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Change Management: Walking the Talk

When I talk about change management in organisations, I usually like to stress three main points:

One – change is constant. Even while you are in the middle of one process, other processes are already underway. Sometimes you can predict what lies ahead, but other times, you cannot.

Two – change is emotional. Like it or not, change is about gain, but it is also about loss. It doesn't matter that the goal posts spell out a bigger, brighter, more efficient future . . . before you get to score, you have to make it all the way across the field. You have to work in collaboration with others. You have to recognise that in order to reach your final destination, sometimes you have to pass the ball over to someone else. Change is about letting go and that isn't easy. For anybody.

Three – finally – as leaders of change you have to be in touch with yourself. The responsibility is twice as complicated, because you are both a leader, and a person – a regular employee as it were – who is undergoing the change: just like everybody else. So, on the one hand you need to be an advocate and a change agent. You have to be wholly accountable. You have to – as outlined in step one of John Kotter's change management model – 'create a sense of urgency'. On the other hand, you also have to recognise where you are in terms of the change and give yourself space to deal with whatever emotions you are feeling.

Yesterday I had the honour of speaking about 'Change Management and Leadership' in front of an esteemed group of senior professionals. It wasn't meant to be a lecture – more of an interactive discussion. The format was simple, the students were to sit in the same physical space, and I was to speak from a virtual platform. Nothing scary or unusual about that: as a person who has 'grown up' in global companies, this request is status quo, even mundane.

When the time came, without batting an eye-lid, I entered the pre-session sound and camera check. Within minutes two fundamental problems emerged: firstly, as it turns out, the presentation that I prepared needed to be in PDF format. No problem.

OK, so there would be no carefully crafted animation.

OK, so there would be some slides where the info wouldn't be visible. Doesn't matter. I am a change management professional. I've got this. The slides are just a jumping board. I could also talk without slides. (Spoiler alert: Chekov's smoking gun!)

The next problem was with connectivity.

"Is it me?" I asked, cursing the Internet gods and begging them at the same time for some mercy. I checked my WiFi. On my end it looked strong.

"No," said the very helpful coordinator, "it appears to be us. Don't worry, once you get into the virtual room, it will be OK."

"OK," I said cheerfully, "that's great news."

I get into the virtual room and I am all psyched and ready to speak. I know what I want to start with: Change is Constant. Following that I want to have a discussion about a specific change management scenario. It will take the shape of: 'what would you do?'

"Hello," I say with the excitement of a six year old who is about to get on a carousal. "I am so pleased to be here." The students greeted me really warmly and enthusiastically. "Thank you all for coming," I say. "I want to begin with a mantra of mine ... Change is Constant..."

Now, I am not sure at what point I lost them; whether or not they heard my words, because suddenly the screen froze.

Over the next approximately seven minutes, I drifted in and out of virtual presence. I have fainted a couple of times in my life, and the feeling is similar. The world goes white, your body gets cold and prickly, and your mind, even though it feels numb, shouts weakly 'this can't be happening'. However, since I am a change management professional, I decided to go with the flow and adapt to the situation.

In the occasional moments of real time, in which I managed to connect, I was raring to raise my second point – Change is Emotional. I was aching to talk about the Kübler-Ross change curve, and I was ready to give real examples from my immediate present tense. I was angry, in denial, and depressed: all at the same time. Moreover, not so deep down in my consciousness, I maintained a steady flow of bargaining: keep me on line and I swear tomorrow I will finish my blog, maintain connectivity and I will do all the fixes that my editor requested. But, I am a change management professional, so I hurried quickly on towards Acceptance.

Meanwhile, the helpful tech support people sent me message after message:

'Try now.'

'It's your Internet connection. It's weak.'

'It's not your Internet. Your internet is fine. Try to reload the presentation.'

'Try again.'

'Can you hear us or see us?'

After each comment I sent them a response, or at least I thought that I did. It turns out that I needed to click an invisible Send button on the right side of the screen. So for about eight minutes, they lost all contact with me, and I couldn't understand why they weren't seeing my messages. Having said all that, since I am a change management professional, I am not scared of a little adversity. So, I whipped out my cell phone and wrote a letter to the kindly coordinator:

'Not working. Please contact Support for me.'

I am not sure whether she contacted them or not, but I had about two minutes of smooth sailing and then I lost the class again. I sent another email to the coordinator:

'Frozen again.'

Once I realised that the support was not a chat function and that I needed to click Send, we were happily back on track. I was advised to turn off my camera. Perhaps it was sapping all the connectivity juices. So I did.

At this point the class couldn't see me, and I couldn't see them. Moreover, (not certain that this was connected to the camera elimination) I suddenly lost all of my slides. The conferencing software stayed buoyant and visible, but my slide deck was gone, and there was nothing that I could do to find them again. Oh well, I am a change management professional, I meet resistance with persistence. And so, with no camera, no visuals, no slides, and holding my breath that I could get my message across, despite the deficits, I ploughed forth.

The optimist in me demands to interject that it was probably a blessing in disguise that no one could see me, because I have this small mirror on my office desk, and in the rather unwelcome respite from the online discussion, I suddenly noticed that my eye makeup was all smudged. It looked like I had a black bruise all the way down the side of my nose. It must have happened as I was wiping the proverbial sweat off my furrowed brow. Goodness gracious – I am a change management professional. Nothing surprises me anymore.

Despite all of the aforementioned activity, at some point, I was told by the time keeper (I had no idea that she was in the room) that I had two minutes to close. What a pity – just as I was getting warmed up. Back when I was planning this interactive discussion, I had really given my ending a lot of thought, but since my beginning and my middle had shifted so dramatically, what I had to say no longer seemed so relevant. So I finished off as neatly as I could, with a lot of enthusiasm, because I am an incorrigibly positive person. And I got off the line.

"How was it?" my husband asked, as I came out of my home office, pale and weak: knowing full well that things had gone horribly wrong. "It was terrible," I answered, "nothing worked. I couldn't see. The connectivity was awful. My students were cheated, their time was wasted." Do you remember that segment in Mad Magazine – 'Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions'? What an anti-climactic answer I gave him. In retrospect I could have been way more creative. How about this:

"How was it?" he asked.

"Great," I answered, "my dream of self-destruction has finally come true."


"How was it?" he asked.

"Fantastic," I said, " the professionals in this industry needed to be taken down a notch or two."

Or, maybe:

"How was it?" he asked.

"Amazing," I said, "humiliation is quite the aphrodisiac."

Still upset, I went into the bathroom, to draw myself a bath. As the room became warm and misty, I continued to think about additional ways to summarise the experience. Just as I got into the bath, my phone rang. It was my mother.

"Are you done?" she asked.

"Completely," I said, meaning it from the depths of my soul.

"Where are you?" she asked, "it sounds like you are in a hollow space."

"You have no idea," I answered her.

"How was it?" she asked...

Honestly, I don't remember what I answered, but what I should have answered was the following: "It was very significant. I gave a live demonstration of change management in action."

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