Mike Lehr, the Change Management community’s go-to guy on Twitter, is in the house. The President and Founder of Omega Z Advisors has agreed to this interview and I must say, he more than lived up to his reputation.
I posed questions on a variety of ideas in order to capture a wide spectrum of ideas. So read on and discover his, to the point, views on common mistakes made in change management, his perfect world, his approach to change, his predictions of the future and some other entertaining, fun surprises.
In your view – what are the top 3 mistakes that change managers make? What are some key differentiators you recognize in a successful change?
The top three mistakes are:
- Inadequate relationship building
- Overdependence on process
- Overreaction to resistance
Inadequate relationship building shows itself in two key areas: internal politics and communications. Inadequate relationships will cause internal politics to blindside the change manager and make any response to it difficult. Relationships apply to communications because the same message given by a favorable messenger will go over much better than when given by an unfavorable one.
People love processes. They are emotional security blankets. So, it’s easy to become more focused on running the process than achieving outcomes. It’s like driving a car without paying attention to where we are going.
As for overreacting to resistance, if God and evolution did not want us to resist change, they would have dropped it out of our genome by now. It protects us from knee-jerk reactions. Besides, each personality responds to change differently. Treating it as resistance only makes resistance greater.
How all this translates into key differentiators in successful change is that I look for two attributes:
- Equal participation and communication over the long run
- Emotional safety in expressing ideas, thoughts and concerns
Google found their best teams had these qualities. Teams where a few always dominated discussions and where people did not feel safe expressing themselves did poorer.
Complete the sentence: In an ideal world, change managers would…
Become extinct. Change would come easily for all. No one would need change managers.
When it comes to managing change in a company which uses a high speed, Agile methodology against managing change in a company which uses the slightly slower waterfall process. How do you adjust your approach?
As a short summary of the adjustment, let’s take the same change management plan. Waterfall devotees would likely say it’s too vague. Agile ones would likely say it’s too rigid. I adjust my work to fit the attitudes behind these generalizations.
More specifically, Waterfall requires more planning, detail and decision making on my part. I would weed-out borderline meetings. People who like Waterfall tend to find meetings a waste. They rather have time to focus on the work.
That means I need to follow up individually quite a bit. I need to ensure everyone understands their role and work. I have a more hands-on role, playing a driver. Clarity is critical with Waterfall.
Agile requires more flexibility, engagement and facilitation on my part. I would encourage borderline meetings but not necessarily formal ones. People who like Agile prefer its collaborative aspects.
That means I need to facilitate opportunities for that. I follow up, but it’s mainly to ensure the team’s current vision and tasks are understood the same by all.
With the constant software improvements, where would you like to see change management in 5 years time?
I would like to get past this obsessive debate about which process is best. It’s not about process. It’s about outcomes. That means accepting there is no panacea process.
The best process fits the facts of the situation, the skillsets of the computer and programming professionals, the business culture and the personalities of those on the effort.
The responsibility of being an influencer is immense, but I have to ask, what is the strangest question you have ever been asked about change management?
It was in response to a problem-solving workshop in which I was wrapping up. Even though not stated as a question, the context and tone implied one. It came from a CIO:
“Mike, I just don’t see how someone without an IT background or experience could have a good idea that would help me solve an IT problem.”
It’s like saying an ornithologist (one who studies birds) offers nothing of value to someone who’s trying to build a better airplane. The vast majority of breakthrough innovations come from experts studying applications outside their fields. They don’t come from experts of the application.
Still, the attitude behind this question did explain why the CIO was having problems rolling out a new ERP. Thus, it had diagnostic value.
And now a little something about you, Mike… what inspires you?
I get a tremendous high from helping people do things that they have never before done. In IT this often involves encouraging managers and executives to give talented professionals opportunities outside their primary skill set.
The confidence and new self-awareness people pick up from doing something new well, especially if it’s challenging and scares them a bit, can transform their lives.
For instance, I once assigned an employee to a phone outreach pilot program for which she had volunteered. None of the four client managers thought she could do it because she had zero customer service experience in her ten-year career. So, I had to sell that as a plus by saying, “Well, if she can do this, no one will have an excuse not to try if we roll it out to the whole department.”
In the end, she performed the best of those in the pilot. When I asked her what she had learned most from it, she said, “I never thought I was good with people. But, I found out I’m damn good!” She then broke out in tears, her self-image drastically changed forever.