A Serious Question for Serious Practitioners

From the Change Thinking Blog
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Despite all the business change knowledge uncovered during the last 50 years, many seasoned change management professionals still aren’t adequately prepared to serve those trying to navigate their way through today’s turbulence. Change Thinking is an effort to have an exchange with, and be part of, a community of practitioners committed to raising the level of their game and that of the field of change execution.

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 “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”    ?Khalil Gibran

If the following three statements describe you, then I would like to ask you a question.

  • You are an experienced change practitioner. If you are still in the initial, developmental stages of becoming a change agent, it’s probably too soon to deeply consider the question I’m about to pose. It’s not too early to think about it, but don’t be concerned if you haven’t yet solidified an answer.
  • You have acquired plenty of scar tissue (lessons learned) in this profession. If you have been a change facilitator for several years (the intended readership for this blog) but are still mediocre (or even inept) at your work, the issue I’m about to raise is irrelevant because you’re not having much positive impact on your clients anyway.
  • You have a passion for this work. If being a change agent is a short-term assignment or even if it is your full-time job, but the work is not something you have a compelling affinity for, what I’m about to ask will probably not have much appeal. A lack of fervor for this craft doesn’t mean there is something wrong or that you shouldn’t be in this field; it’s just that the question I’m putting forward is intended for those who feel this work is a calling…something they pursue because it speaks to who they are at a personal as well as professional level.

The question I’m about to ask is aimed at seasoned practitioners who are at least proficient (preferably highly skilled) in practicing their craft and who relate to this work as an aspect of their life’s mission. Anyone reading this blog is invited to consider the question but that’s who it’s aimed at. 

With these as givens, here is the question: Is there something beyond the obvious you are hoping to achieve through your work?

By beyond the obvious, I’m assuming two things:

  • Part of your motivation for being a change practitioner is to provide financially for yourself and your family.
  • You genuinely want to help your clients accomplish their change objectives and you strive to deliver the best possible results for them that you can.

I’m asking if there is something beyond these two assumptions that drives your passion for being in this profession. Are there meta-goals you are striving to accomplish that are connected to, but go beyond, your change implementation work?

To clarify, I’ll ask the question a different way: What are you really up to?[1] What is behind, underneath, wrapped around (or however you think about it) the professional undertakings you engage in as a change practitioner? Most people who observe your work would probably say what you do is diagnose implementation barriers, develop intervention strategies, advise sponsors, support targets, select the right concepts or tools, apply the appropriate techniques, etc. Is it possible that, although you participate in these activities, you are actually “up to” something else? Do you have your sights set on broader, deeper ambitions that can be fostered somehow through your expertise in change execution, but which are intended to have a greater impact?

What Does It Look Like?

There have always been people who used one venture to help them accomplish something else that, for them, was much more expansive in scope. I’m not talking about the superficial, “socially correct” agendas some people engage in that are little more than mechanisms to ease their conscience about how little they actually do for others. Nor am I referring to celebrity “sound bytes” that are nothing but PR efforts designed to give the appearance of being invested in something. (In reality, they demonstrate no genuine commitment to anything except the press that is created.) I’m talking about the real deal—people who care deeply about an issue, cause, or constituency and use their success in one arena to further that purpose. 

Examples that come to mind are:

  • Bono, lead singer for the band U2, one of the world’s best-known philanthropic performers
  • Wally Amos, founder of Famous Amos Cookies, who became the national spokesperson for the Literacy Volunteers of America and is credited with alerting more people to the illiteracy problem than any other person in history
  • Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, who used the personal wealth he amassed to start the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, now the largest transparently operated private foundation in the world
  • Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, a cosmetics company whose stores and products are used to help communicate human rights and environmental concerns
  • Paul Newman, actor, who utilized his money and fame to start Newman’s Own, a company whose food products have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for charity
  • Blake Mycoskie, who created TOMS Shoes, a company that matches every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need.

I’ve mentioned only a few people that we can easily recognize as exemplars, but there are plenty of lesser-known people who have used success in one area of their lives to further a cause of greater magnitude in another area. These are people who, while engaged in one agenda, were also following a different, higher-order purpose…what they were really up to.

Some used the actual talents, products, or services they leveraged in their main profession as a way to accomplish a greater good; others used some of the earnings they generated to underwrite their larger mission. Some started their career with their ultimate purpose in mind from the beginning; others decided to launch a more significant venture at some point during their journey. Some unabashedly promoted their real purpose from day one, while others kept their eventual aim to themselves until they felt the time was right to discuss it openly. Regardless of the approach used, all had something in common—channeling whatever special resources they had access to (money, notoriety, connections, knowledge, skill, talent, good looks, etc.) into achieving something of a more noble nature. They were up to something that surpassed the professional activities most people originally attributed to them.

That’s the focus of my question. Is there something you are using your professional success to promote or foster that may or may not be apparent to people who only know you as a change practitioner? Are you up to something that directly or indirectly utilizes, but also eclipses, your change work?

  • If the answer is yes, I have a couple of follow-up questions for you:
    • Is your higher-order aim something vague, like “serve humanity,” or specific, like “provide safe drinking water” for a certain area of the planet?
      • If it’s specific:
        • are there particular aspects of your change work that directly support it (like teaching people in your chosen constituency how to address the changes they encounter), or
        • do you use your implementation expertise to generate assets (reputation, respect, money, etc.) that can be brought to bear toward it?
    • Are you public about your ultimate purpose (you openly promote and discuss it) or do you remain private about it (few people know)?
    • If private, is that part of your strategy (you feel you can accomplish more if people aren’t focused on what you’re doing)?
  • If the answer is no (that is, you don’t have a specific higher-order agenda):
    • Is it possible that you have aspirations about applying your change expertise to something beyond financial rewards for yourself or client satisfaction but it hasn’t yet become clear what that might be?
    • Is this something you have ever given much thought to? Have you talked to colleagues, friends, or family about using your success as a change practitioner to advance something more than your professional career?
    • Are you comfortable exploring the interests and passions you have outside of work that could benefit somehow from your change agent success? Is this something you might entertain?

Obviously, inquiries of this nature can only be answered at a very personal level. My purpose in exploring this topic isn’t to suggest what the “right” answers are for you. I do hope, however, that reading this post might prompt you to consider the query I’ve raised, if you haven’t already done so.

Warning: Advocacy Pitch Coming Your Way

That said, I have a bias I want to express. If you are part of the intended audience for the questions I’ve suggested (seasoned, highly skilled, dedicated practitioners), please consider the following:

  • Do you “have” to be up to something to be in this profession? No.
  • Should you be? This is for you to decide, if you haven’t already done so.
  • Am I encouraging you to be? Absolutely…and here’s why. 

Our role as change practitioners grants us more than an opportunity to earn a livelihood and create something of significance for clients; it also comes with an “invitation” to accept larger responsibilities than the face value of our work implies.

Here’s the deal:

  • There are either people or causes outside your work and family you care deeply about, or there aren’t.
  • If there is someone or something in which you have that kind of interest, there are either ways you could use your change proficiency to support them, or there aren’t.

If you care, and you could have an impact, I suggest you may be dealing with more than just an opportunity that you may or may not decide to follow. It’s possible that your unique position calls out a responsibility to engage the larger quest at some level.

This isn’t intended to place a demand or guilt trip on you. Externally imposed obligations don’t work in these situations. Replying to this kind of responsibility must be driven by a need to be internally consistent with who you are, not by meeting anyone else’s expectations. Any meaningful responsibility you feel toward others first requires accountability to yourself.

This is about a call to action that you should heed only to the extent that it speaks to your core, so explore deep within yourself to see what’s there. Answering a calling of this nature is only possible if you are listening with your heart. 

I warned you that I’m promoting a particular outcome. Although you are the only one who can decide what is right for you, I urge you to use your gifts as a change professional for causes beyond your own boundaries and those of your clients. Be up to something if you aren’t already. Doing so makes a difference in other people’s lives and creates a sense of fulfillment in yours…not a bad ROI for orchestrating what you are good at anyway into something that generates meaningful impact for others.

Precisely what you are up to isn’t the focus here. As long as you are authentically engaged in using your position as a change practitioner for a purpose beyond your own professional advancement, and it is intended to advance the human experience in a positive way, it doesn’t matter what it is. Pick something—anything—and put your whole self (head and heart) into it. The world needs as much positive change as it can get, so whatever you help facilitate will be beneficial.

In the next post, I’ll share what I’m up to.


[1] As I’m using it here, being “up to something” means you are pursuing endeavors that are different from, but somehow play off of, your success as a professional change facilitator.

Posted on: March 26, 2013 05:24 PM | Permalink

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