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The Agony and the Ecstacy of a Change Manager

Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note:  Ron Leeman is a world-recognized Change Manager and author of several Change, Process, and Project training guides on Flevy.   You can also learn more about Ron and his approach to Change in our interview with him.

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There is a famous line in the 1965 film The Agony and the Ecstacy about the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling when Pope Julius II (played by Rex Harrison) asks Michelangelo (played by Charlton Heston) …

This is a very brief but telling exchange and arguably you will identify with the answer Michelangelo (the Change Manager) gives when being asked by the Sponsor (Pope Julius II) about how long it will take to make a change. Mind you  don’t think a Change Manager nowadays would be as direct as that … LOL.

Anecdote … I went to watch this film in Malta when it was first released as part of my History of Art studies … a classic film. I also went to visit the Sistine Chapel in the mid-80’s to see this magnificent piece of work for myself … I was awestruck.

Moving on …

A Change Managers role is a complex and demanding one (as if you didn’t know) because you have to try and be “all things to all people”.  On one side you have to satisfy your masters but on the other hand you also have to satisfy those that are impacted by the change.

Michelangelo, (the Change Manager), was striving to create a work of quality (the solution) using his experience and knowledge so wanted to take his time to implement it. Pope Julius II (the Sponsor), on the other hand and quite rightly, wanted to see the finished article and wanted return on his investment.

So, using this as a backdrop, what I have tried to do in this article is articulate (based on my own experiences) some of the AGONY and some of the ECSTACY that a Change Manager can typically go through during a change project.

Being the focus of vitriol and sometimes outright resentment …

  • You are the voice of change, the delivery mechanism, the one that stands up in front of everyone and says this is what it’s all about, this is how it will impact you and this is when it will happen. You see their anger and their confusion. You bear the brunt of the dissenters, the overt resistors and the outright saboteurs of change and you just have to deal with it and take it on the chin.

The pressure from the “powers that be” to get things done …

  • On one side are those that you report to, those that hold the purse strings. They will be on your back almost 24/7 to deliver and will not necessarily listen to reason or logic as to why you can’t. Their reputation is on the line so they will want answers and not yesterday but today, in fact immediately. This will sometimes distract you from your purpose and you will undoubtedly get irate because of this but it is sometimes a necessary evil..

Being bought into a project that has already started …

  • I call this one “chasing your tale” because you are always playing catch-up. You had no control over things that have gone before so even if you think it is not right you have to live with it and somehow turn it to your advantage. The best thing to do is look at what went well and what didn’t go so well and work on that. You cannot turn back time so just make the best of a bad situation.

Leaving a project before it finishes …

  • This can happen for a number of reasons … budget has run out, the project gets shelved, you don’t see eye-to-eye with the Sponsor/Project Leadership, you feel that you cannot add any value etc. Regardless of the circumstances it is not a good feeling and self-doubt starts to kick in big time. On the flip side it is also good for reflection and learning and consequently something you can take to your next assignment.

The feeling that you are facing a losing battle and just want to give up …

  • How many times have you felt like just saying “I give up” and “I don’t want to do this anymore” … if you are like me quite a few times I guess. This is a natural feeling when things aren’t going your way so instead of letting it get to you look at how to turn things around, look for the positives and use them. Do some self critical analysis as best you can and come up with ways of moving forward in a positive fashion.

Having to deal with displaced people …

  • One of the saddest things about change is that it sometimes displaces people. Unfortunately this is a fact of life and you need to deal with it. You can but provide support and deal with all the emotions that people will have. Try and make them understand that it is nothing personal but a consequence of what is happening and you are there to help them through their trials and tribulations. Be their friend and on call when they need you.

Getting full support from your Sponsor and Key Stakeholders …

  • Have you ever felt alone? You don’t need to because if you have done your homework on your Sponsor and Key Stakeholders and you are engaging with them at the right level, using the right tools and at the right time this will get you your support. It also reduces the burden on you because they will be an extension of what you are doing and will help you with your endeavours. This is a critical aspect of change so spend time doing it right.

Receiving positive feedback from the impacted change community …

  • Everyone craves feedback, especially positive feedback. How nice it is to be told that what you are doing is having a positive effect on people and how glad they are that you are doing what you are doing and that you have their undying support. When they start to regard you as a friend and ally. This is music to your ears and you need to capitalize on it. It motivates you and gives you a sense of purpose and invigorates your efforts.

Turning resistance into support …

  • Probably one of the best and most satisfying feelings you can get. That/those resistor(s) that have been the constant thorn in your side all of a sudden turn into your greatest supporters. This doesn’t happen by chance! It happens because you have done a lot of hard work in engaging with them and getting them to understand more about the change. Turning resistance into support is one of the best things that can happen in a project. Again it is a great motivator.

Your readiness measurement indicates that the business will be ready for ‘go-live” …

  • This is particularly pleasing because seeing your indicators continuously heading for that “go live” target demonstrates that what you have been and are doing is having a positive impact. It is good to see it in “black & white” rather than have anecdotal evidence or hear it through the grapevine. It is also a way of proving to your masters that things are going well which gives them confidence, not only in you, but also their people.

When a project actually goes live …

  • In the words of Kool and the Gang … Celebration time come on, were gonna have a good time tonight, let’s celebrate, it’s alright! This is what you have worked your butt off for, that moment when the switch is pulled and everything works. It’s a great feeling and you can reflect on all the hard work you have done to get to this stage and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. but not forgetting all those people that helped you get there.

In summary …

These are just a few emotions that are just part and parcel of being a Change Manager … we deal with them and learn from them. So tell me:

  • Have you gone through any of these experiences … I am sure you have? Tell me about them and how you felt.
  • Are there any I have missed … I am sure there are? Please add to my list with your own.
  • How have you dealt with them … specifically the agonies? Tell me about your own experiences.

Remember… The highway of change twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same.  Our lessons come from the journey and not the destination.

About Ron Leeman

Ron Leeman has been involved in “change and process” work for more years than he cares to remember. He has worked extensively across the UK, Europe, and globally--and has an enviable track-record of delivering organisational change and process initiatives across a wide cross section of industry sectors. In 2012, Ron was bestowed with a “Change Leader of Tomorrow” award by the World HRD Congress “in recognition of my remarkable progress in initiating changes enough for others in the same industry to follow my example”. Ron is firm believer in knowledge transfer and now wants to share his vast knowledge with those who are considering getting into or at various stages of “change” and/or “process” work or those working on specific Projects wanting to gain practical insights into “how to” type situations. You can connect with Ron Leeman on LinkedIn here, where you can view his 85+ Recommendations and in excess of 800 Endorsements from clients and co-workers alike to give you an indication of the quality of service that he has provided and can offer. Ron is also a document author on Flevy. Browse his frameworks on Change Management, Process Analysis, and Program Management here: http://flevy.com/seller/highwayofchange.

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