Change Thinking

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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Character and Presence on My Road to Mastery


I asked several practitioners whom I respect to write guest posts about how they relate to two previously released series: Character/Presence and Cultivating Character. Donna Brighton, a seasoned professional in our field, is the fourth contributor to this series.


Donna Brighton_COLORBy Donna Brighton

I entered the field of change management after seeing organizations spend exorbitant sums of money without achieving their intended outcomes. I heard that “people, process, and technology matter,” but found that the people part was often overlooked on projects.

My study of change management gave me insights about approaching those missing people pieces. Along the way to becoming a “seasoned practitioner,” there were three distinct areas that defined my journey to practicing the craft at the mastery level.

  • Learn the craft
  • Practice with integrity
  • Help others on the path

I have since come to understand that each of these is a key element of my character, and how I show up (my presence) with my clients and colleagues.

Learn the Craft, and Never Stop Learning

At the very beginning of their careers, all practitioners must learn the language, tools, and processes in order to become technically proficient. As an emerging practitioner, I was eager to learn the craft of change management. I remember sitting at a client site every day after office hours to learn from a master practitioner who was willing to tutor me. This was invaluable in my development and accelerated my understanding and practice of change management.  

You become what you do. Since character matters, I intentionally invest at least 10 – 20% of my annual earnings in learning and getting better at what I do. Learning refines my capabilities and improves who I am and how I show up in my work. The key to success is focusing on what you do well. I believe that every person has unique strengths and abilities rooted in their character. Understanding my unique abilities and investing in making them better ensures that I continue on the path to mastery.

I recently read about the difference between a “growth mindset” and a “fixed mindset.” Someone with a growth mindset thinks big and is interested in learning and growing. A mindset that is fixed operates within artificial limits and avoids failure. A growth mindset is the essence of my passion for learning. Thinking big enables me to become more of who I am. What I build or create today will either empower or restrict me tomorrow. By applying a growth mindset to my practice, I refine my character to more fully appear through my presence.

As I matured in the practice of change management, I continued to learn. It is easy to get caught up in an attempt to master all the models, methods, and approaches, and determine which one is best. The more I practiced, however, the more I realized that it’s not just about the methodology. To achieve lasting change that leaves a legacy, character and presence must be part of my work. My pursuit of increased levels of effectiveness in the craft has taught me that I need to keep learning in order to bring all of who I am to what I do.

Practice With Integrity

In his series on character and presence, Daryl reminds us that our character is grounded in the depths of personal experience, and that it is always in play. It is crucial to the effect we have on our clients. Without character, methodology is sterile, and the benefits we are able to give to clients will be minimal. Here are some examples of how I have seen character and presence playing itself out in my career.

  • Early in my career, I was the practice director of a flourishing ERP team. We bid on a project to implement Human Resources, Base Benefits, Payroll, General Ledger, and Accounts Payable for the local paper company. We had four months to get everything done on a fixed price contract. I spent hours coming up with a clear and specific agreement about who was responsible for which parts of a project. I was open, honest, and managed expectations carefully to ensure that we were on track. About seven weeks into the project, the client acknowledged that they were not meeting their commitments and agreed to pay additional fees. This additional cash flow enabled us to provide additional support and, by working closely together, we were able to overcome some significant challenges. We had fourteen union contracts, limited time, and many data conversion issues due to data inconsistencies. We successfully went live on January 1 with minimal disruption to the organization. No amount of methodology or great change practice would have enabled us to deliver a functioning system for the client without applying character and presence to the way I engaged and worked with the client.
  • I was presented with the opportunity to go to Hawaii and work with a premier education provider as they underwent significant change. I was excited about the project until I talked with the initiating sponsor. Through my extensive conversation and deep questions, I determined that there was no appetite for true change. The client was willing to pay me to come to Hawaii and work on a project, but without true intention for change, I knew that I would not be able to make a real difference. Practicing the craft of change with integrity meant that I opted not to take the project and I turned down a chance to spend a few months in paradise.
  • More recently, I was responding to an RFP that asked me to propose on creating change management capability through training. I realized that by simply responding to the questions and giving them an approach, I would not deliver the results they wanted. I completed the parts of the RFP that were relevant and responded to the methodology portion with the statement that “I’d be committing consulting malpractice” to propose something that I knew would not achieve their stated objectives. I explained that it was important to me to deliver what they wanted and they were selecting a solution I knew could not meet their needs. This resulted in many follow-up conversations. Eventually, I was hired because my client knew that I cared and that I would not take their money without knowing I could do the work that would enable their success. My character played an integral role in building the trust and credibility required to accomplish real change. 
  • The practice of presence ties directly into the change and culture work I do with organizations. Change agents fail to achieve their goals when underlying tacit cultural norms are not understood and addressed. Change methods, models, or tools are applied at the surface level of an organization. Culture gets deep down into the soul of an organization. Culture is its character. Just as I need to understand who I am and bring that to my practice, I cannot be successful if I do not pay attention to the organization I work with and honor it through the change. For example, I am working with a client who is implementing a new strategy. Although the strategy is excellent and communicated well, some fundamental beliefs created resistance. I utilized a culture assessment to see a picture of the character in the organization. Working with the leadership team, I created specific action plans to address the underlying beliefs before applying a process, method or tool. This increased the impact of the change work. Really big changes requires changing mindsets along with behaviors.

The theme throughout each of these examples is practicing with integrity. As Daryl says, “Presence is the functional link between our interior character and the external impact we want to have with clients.” I believe that integrity is about the results and the relationships we create that come from practicing authentically.

Help Others on the Path

I have worked hard to live up to my full potential and I want to help others do the same, so I have intentionally found ways of passing it forward. Whether it’s volunteering to assist a global non-profit organization in the throes of change or my fulfilling my role as a Board member for the Association of Change Management Professionals, I believe in giving back. Being a master practitioner requires more than just learning and aligning character and presence. Generosity is a core component on the journey to mastering the practice of change. 

Have you taken the time to read and absorb Daryl’s blog posts? He’s sharing a lifetime of wisdom and insights. All you have to do is make the time to read, absorb, and apply in order to benefit from his genius. Idea generosity is a sign of a master practitioner. The more I share what I know, the more I learn and grow. Some practitioners develop a magic method or a powerful position on something but they want to keep it to themselves. Only through giving ideas can we make a difference and be a part of change that matters. I’ve learned that it’s not the information or idea that creates transformation—it’s my presence or the way in which I apply the information or idea. So be generous and share what you know.

Learn, cultivate your character, nurture your presence, and practice generosity. This may seem like a tall order for a new or even experienced practitioner. Remember, it is a journey, not accomplished all at one time.

Questions to contemplate:

  1. Are there ways to capture the lessons you’ve learned on your path to mastery? Do you have a plan for doing that?
  2. Have you taken time to become more aware of your character?
  3. What are the key elements of your character as you practice the craft?
  4. How are (or will) you bring it forward through your presence?
  5. How can you be more intentionally generous? Is there someone you can mentor in order to pass on the information and insights you’ve learned? What about giving back to the profession through volunteer service?

Organizations like Clearmodel, Kraft Foods, and Lockheed Martin hire Donna to solve for the right direction. She holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and serves as an officer and board member for the Association of Change Management Professionals.

You can learn more about Donna and her work from her website, Donna invites your questions and comments. Her email is

Posted on: May 21, 2013 02:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Three Traps of Change Practitioners


 I asked several practitioners whom I respect to write guest posts about how they relate to two previously released series: Character/Presence and Cultivating Character. Marco Manucci, a seasoned professional in our field, is the third contributor to this series.

The Impact of Character and Presence on the Quality of the Change Process

marcelomanucci010by Marcelo Manucci

If we are to reflect on our character (our true nature), we must consider that, in the process of change, two subjectivities meet:

  • The subjective world of the people who are involved in the change process
  • The subjective world of the change practitioners who guide the process of change

What is the importance of our “character” during these encounters? At these junctures, our skills as change agents serve to guide the process technically. In this sense, “what we do” involves the technical dimension of the process. By contrast, “who we are” is the frame that contains our subjective world. The subjective world of the change practitioner is the platform we use to understand and manage our relationships with others. Therefore, reflection on the aspects that compose our character is fundamental to the quality of relationships and their impact on the success of the process.

I think it is necessary to strengthen our character as change practitioners because it is the essence of our uniqueness that ultimately determines whether we generate meaningful benefits for clients. Why? Essentially, people act based on inner experiences (their subjective world), a change process is not a simple application of pieces within an objective structure of predictable behavior. By contrast, a change process transforms the environment; this has an impact on cognitive, emotional, and daily habits.

Because of this, we must recognize that our character is important to the quality of the process of change. A change practitioner who doesn't understand the impact of both “who we are” and “what we do” in the management of change can fall into one of three traps in which his or her ability to succeed is put at risk:

  • The trap of pride
  • The trap of hypocrisy
  • The trap of deceit

The Trap of Pride

This appears when change agents do not recognize the nature of “who we are” and act as autocrats, forcing changes in the group. The consequence is that the group rejects the interventions and the process does not achieve effective results that are sustained over time.

How do we fall into the “trap of pride”? When change practitioners do not recognize “who we are,” they ignore the impact of the subjective world on their interactions and act from a position of pride, or ego. A change facilitator acting this way unconsciously activates the values, belief, and perceptions of others. The risk of this indifference about the impact of our true nature in the relationship can lead the practitioner to force his or her perspective of reality. As a result, the change facilitator imposes his or her own “truth” and ignores the dynamics of the values and beliefs of the group.

However, every human system attempts to maintain its status quo, its own dynamic of life. People who face a situation that is dominated by another’s pride will resist change. So, in this power struggle, the system will try to accommodate all external roles (including the change practitioners) within its own dynamics. If change practitioners do not recognize “who we are," but instead act from a stereotyped role of “what we do,” they will generate an autocratic process. Therefore, they are forcibly pressing the group to change.

Under these conditions, the transformation process turns into a battle between pride and resistance. The group closes to the possibilities of change, reducing the impact of change practitioners to zero.

The Trap of Hypocrisy

This happens when change agents project a fake “presence” that does not reflect who they truly are. An unreal “presence” creates mistrust in the group. Thus, relationships become empty of meaning and the process loses fluidity and commitment.

Confidence is the most important capital in a process of change. Managing confidence is essential to building committed relationships. People do not leave their known world to venture into the unknown if they do not trust those accompanying them, and those who are guiding them. Confidence is a state of mind that must be built into the relationship between people and change facilitators.

Why do we fall into the trap of hypocrisy? When a change agent projects a fictitious presence—communication adorned with superficial techniques—it may result in superficial human relationships without commitment to the process. The result is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the code of the symptoms in human systems, because symptoms are masks that hide the real cause of a problem. The symptom shows some aspects of the system while hiding others. In this sense, the hypocrisy is a game of masks that reinforces superficial relationships.

The effective difference when we project a presence that reflects our genuine character versus a fake presence is confidence versus hypocrisy. A fictitious presence increases the risk of hypocrisy in relationships. Superficial relationships reinforce the symptoms. The trap of hypocrisy is sustained by living in a parallel world, a fictional world that does not generate genuine changes in the system. The system “entertains” with exercises, reports, documents, and many activities, but in reality, it does nothing to generate other living conditions.

The Trap of Deceit

This appears when change practitioners are indifferent to their responsibility to keep clear the demand for transformation in the group. They fail to be attuned to the emotions of the group, and let the change process be the sole path they are following. They yield to what the client expects of them, rather than working with the client to achieve what is needed. This point has an ethical connotation because, in this case, change practitioners do not respect their own “character” and “presence” and simply shape the work according to the demands of the client.

In any process of change, the human group imposes a rhythm on project development. This internal rhythm is marked by emotions: fear, confidence, enthusiasm, trust, comprehension difficulties, resistance, and so on. Human groups pass through different moods. The openness or resistance of the group to advance the process depends on the management of those internal factors (emotions) that determine the dynamics of the system.

Change facilitators fall into the trap of deceit when they mold themselves to the group's demands without clarifying the real purpose of the change. We must manage the demand of circumstantial emotions to guide the group toward a clear course. Otherwise, we will be lost in the process along with the group. When change facilitators become indifferent to the real purpose of change, they cannot understand the emotional responses of the group. This indifference can lead to automatic or stereotyped decisions. On the one hand, the process is rejected because it appears the organization is not in charge of the process. On the other hand, the agent assumes control over the process, personally taking charge of the group's decisions.

Two Questions for Keeping Character and Presence Engaged

Change practitioners must be careful not to address human groups using stereotypes, that will inhibit transformation possibilities. The fundamental question is, “How does one maintain a position of integrity, and at the same time, respect, hold, and accompany the group in its transformation process?”

In this sense, addressing human systems with a balance of “who we are” and “what we do” is a strategic advantage in the process of transformation. Here are two key questions to keep the principles of our character and presence actively engaged in the management of change:

  1. What is the real demand for change within the system? Do not be fooled by the complaints of the group and circumstantial emotions that cloud the true purpose of change.
  2. How can you maintain the transformation possibilities of the system? Do not be fooled by promises of change or the pendulum swing of behaviors within the group (from euphoria to despair and back again).

These questions connect change practitioners to their roles and responsibilities in the process. The convergence of character and presence allows working with the group to transform living conditions, without generating change by force.

Marcelo Manucci

Marcelo works in change management processes and emotional management of the transformations in human systems. He is an academic in several universities in Latin America and Spain. Marcelo is an international speaker on issues of change management, organizational development in unstable environments and competitive human talent. His methodology integrates principles of sciences of complexity, systems thinking, and neuroscience.

He has served as a consultant on various strategic development projects for civil and commercial organizations in Latin America.

Marcelo holds a doctorate in Communication Sciences (Usal) Argentina. He is a psychologist (UNR) with post-graduate work in Cognitive Neuroscience (Favaloro University) and has training in Systemic Therapy and Psychodrama.

He has also completed post-graduate training in marketing, corporate image, communication, and advertising (UBA) Argentina.

He is the author of six books:

  • Maps of complexity. Uncertainty, strategy, and leadership. Editorial Académica Española. 2012
  • Contingencies. Five challenges of change for a new decade. Grupo Editorial Norma. 2010.
  • Corporate Impact: Designing strategic corporate communications for unstable contexts. Crujía editions. 2008.
  • The strategy of the four circles: Designing the future of this uncertainty. Grupo Editorial Norma. 2006.
  • Caught in the present. Communication is a tool for building corporate future. CIESPAL. Quito, 2005.
  • Strategic Corporate Communications. Of persuasion to create shared realities. SAF Group. Bogotá, 2004.

You can reach Marcelo at

Posted on: May 14, 2013 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Clients Like It When We Grow

This is part 2 of a guest series by Peter Meyer: Adding Value by Being Self-ish. Last week Peter wrote about why it makes sense to focus on ourselves as "what our clients want to buy" as an important source of value. He suggested being self-ish. He likened us to the acorns in my metaphor, and suggested that we see our potential for growth as effectively infinite. This week he lays out a three-step process for self-direction and growth.


Growth is good for us and for our clients. The good news is that our customers usually recognize our bias towards growth. Some clients are scared of it. Some embrace it. The ones who embrace and value growth are the people we usually enjoy the most. It makes sense for us to appeal to and sell to those customers.

When I say “sell,” you know that I’m not talking about money. To be effective as a practitioner, you need people to buy your ideas, your questions, and your challenges. They need to invest enthusiasm and time. How can you increase the chance of clients investing? You can increase your odds by being more attractive as a product. Your character—your self—is attractive to the best clients. 

These are the clients you want. They value moving forward, they honor learning in themselves and in others. They value and respect you even more for what you are than how you present yourself to be. They will invest time, people, and money when they see more of your character than of your safe layers. 

This does not mean to act crazy or wear bright clothes. It means you should express growth so that your clients see it. This starts with learning how you grow, and how you can present it. When you choose your next development course, focus on how to understand your own ability to grow. 

Discuss your desire to grow with your client. Smart clients want people who can and will grow. Then discuss how the client can take advantage of your growth to enhance his or her own progress as well as the desired results. Your next course should be centered on you, not on tools. You can help make your client happy by being self-ish and selfish.

Exposing your desire to grow may seem risky. In some organizations, growth is not valued, and in those, you will no longer be an appropriate fit. This focus on growth and character will attract some clients, and it may also cost you work that you don’t want. Take that risk! You will reward yourself. You will get satisfaction, fun, and growth when you act self-ish.

Three Steps to Get and Share More Satisfaction, Fun, and Growth

If you hold satisfaction, growing, and fun to be important, then you are self-ish and selfish in the right way. You have the groundwork for mastery today. Once you know what, how, and why you grow, you are ready to grow exponentially. What do you do? You don’t work at self, you work from it.

One way to accomplish this is to follow a three-step process for self-direction or growth. To summarize it:

  • Step One would be to desire to grow or change. That is solely individual, solely personal. You have it, or you don’t. But realistically, if you are reading Daryl and reading this, you probably have the desire.
  • Step Two is to look, with total candor, at your current state. It is pretty, it is ugly, it is admirable, and it is sometimes what you would rather have already outgrown. It is unblinking self-ish examination of how your character presents now. Not how others would have you be, but how you are in this moment.
  • Step Three is to look, with total candor, at your practically limitless potential. 

This third step is hard, because in many cultural models we are asked to feel limited. I am going to argue that you are not. Is there a question that you can ask for which you cannot find the answer? The accurate reply is that there is no such question. The implication? Your growth potential is practically limitless. In terms of your career as a change practitioner or an executive, you are, for all intents and purposes, looking at limitless growth potential. This limitlessness is the essence of our character. Step Three is to look at yourself as without limits. 

Your nature is to grow. That is limitless. It is the point from which we  each initiate every effort.

When you look at your present state, and then your character, as practically infinite growth potential, you have the option to run away or to try and close some of that gap in potential. An oak tree automatically grows towards potential. So do we. When we have the desire to improve, we will grow towards what we see in Step Three.

Is it scary? It can be. What is in it for us? First, satisfaction. Second, fun. Third, success. And best of all, more growth. 

Presentation is measured by what you have done, character by what you can do. Bring them both to every interaction. Be selfish and self-ish, work on your character before you talk to your clients. Work on it constantly, and make more oak happen. That is you growing.  

Why should you do this? The overriding principle is easy: Don't put off until tomorrow what you can enjoy doing twice today. Focus on your own self-ish growth, fun, and satisfaction. Your client will benefit, and you will be on a road to mastery.


For several of the best ideas here, I am beholden, not only to Daryl, but to Bruce Smith and William W. Walter as well. They have my gratitude.

You can learn more about Peter and his work from his website, Peter invites your questions and comments. His email is

Posted on: April 30, 2013 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge."

- Albert Einstein



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