Seeing Change in a New Light
Often times, we see change as a necessary evil, instead of an opportunity to improve. We’ve made the word change sound (and often feel) like something deleterious. However, if we view change as an opportunity to make situations/companies/teams that much better, then we can see it as an opportunity. This is the mindset of Marvin Washington, Professor and Department Chair and Strategic Management and Organization, at the University of Alberta. Marvin works toward helping teams change successfully with ease and progress. Below we’ve asked him to share his knowledge to help teams manage change more effectively.
Can you share a little about your background and your theory of change management?
I finished my first degree in industrial engineering at Northwestern University. From there I took a job as a manufacturing manager with Procter and Gamble in their bar soap division. After 5 years of working there, I found myself doing more management related activities and less engineering activities. Like most engineers with this conundrum, I decided to go back and obtain my MBA. I took a class in organizational behavior and thought ‘I want that job’. Hence I quit P&G and the MBA, and enrolled in a PhD program (in organizational behaviour and sociology) at Northwestern University (Kellogg Graduate School of Management). I completed the program, but missed the noise of “real work”.
A couple of my colleagues at P&G also made a transition – Marla to obtain her PhD in Industrial Engineering, and her husband Stephen to start an action research center. They contacted me to help them with some organizational change work at the United States Postal Service. From that engagement I had to combine what I was learning about leadership, organizational change, and strategic management, along with USPS’ actual situation. I then saw how my PhD could help organizations quiet their own noise.
Why is it important to understand the path of how you got to where you are now?
For me, combining research insights from academic/researching professors with my working experience with P&G, and also my related experience working with organizations such as USPS and the Government of Botswana very early on, helped me to think of organizational change as a very practice issue. While companies have lofty goals and ambitious plans, they also have anxious employees afraid that the skills they have acquired might not be useful as the company changes.
Thus, my approach has been to follow the maxim:
Organizations do not change…people change inside of organizations.
For me, that means to focus on the people. I spent about 18 months of my life over a 12 year period working with the government of Botswana. Often I would ask the question: How do you measure if we are changing? My answer would be: “One person at a time.”
This is ironic for me as while people might say they hate change, in fact we change all the time. We move houses, change jobs, watch our children grow up, etc. So then the question might be: What am I not willing to change? Often the answer to that question comes from deep reflection, what I affectionately call “going to jail.”
If you look at some of the more visible leaders in the world, many of them spent time in prison (Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King). Often they also write while they are in prison. I think their time in prison caused them to reflect on what was most important to them; or in our words, their purpose, vision and their values. Writing helped them clarify their own purpose, vision, and values and then translate them for a society (for Nelson Mandela, it wasn’t just about freeing the black South Africans, it was about freeing all South Africans).
On a more practical level, I would google “list of values” or “value words.” From there, maybe circle ones that speak to you. Then “go to jail” and figure out which 4-5 would define you or would distinguish you from other people.
Taking It To The Next Level
An actionable plan starts with a very clear vision. I would not say something like “I want to be happy”, “I want to get a good job”, or “I want to lose weight.” Instead, get very specific: “By 2020, I want to be a VP of a major company.” “By the end of 2018, I want to be enrolled in a MBA class, run a marathon, weigh a specific amount.”
One reason why we don’t achieve our goals might be because we don’t really know what we want. After you have a clear goal, I would then ask myself: Why do I want that? What is the payoff to being a VP? Running a marathon? From there, then you are creating a plan to close the gap from where you are today to where you want to be.
But in closing this gap, I would create two types of plans:
- Develop the broad steps (if goal is to be a VP by 2020, where do I need to be by 2018, 2019).
- Create very specific plans that you can review weekly (what do you need to do tomorrow, and the next day).
- At the end of each week, ask yourself these 2 questions:
- Did you do what you said you would do?
- Did it have the impact you thought it would have?
I think a couple of things. The first is that people might not actually want what they say they want. I hear all the time, how people want to be VP, but don’t want to play politics. Well if politics are part of the job of being a VP, then you don’t really want to be VP. Or people say they want to lose weight, but don’t want to go to the gym (can’t find time, too busy, etc). Then they really don’t want to lose weight. I think most of us have dreams. What is a dream? If someone knocks on my door and says they have a million dollars for me, I would take the money. So in short, I dream of being a millionaire. But if I am not actively doing anything to become a millionaire then I don’t really have a plan to become a millionaire.
Hence, I come back to spend some time in jail (quiet reflection, writing in a journal) to see if you really want the goal you are pronouncing. Secondly, recognize that change is actually change. So as you are making the change, recognize that it will feel uncomfortable. You are trading comfort of doing it the old way, with the uncomfortability of doing it the new way. Often people struggle with change as they are starting to feel uncomfortable and they resist the new feeling as they code uncomfortability as a bad feeling.
How can I hold myself accountable for the change I’ve put in place?
The short answer is to find someone you trust to become your accountability partner. If you had a goal of having a difficult conversation with a staff member or of going to the gym 3 times this week, find someone that you trust, but that will also give you truth (hold up a mirror) as opposed to harmony (value keeping you happy) and discuss those two questions (did you do what you said you would do, and did it have the impact you thought it would have).
Change Is Your Answer
You can see now that if your question is “How do I improve my team or myself?” that change IS your answer. To view change as your best friend may sound like a silly concept. But, in looking at your daily life and ultimately what you want out of it, change is what will provide the answer. Unless of course you want everything in your life to stay exactly the same, then by all means, don’t change! However, for those who believe that your choices are to evolve or perish, we’d love to talk to you. At NextWave Hire, we love to work with talent acquisition and HR teams that are looking to stay on the bleeding edge.
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