A leader is a change specialist

 

*Jemma is a successful sales consultant who works for a growing tech firm in London’s East End. Energetic, engaging and radiating positivity, Jemma was well liked by her colleagues, senior leadership team, and clients and although only having started with the firm two years previously as a trainee consultant – had already received several promotions and was on the succession plan. Six months ago, Jemma was promoted to team leader, and as part of the promotion was given responsibility to manage a team of two high potential consultants whose previous team leader had left the business. Ambivalent about this opportunity to applying the management techniques she had learned on her junior leadership program and use her experience and energy to achieve great things, Jemma got stuck in. Unfortunately, as the weeks progressed, instead of things going from good to great they started going bad: Objectives were not being met, her team, who previously had come to her for guidance were resisting agreed actions and performance/behaviours were slipping.

As Jemma explained when we met, “I couldn’t understand what was going wrong! I was doing everything I had been taught, I was being the same me as before but nothing was working. I thought I was doing well.” The result was that in the last month she had been called into her manager’s office to be told they were concerned about her performance and were putting her on a performance plan. “I hadn’t realised”, she explained further, “but as time went on I had slowly started withdrawing. I stopped interacting in the leadership meetings, started snapping at my team members and for the first time came to a point where I was waking up not wanting to go into the office. I just couldn’t recognise myself and didn’t like the person I was becoming. Thankfully a friend recognised where I was at and having found themselves in a similar position previously, recommend I get in contact with you as you had helped them navigate successfully through their situation”

Jemma’s story is a familiar one. A new, energised leader takes on the responsibility of a team. The team and the leader are capable and competent in their specialisation and show immense promise. The team and leader have respect for one another. The leader has been on training on how to be an effective manager and goes into the role with a vision and passion for the possible. Then things start to slowly unravel.

The challenge, Jemma started to understand as I coached her through this, is that leaders don’t realise that in essence, they are Agents of Change

“Individuals that are required to create continuous improvement (change) in all their areas of responsibility”

and therefore need to be Change Specialists

“Individuals who have, not only the ability to identify the change required but the capability to help the individuals (and themselves):

  1. Cope with the change required
  2. Facilitate and support the change happening
  3. Ensure the change lasts, and that true transformation takes place”

 

“You mean I have to go and train to be a change specialist as well now!” Jemma responded somewhat despondently.  “Thankfully this is not the case.” I assured her, “All the skills that are taught on leadership programs are key skills required by a change specialist. The problem is that ‘change’ is not specifically covered which causes the problems you are facing and the response you have just given. By helping you understand what change is and why is change difficult, how people attempt to change, and how to go about making change last, you will see how your current skills and knowledge fit in, putting you in a position to cope with the change that is required from you, decide on and action the changes required, and embed the change so that true transformation takes place”

Thankfully Jemma is an individual who realised she needed and wanted to change, knew that she needed help in changing and took the necessary actions she had identified and we had agreed on. Below I outline a few of the key concepts we discussed and grappled with in our time together.

1) What is change and why is change difficult?

The Mirriam-webster dictionary defines change as “To become different” which in itself is what makes change difficult. As James Baldwin, Novelist noted

“most of us are as eager to be changed as we are to be born, and we go through our changes in a similar state of shock

Change can be shocking:

  • Either because it is unexpected – as in Jemma’s case where she received feedback which contradicted how she saw herself;
  • And/or because it is unfamiliar – also Jemma’s case as she recognised that she needed to change but didn’t know what or how. The result is that people typically resist change because they perceive (experience or fear) that this change is either going to be painful and/or difficult. Research which delved deeper into this area identified that people resist change because –
  • They have an inability to give up what is safe, predictable, familiar
  • They have no real conviction that change is better than the status quo
  • They fear what change may be like if change takes place (safer what you know, even though miserable rather than risk change and face what is unpredictable, unfamiliar and potentially threatening)
  • They feel the proposed changes are not realistic/practical
  • Others want the change, where is the person does not
  • They may hold conviction that change is not possible – and are therefore less motivated to try
  • They don’t have; feel they don’t have the support, guidance, understanding, encouragement of a trusted person to take them through the change process
  • They have unrealistic beliefs around what they are capable of which is driven by external messages which results in unrealistic expectations
  • They have self- deprecating beliefs as a result of messages received from peers growing up

2) How do people try to change?

Once the perceptions and potential barriers to change had been identified we then started to look at how change occurs and how people try to change. The starting point of this was to understand how people respond to change as well as the drivers for this response. As we had identifies in previous conversations people typically (unless they recognise the need for change, know how to change, accept that they need help to change, and are able and willing to move out of their current state and move to the new state) will resist change. Depending on the level of preparedness and familiarity of said change, as well as their –

  • Personality
  • Space in life
  • Past change handling experiences

this resistance can come across subversively (example :agreeing to taking responsibility for actions and then not following through with these actions) or outright emotional / verbal outbursts, driven by panic or denial/need for avoidance (example: a violent outburst in the middle of a performance review, blaming others)

 

It’s at this point (hopefully) that people – either through the manager (example: Jemma’s manager putting her on performance management); or through the individual (example: a person who tries to change, however they fail to recognise that they need help in doing this, because they don’t know how) start the change process, which typically fails. The reasons for this are very broad so I have only shared one for each situation

The manager -This often fails because they themselves do not understand the change process and try and fix the person/ situation for the person before having fully understood the causes etc

The individual – Two Canadian psychologists,  Janet Polivy and C.Peter Herman, in their paper “if at first you don’t succeed: false hopes of self-change,” American Psychologist 57 (September 2002):684 proposed that self-change failed because of what they termed the False Hope Syndrome or briefly because false expectations are set at the start of the change process.

3) How do you go about making change that lasts

If you are a leader and want to create changes that last, first and foremost you need to become a change specialist. The starting point to this, Gary R Collins, Christian Counselling, 3rd edition, writes is to –

  • Understand the change process
    • How people try and change themselves
    • Why change is difficult
    • What makes change last
  • Believe in the person
  • Affirm them
  • Be trying to help the person in question
  • Be an encourager
  • Help the person know Christ
  • Help the person grow in their walk as a Christian
  • Be a confidant
  • Know how to positively challenge a person
  • Be aware that individuals will attempt to manipulate you

Whether you are self-changing or supporting the change, Gary goes on to give the following advice regarding change that lasts

  • Set realistic expectations
  • Set realistic and attainable goals
  • Be realistic about the ease with which change will occur
  • Focus on success – success measures and rewards when goals attained)
  • Realistic that relapse will occur, its not about being perfect on the journey it’s about doing the journey
  • Be aware of potential stumbling blocks and agree how to avoid/overcome these
  • Give support/encouragement, accountability
  • Challenge reasons for failure
  • Prayer for guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit

Gary goes on to share wisdom from Jeffrey Kottler, Making Change Last, that above all this the most critical element to lasting change is “self efficacy

The person expects to change, is confident that he/she will change, is willing to do whatever is necessary to bring about lasting change, and is in this for the long run, not just the short term

Back to Jemma

Through the time we worked together Jemma was able to recognise: firstly how she responded to change and was able to start applying practices that helped her move through the change and become the change specialist she realised she aspired to be. She was also able to identify and label the resistance she was experiencing from her team and with further work had transformational conversations with each of them. The results were that over time her’s became one of the highest performing teams in the business not only because she was applying the principles in her management role but also because she took the understanding of why change is difficult and used it in her sales conversations to truly understand her clients leading to better commitment. 

*Jemma is a fictional name to protect the identity of my clients

 

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