Raising the Bar for Our Profession

For an organizational change practitioner, lacking safety shoes is symptomatic for not being in touch with the reality of things. There is no chance for your expertise to get used as long as you stay inside the boardroom. Getting your expertise used – and the change to last – means raising the bar in two steps: relationship management and social architecture.

The profession of organizational change management is changing. And it is going in the right direction: clients no longer accept that 70% of the changes fails. And neither should you.

The arena of organizational change practitioners is packed with experts, tools and degrees. We could even add certification and other rituals, all to no avail. Being an expert is not sufficient anymore.

To make a difference, we need to raise the bar for our profession, by adding relationship management and social architecture to the requirements list.
Raising the Bar for Our Profession

Level One: Your Expertise

Let’s face it: the days of boardroom consulting are over. Reality is no longer restricted to the 150 slides of your PowerPoint-Conference-Room-Pilot-Presentation. Slowly but surely clients are starting to understand that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that we should put our beautiful models to the test on the shop floor.

The moral of the safety boots is that you need to ‘go local’ in order to make a connection. If you really want to practice organizational change management you need to step out of your project cocoon, right into the field. You need to sit on the handrail with the people who will eventually execute your bright ideas.

Also, you need to sit through the long (and often very technical) discussions of problem solving. Be there when they share war stories and tinker with a solution until it fits. That’s really tough, because 99% of the time you are the dummy in the group. To most consultants that is total agony. Certainly, when your raison d’être is based upon being the expert in the room.

You are no longer the expert once you are on the shop floor.

Get over it.

Level Two: The Relationship

No matter how up-to-date your knowledge is; no matter how state-of-the-art your model is; you should always remember that implementation is the last 99%.

And implementation is a relationship thing. Thus, the first thing you need to be aware of is that you start as a foreign element, so pushing your expertise down the throats of people will not amount to great things.

But then how do you build a relationship? You listen. You zoom in on ‘What are they committed to?’ Then, you commit to their commitments. It’s the only way to win their hearts.

Major Jim Gant knows about relationships. His work on TTE – Tactical Tribal Engagement is unprecedented for counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. His contention is to work with tribalism, not against it. In his free ebook ‘One Tribe at a Time’ he talks about an “acceptable level of integration.”:

There is nothing (and I emphasize nothing) that can prove yourself and your team to the tribe more than fighting alongside them. That is the ultimate testament of your team as warriors and your commitment to the tribe. It will create the foundation for influence without authority that is the key to success in tribal engagement.

My ultimate test of relationship management is based on Major Jim Gant’s insights: do you have influence without authority? If yes, then you are ready to raise the bar to the next level.

Level Three: Social Architecture

Ask yourself: What will people be creating when you are gone?

This third level is about building a platform in order to sustain the change. It will require you to get out of the way and to allow a community or a club of people to take over.

Building such a community is not easy because it is not done with the pressure of authority. Rather, it is done through the gradual and consistent work of going local, being there, and connecting (the previous level: relationship management).

Typical examples of a platform include:

  • a community of key users of different plants who connect with one another based on their domain of expertise;
  • a community of learning architects who make sure that the best practices from different countries get spread all over the organization;
  • a community of training administrators who cater for the continuous training and authorization updates that are necessary after the implementation of an ERP project;
  • a support community that prides itself on a new support process and continuously improves it.

The only thing you need is an element that helps people to connect and share their knowledge: after a while, they declare this as their platform.

Raising the Bar

We are always told to start with the end in mind. As it turns out, the end we have in mind when we are stuck on the first level results in a 70% failure rate. Raising the bar to the level of relationship management and social architecture will urge us to think about different ends.

This, in turn, will shift our vision and influence our execution radically. But make no mistake: these three levels build upon one another.

  • You need expertise in order to get the job done. This gets your foot inside the door;
  • Next, you need to consistently prove that you are worthy of people’s trust;
  • Finally, when people allow you a landing slot on their airport of trust, you are ready to build a platform.

In the end, what does this mean for you as an organizational change practitioner? Consider the following entry criteria in order to enter the next level:

  • Be an expert, that is the bottom line;
  • Then, let go of the attachment to being an expert and do the emotional labor that builds trust;
  • Finally, in order to build a platform, you will need to get out of the way and allow the community to take over.

I would like to thank Daryl Conner for challenging me to refine this concept.