Change Thinking

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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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What I’m Up To

In my last post, I posed a serious question to serious practitioners: What are you up to? Here’s what I mean by that: Is there something else you are hoping to achieve through your work above making a living and fulfilling your professional obligations? Is there something more that drives your passion for being in this profession? Are there goals you are striving to accomplish that are connected to, but go beyond, your change implementation work?

Although there are many positive things you could invest yourself in that would benefit people and/or causes (charitable contributions, volunteering, etc.), in this series of posts, I’m focusing  on a very specific type of giving of yourself that involves playing off your success as a change professional. Being up to something means applying the assets you have acquired through your implementation work (knowledge, skills, reputation, connections, money, etc.) to create an advantage for a particular group or agenda unrelated to furthering your career.  

This blog series is intended to stir your thinking about what you are up to regarding how you use your change facilitation expertise. More than that, I hope it opens a dialogue between you and other change practitioner colleagues, so you can learn more about each other’s larger aspirations (or intentions to move in that direction). When we “go on record” with others about what we are up to, it can have a galvanizing effect on our efforts…solidifying and strengthening our resolve.

To the extent you are comfortable doing so, consider leaving a comment about what your higher-order mission is and how you are using your change execution success to foster it. Or, you might share some of your thoughts about searching for a venture of this nature. If you consider what you are up to as too private a matter to openly discuss, maybe this is an opportunity to clarify and rededicate yourself to that undertaking in a way that doesn’t involve interaction with others.

I wouldn’t ask you to share something as personal as what you are up to without doing the same myself, so here is what I’m passionate about that I try to use my change practice to advance.

What I’m “Up To” Has Two Layers

I strive at two levels for a broader impact beyond the face value of my change execution work. One is strategic and one is tactical in nature.

Strategic

I think of the larger work I’m committed to as strategic in nature because it involves applying myself to Changes That Matter—intentionally seeking out clients with initiatives that are designed specifically to create a positive impact on human existence. Usually, these are endeavors intended to generate value for large constituencies…sometimes all of humankind. That is why I consider this kind of application of my professional expertise as being up to something at a strategic level.

Sometimes the product or service a client sells or provides will make a difference in the world, and helping them successfully execute critical changes to increase their efficiency/effectiveness is a way to contribute to that outcome. Occasionally, it’s not what the client makes or offers, but the change itself that will have a meaningful effect on people’s lives (customers and/or employees) with lasting positive implications.

As skilled professional change facilitators, we are uniquely positioned to help implement and fully realize initiatives with this kind of potential. I consider any opportunity to work directly on such projects or to encourage other practitioners to do the same to be in support of what I’m up to.

I have addressed what I mean by Changes That Matter in two previous blog posts: The Why of our Work and The Why Behind What We Do. Because I’ve already written extensively about applying ourselves to these kinds of changes, I won’t elaborate further here about what I’m up to strategically. I invite you to visit the earlier series if you haven’t already read them.

Tactical

My strategic mission is centered around trying to have a positive impact on large issues and populations. Tactically, I’m focused on the individuals and small groups I personally interact with. What I’m up to in this regard, however, is not general in nature. I have a very specific agenda I’m pursuing at the tactical level. The influence I aspire to here is directed at combating the sense of victimization that has become so prevalent in today’s organizations.

As I’m using the term here, victimization describes a mindset characterized by feeling trapped in negative circumstances with no option but to endure. Although this way of thinking has become pervasive throughout all aspects of society, I’ve found the organizational setting an ideal environment to attempt to address the problem. I feel my work in this area is tactical in nature because it centers on the micro-level of humanity, the single individual. Victimization is a plague with destructive implications of epic proportions, but it is best treated one person at a time.  

Even though I consider helping individuals confront their victim-prone mindsets as an important part of my higher-order agenda, it is not what clients have in mind when they secure my services. They engage me to address implementation issues…pure and simple. Executives don’t hire me to reduce victimization within their organizations—I’m brought in to contribute to the successful achievement of their initiatives.

When I’m invited into an organization, I’m expected to diagnose execution problems and help create change architecture that works. In most cases, however, victimization is so prevalent among the key players (sponsors, agents, and targets) that it constitutes an underlying pathology that exacerbates all the other, more visible barriers to realization. If victimization isn’t addressed properly, the likelihood of making progress with the other inhibitors is low.

I do all I can to help clients come to terms with their victimization inclinations, because it is essential to the success of the initiatives they have asked me to help with. For me personally, however, helping people live strong, victim-free lives is an important part of my higher-order endeavor.

In a recent blog series, I went into detail about why I believe victimization is such an arduous and debilitating challenge, so I won’t rehash all that here. I invite you to read that series, however, if you haven’t already (Victimization: Thorn in the Side of Change Execution).

Different Variations of the Same Theme

Investing myself in Changes That Matter and seizing opportunities to help people address the victimization in their lives are very different pursuits, yet they both have something in common— they provide me with opportunities to be up to something that uses, but goes beyond, my change execution day job. I’m able to draw on resources I’ve gained through my professional work (knowledge, skills, access to certain kinds of projects and people, etc.) to further each cause.

I love being a change practitioner. It has held my attention and still challenges me in all sorts of positive ways after nearly forty years of practicing the craft. Nonetheless, implementing organizational initiatives is not what fuels my professional passion. I’m fortunate in that my day-to-day activities are intellectually stimulating, and interacting with colleagues and clients is generally a wonderful experience. However, it is not the work itself, but what the work allows me to do that is so personally compelling.

The wellspring of my conviction and energy for this profession is the chance to play a role in moving organizations forward with Changes That Matter and supporting people who are de-victimizing themselves…not just at their place of work, but in other aspects of their lives as well. When either of these things happens, it is clear for me why I’m doing what I do.

The frequency with which these two opportunities occur is amazing. Given how few of the total number of initiatives started every year throughout the world are truly Changes That Matter, it is remarkable how often I find myself in the midst of one. Likewise, when I consider how many people are mired in a victimized mindset, I find it extraordinary how frequently I have the chance to work with people who are ready to confront the beast.

This good fortune is not something I take any credit for. Opportunities to be up to something are moments in time that are not ours to dictate. They appear as acts of grace, not of our making. That said, we do have a place in the process. This is what I meant earlier when I said we have a responsibility to fulfill. By this, I mean we have a duty to “show up” in a certain way. This includes:

  • Being clear and focused about what we want to be up to
  • Preparing ourselves as best we can for what we will be called on to do
  • Keeping a constant vigilance for when the windows of opportunity open up
  • Being willing to step forward with all we have to give when the moment arrives

In Closing

There are probably a few people reading this who are, for the first time, thinking about applying their change facilitation expertise to something more than what is normally expected of them. I suspect, however, that many of you are already actively involved in something of this nature.

As I’ve used it here, being up to something can take many forms, but to reflect what I’ve described here, it must include applying your change practitioner assets to people or causes outside what is typically associated with your work. The content will vary, but being up to something always involves using what we have gained to foster advancement for others.

I know many of you are already up to some worthwhile causes so I want to be clear that this series of posts isn’t meant to suggest that using our professional success in this way is anything new. It’s just that many more of us could find something to be up to, and it is likely all of us could be up to more than we currently are. So, the final question I’ll leave you with is: Are there remaining opportunities to be up to something you haven’t exploited and/or responsibilities you haven’t acknowledged and acted on?

Go to the beginning of the series.

Posted on: April 03, 2013 08:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Serious Question for Serious Practitioners

 “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 | Comments (0)
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