughts, ideas and ruminations in an attempt to convey just how much value I received for my pitifully underpowered Australian dollars...
Why Change Management?
I studied change initially to learn how to support and understand my change management colleagues better. My projects nearly always involve liaising with the change professionals and their work seemed to be particularly difficult, thankless and complex.
Having had now the chance to reflect on the process of change and its role in large organisations, I see that I had isolated myself to accepting work over which I had relative autonomy, expertise and control. It’s ironic, but after examining and being questioned on my 'competing commitments', it was very clear to see that I was avoiding being involved in the very work about which I was most passionate.
The above revelation came to me after my Professor questioned whether I was challenging myself enough. I realised that, for reasons of comfort, control and popularity, I had been avoiding the more difficult and broad change work in order to make my life easier. The by-product of which was a little frustration and cynicism. I maintain to this day that kindness and empathy must underpin change efforts, but I have come to see that not only is change possible, but that I am in a strong position to assist, lead and enable it within client organisations.
Have I Implemented Anything I Learned?
Yes. One of the most empowering and motivating aspects of the work I developed for a banking client was to create a system whereby a selection of participant video reviews would be personally answered not only by the creative team but by management.
This simple idea created trust, accountability, transparency and empathy between teams that had until then had no face to face contact at all. As opposed to a hierarchical training delivered from one expert with ultimate authority, we created a one to one narrative based platform where ideas and opportunities were explored in a safe and conversational way.
The program inspired me to make a bold, public statement of intent that was difficult to return from. Our entry into the learning and development awards and application to be accredited with the BILD Quality Mark were instrumental in mobilising their team and creating a sense of urgency. It placed the organisation and learning and development team in a position whereby they had to stand together, gather evidence, complete the applications and in the process – question all their existing methodologies.
Particularly influential on the program was the case study of Kazuhiro Hara. His work influenced the strategy to introduce powerful and influential allies – helping to provide legitimacy and the corporate and external authority. In addition, by demonstrating the use of ambassadors, he allowed us to ‘give the work back’ to those who joined together to achieve the promised value. Deepening his influence further was highlighted in the ‘groping along’ philosophy demonstrated throughout the process. From small video interviews to an over-arching and top-down change in executive leadership – his influence was undeniably valuable.
Best Piece of Advice I Received?
Without question, the best piece of advice was from Kegel and Lacey on 'competing commitments'. This fundamental and personal work, magnified by completing the Authentic Leadership exercises offered, led to a deeper awareness of my own beliefs and attitudes towards change.
As the Master Yoda offered in 1977, “named your fear must be before banish it you can”.
I uncovered competing commitments which were fundamentally opposed to my stated value proposition. This came initially as something of a shock and latterly, a revelation. They highlighted the futility of proceeding if I was to hold them as truths throughout the endeavour. So, they had to be re-examined and abandoned if I wanted the project to work, and indeed I did. I had to discredit my own status quo, before that of the organisation.
Once my competing commitments were wrestled into submission, I turned to Ganz. By becoming aware of the need for a powerful and personal narrative, I was able to make a decision about how best to approach my clients. In the end, I elected not to share my personal story publicly unless asked, but to pursue ‘the story of us’ for the creative and management teams.
This work was made easier through the award and quality accreditation processes, but it also served to highlight the need to consistently anchor the change work to a common vision, narrative and culture.
On this project, we were able to leverage urgency, hope, YCMAD (You Can Make A Difference) and solidarity to a satisfying extent. Inertia, apathy and self-doubt played a role, certainly – however achieving quick wins and gaining vital acknowledgement from the leadership team offset these enough to render them less powerful than they would otherwise have been.
What Have I Learned About Myself as An Agent of Change?
I’ve learned much. Foremost among the revelations is the critical importance of self-awareness, active listening and a robust and diagnostically sound strategic approach to change. I’ve learned that if you practice a philosophical approach to change projects and ‘get up to the balcony’ as often as possible, it provides a platform from which a successful change project may be launched.
I’ve learned I’m much more suited to a leadership than a management role. Given my ability to bring humour and a ‘light touch’ to situations that may ordinarily descend into gravity and seriousness, it makes the process of counselling those for whom change does not come willingly or easily more palatable. Given I’m also now at a stage in my career where I’m considered to be an authority in learning and development, I can leverage that perception more easily than I could ten years ago.
Most importantly, I’ve also learned now that my approach to change was understandable, but ultimately flawed. I used to feel that removing obstacles and re-framing the problems of others was a kindness. I now see that, in many instances it can deepen and prolong pain for others. Time and time again over the past 10 years, I’ve seen that hastening the speed at which my stakeholders meet and experience the cognitive and emotional dissonance involved in change creates a better outcome over the middle to long term. A ‘change midwife’, perhaps.
What Was The Most Challenging Aspect?
Without question, the most challenging aspect has been uncovering and confronting my own internal beliefs, attitudes, programs and commitments – before becoming involved in meeting organisational change initiatives. The efforts with clients, the late night development sessions and deadlines all pale in comparison to the work required in order to become a truly effective agent of change.
The internal adaptive work required to clear the way is ongoing and relentless. Like the parlour game ‘Whack-a-Mole’, as soon as it appears I’ve cleared my prejudices and judgments, yet another rises up – needing to be dealt with. Visiting the balcony is indeed important in order to gain a clear picture of what is occurring for others, but I’ve had to construct yet another balcony from which to ‘observe the observer’. A meta-balcony, if you will.
Whilst it inevitably causes uncertainty and pain to constantly re-examine your own viewpoint, it also builds a vital empathy for others for whom change evokes feelings of fear and self-doubt. There’s a certain price to be paid in maintaining a self-transforming mind. I’ve learned however, that it’s a lesser toll than the frustration incurred by standing on the sidelines and wishing it were different.