I've spent a large portion of my career in change management. It's a field of varied theories and disciplines and methodologies governed by a single standard of conduct from the Association of Change Management Professionals, an organization of which I'm a founding member. I am certified in one of the aforementioned methodologies and I'm one of the first 500 people in the world to achieve the Certified Change Management Professional credential (I'm really proud of that). All of this gloating is meant to demonstrate that I'm a big change nerd.
But let me back up. What is change management? I define it as managing the people side of organizational transformation. Hyatt and Creasy, who are rockstars in the field, define it as "the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome." No matter where you work or live, you've experienced change management. For example:
Contents of each example go on to specifically call out how the changes benefit you (and the business). I'm over-simplifying, of course. And because change is constant,
But Kari, why are you writing about change in a coaching blog? Since change management supports people as they undergo organizational transformation and coaching supports people as they undergo personal transformation, there is dynamic crossover between disciplines. And whether we're talking organizational or personal lens, people look for a magic bullet to make the change stick; to guarantee success.
I wish-- oh how I wish-- there was a magic bullet to make change easy to implement and to adapt to, but there isn't (I know, bummer... but are you really surprised?). In my 13-plus years in this field, I can share key questions that boost the likelihood of success if they're addressed in planning for change (and how they apply to coaching). So here we go.
What is the problem you're trying to solve? I love this question, and my clients are sick of me asking it. It gets to the "TO BE" of the change equation. If you're introducing something new, what is it in response to? Is something broken or inefficient? What data do you have to support that it is broken? Have you asked the people potentially impacted by this change if they have any thoughts/feelings/beliefs about the situation? If we don't change or only change a little, what happens? Or, if nothing is broken, where is the desire for this change coming from? Without clarity of the problem from the outset, you don't know what you're working towards. You If you lack cohesion, vision and direction, you've failed from GO. There has to be a reason.
Why now? We've clearly defined the problem and we know where we're going, together. But is this the right time? What is driving the timeline? What's occurred that points to Exactly This Moment as the time to rip off the change bandaid? As my PMP friends like to ask, are there any precursors or dependencies impacting the timing of this change? How much change have people recently experienced, or may be experiencing, that contributes to their ability to be open to change? Do you have the time and can you make the time do introduce the change in a way that allows for peoples' awareness, desire for the change, knowledge of and ability to change grown at a manageable rate? While we can Kool-aid Man changes, it's more effective and less disruptive to business if we can be reasonable with the timeline. For everyone involved.
Who is sponsoring this change? The change sponsor is the person who is the uber-champion of the initiative. "They must be visible, trusted, and engaged throughout the change effort. The [Sponsor] provides strategic direction, vision and leadership... fosters collaboration and communication... and ensures the realization of benefits and sustainment of the effort" (Ginsburg, 2018). The success or failure of a change initiative can hinge on having the right sponsor-- I believe in this so much that I published a white paper in 2018 about the effectiveness of sponsors that I'll gladly share if you'd like to nerd-out with me. Sponsors can be up-skilled to be most effective in their role, especially if they are enthusiastic, genuine and well-respected. If they're not, or if they shift their focus to the next shiny thing mid-change, your change is at risk.
Where are the barriers that might result in resistance? It could be technology, time, abilities, willingness to change, fatigue: learn what's in the way of people easily saying "yes" to the change. Have you spoken with them, or are you relying on assumptions and what the organization thinks people might need? Conversely, do you understand what motivates the people who are being impacted by the change, to help shift focus to how the change adds value to their lives?
How will this change be sustained in the long-term? I've worked on too many project teams where the mentality is that the work is over once a planned change is live. That is, in fact, when the hard work begins. That's when the change slowly morphs into routine and becomes part of a person's daily life. That's when everything can go horribly awry. The changes need to be reinforced. People need to be reminded how to think, act and (possibly) feel about the change as they start to own their post-change experiences.* Sometimes, people need additional support and nudges until they have the confidence to do it on their own. If new changes come along, they also need support understanding how this new change relates to the old one.
Think about the changes you've tried to introduce to your life that maybe haven't stuck. Where did you lose track of your goal? Which question led to the breakdown? How can I support you as you navigate the in-between-- the funknown-- between where you are today and where you want to be?
*Think about it this way: you get a puppy. You enroll with the puppy in obedience training to make sure they have good little puppy manners. The puppy learns that you're a helper and they look to you for guidance. Together, you work hard and they graduate from training. And overnight you stop reinforcing the training. You stop calling the cues, gently correcting bad manners, and perhaps finding additional training. You expect the puppy to have it, but they fall apart. They still needed your help and guidance. The failure of their manners isn't theirs; it's yours. You gave up on them at a critical developmental period.
At its core, Dr. Sims offered a casual-but-huge takeaway about mitigating uncertainties at decision points: choose you. Yes, assess the benefits and the risks, the costs and consequences, but honor yourself. Those two simple words have stuck with me for seven months, at the front of my mind and on the tip of my tongue.
Welcome to January! The dumpster fire that was 2020 is giving way to a new decade, a new administration, a new vaccine, and a new hope (though not of the Star Wars variety).
Whether you've spent the last few days culling down your social media friend lists, clearing out your inbox, or clearing off your countertops, I suspect you're also mentally preparing for the year ahead.
At the start of every year, that hope and mental preparation typically equates to goal-setting. I know: how predictable that a coach is posting about goals in January. I'm disappointed in myself, too... but before I get to goals I want to say one thing
(hoists herself onto a soap box)
Resolutions and all the inspirational quotes and social media churn surrounding them may make you think that you have to change or overhaul your life because it's a new year. That's absolutely not true.
This one's gonna be quick.
When we sit down together to identify your "I Want" statement (that's the big goal that brought you to coaching), I'm going to ask you a series of follow-on questions. They usually go something like this:
I ask you these questions because I want to make sure it's clear to both of us what we're working towards. I want to make sure you hear yourself establishing milestones, intended behaviors or thought processes, and that you begin to envision yourself in success. This is a crucial component of self-accountability.
Then, I'm going to ask you a follow-up question that my clients always, always get annoyed at me for bringing up: How are we going to measure your progress? (I'm going to pause here to say that if the opening chords of Seasons of Love just started worming their way into your ear... well... you're welcome.)
It's not a trick question. You've told me only moments ago how success appears against your senses. This "ugh" question forces you to quantify the qualitative: Where are you (today), where do you want to go (your goal), where are you challenged (the Funknown) and where are you making progress (measures). Measures-- or metrics, if you're Six Sigma kinda person-- drive your goals and catapult your achievements. They are unique to you and reflect what's important to you.
If we don't know what we're measuring your progress towards your success, then how will we know when to celebrate?
When you're starting a coaching business-- or any business, for that matter-- you're encouraged to "niche-down". Who are your clients? Where do you find them? How will they know you're of their tribe? And then you're encouraged to niche down further, to dig deeper and focus on your target Person.
As I was launching this business, my internal soundtrack swung between "I can coach anyone who is ready to be coached" and "why should anyone listen to me?" [Here's the thing: I'm going to blatantly ignore that second question for this blog post, but we'll come back to it in the future, ok? Cool.] When I really gave myself a moment to check my ego, I understood that the first statement was untrue. Am I capable of coaching anyone? Sure, but what about people whose values are in conflict with mine? What about folks whose core beliefs are of oppression, racism, misogyny...? Those are not my people. It's likely they wouldn't want what I bring to the table, anyway. My niche-down journey was an exploration of who I wanted to elevate, to support through transformation and to signal boost.
"Tell me about a time you've failed" is a trick question. Interviewers ask it to gain a sense of your ego, your ability to handle adversity, and how you rebound. But it is a trick question. Let me explain.
During coaching sessions, I often ask my clients, "what does X mean to you?" or "what does Y look like to you"? Some variation on that. Words have specific definitions and, since language is fluid, we have the ability to express ourselves in whatever manner we want and need to characterize our experiences. Recently, I asked a client what success looks like, and they asked back "didn't we already cover this last time"? Well... yes. But they defined success about a specific Thing and this was another Thing. The markers for one don't necessarily describe the other.
Shortly before the pandemic arrived, boss bitch Amy Maniscalco wrote a piece for Medium called 6 Phrases to Replace "I'm Sorry." In it, she introduces "strong replacements for the meaningless apologies that do nothing but diminish the value of your time, your words, and ultimately your worth." I immediately bookmarked the article, sent it to five friends, and began to incorporate those replacement phrases in my daily life.
Perhaps because it was on my mind, I became aware of how often those two words were blurted for non-apologetic reasons. I listened for it in public and in the workplace. I noticed, too, when my coaching clients would apologize to me:
I'm sorry I'm talking so much.
I'm sorry I'm crying.
I'm sorry I'm laughing.
I'm sorry I didn't do my thought exercises.
I'm sorry to cut you off, but I just had a thought!
Several years ago, I was a civil servant. I first landed a government job not because I was particularly driven to the mission of the agency I was hired into-- it has a good, noble, important mission-- but because I needed A Job after being unemployed for three months (more on this in a later post).
Most mornings after my alarm sounded and I started to get myself assembled for the day, I'd open the closet door, sit on the floor and gaze at my options. Usually, I'd grab my phone or, once I was senior enough, my government-issued Blackberry (TM) and check out what I had on the books for the day. And then I'd think, "who do I need to be today?"
My first job after college was as an English and Drama teacher at a small private school in Maryland. I studied theatre (yep, of the -re variety) at Syracuse University, and I knew I'd need to come home, get a job and save money before making The Big Move to New York. For a long time, I wanted to be a writer, but I allowed a college counselor to convince me that the only way my magna-cum-laude-high-school-grades-with-several-AP-credits-and-some-very-mediocre-SAT-scores would matriculate was through performance; at that time, I'd been a professional actor for a good portion of my life and this college counselor was an authority, so I believed her.