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How to manage change properly


James Flanagan argues that unless Change Management takes action and reinvents itself it will become the professional equivalent of the American 'gas guzzler' following the oil crises of the 70s. He identifies why this is happening and how it can be corrected to meet the needs of today's business world.

Definition and introduction

Change management is defined as an area of professional practice that enables organisations to transform individuals, teams and organisations from a current state to a desired future state with the minimal disruption.
It is fortified with a range of books, methodologies, tools and templates and change managers who possess the knowledge and experience on how to use the above to achieve and embed change. But despite the expertise, change still remains difficult and elusive; projects are either not delivering what they were supposed to, they overrun both in terms of time or money or they are abandoned.
This is happening because it has become a step-by-step process, a template filling exercise and is not tackling the two issues it is supposed to; 'helping people to take a risk' and 'engage effectively with others'. By focusing on enabling people to do these two things change management will not only become less cumbersome, complex and costly but it will become more effective. To achieve this we need to change the change manager from a person with skills in template filling to one with skills in leadership.  

The successful change managers

The current focus of change managers - completing templates to produce the correct documents - is why change remains difficult and elusive. We need to change their focus to generating the conditions for change - encouraging people to take risks and engage with others. We can do this by shifting the emphasis of the change managers' skills from technical to tactical ability. Tactical ability is achieved by developing their leadership skills, the most important being self-awareness.
"Self-awareness helps people realise that they are talented and uniquely dignified persons. This self-knowledge transforms the way one looks at other people. "
Self-awareness frees the change manager to enter into the world of the people who will be affected by the change; once there they can understand and therefore identify the potential resistance to change and build strategies to reduce them.

How to make it happen

People who are self-aware have the ability to recognise and understand their moods, emotions and drives coupled with the ability to control them; the propensity to suspend judgement – to think before acting. This gives them the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and a proficiency in managing relationships and building networks; they find common ground and build rapport.
Self-awareness helps people realise that they are talented and uniquely dignified persons. This self-knowledge transforms the way one looks at other people. It helps to understand the aspirations, potential and dignity of others. This ability helps them to enter other peoples' worlds.
Few will successfully honour this model during every moment of a life. The challenge is to honour those principles by supporting them with a mechanism that helps to refocus after the inevitable stumbling. The successful change manager has and maintains this self-awareness by taking a small amount of time each day to tune out everyday distractions in order to reflect on their thoughts and actions.
Self-awareness generates indifference. Indifference is about the internal drives, fears and prejudices that prevent flexibility and openness; it is the ability to stop clinging to dysfunctional attachments thus allowing one to consider all strategic alternatives.
Personal fears cripple initiative. Fear of falling out of favour with managers, fear of taking risks, fear of looking foolish in front of others. Attaining indifference reduces fear and brings real ingenuity. Indifference needs to be developed before ingenuity can be.
Self-awareness is the cornerstone of ingenuity. Ingenuity disposes people to live outside the box and roots out parochialism. It inspires the confident optimism that the solutions are out there and with imaginative out-of-the-box thinking solutions are uncovered. Ingenuity is the ability to innovate, to absorb new perspectives, to respond quickly to opportunities or threats and to let go of strategies that no longer work and embrace new ones.
Those who have pinpointed and begun to root out their weaknesses and unhealthy attachments are building the indifference essential to ingenuity. Corporate ingenuity is cultivated and won one person at a time.

How it all comes together

Change happens not when a process has been followed or documents completed, but when people either take a risk, or engage with each other, or both. It can only happen and is truly effective when done so with a profound sense of dignity not only for oneself but also the other person.
A successful change manager is someone who is self-aware. Before they can change anyone they must first have changed themselves and have rid themselves of dysfunctional attitudes. If they have not then those attitudes become derailing baggage and prevent the change manager from entering through the narrow door into the world of the person they are hoping to change. Knowing the toolkit and how to develop documents is just the mechanics and does not work.
"We need to exorcise ourselves of disordered affections. We need to understand our attachments, the internal fears, drives and attachments that can control decisions and actions."
People derail because they never fully understand their weaknesses, weaknesses that typically revolve around risk taking and interacting with others. When change is introduced that is what we are asking people to do. We cannot work with them effectively to do this unless we have done so already ourselves. We need to exorcise ourselves of disordered affections. We need to understand our attachments, the internal fears, drives and attachments that can control decisions and actions.


A successful change manager looks first at the self and then at others. No one perceives others accurately without first achieving healthy self-regard. A successful change manager will appreciate their own dignity and rich potential and then have the vision to see the same qualities in other people. They then develop the courage, passion and commitment to unlock that potential in self and others. Once this begins to happen change management will become a vehicle appropriate to the 21st Century and beyond.  
But before we change anyone else we must first change ourselves.
James Flanagan, a training director of consultancy specialising in positive leadership and has worked as a trainer and a management development consultant in a broad range of companies including IBM, Lilly, Harley Davidson, BUPA and UNICEF.


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