Voice Over - It's That Simple

I’m kicking off another change farm team at work next week. This is essentially a college level course on change management and change leadership filtered through the peculiarly idiosyncratic maze which is my brain. This is the second time I’ve run the course at IAG so I’m rocking into it with a lot more confidence that I know what I’m doing. BTW, Jaime, Mera and Aeron, if you actually read Voice Over and you want to join us, by all means let me know. You know I won’t get another chance for at least a year and half so now’s your opportunity to slip in.

Rereading the materials for the course for the umpteenth time reminds me why we should periodically revisit the basics in any field for which we profess some level of expertise. I’ve read this Hiatt chapter introducing “Why Change Management?” a half dozen times over the past five years and I still got a quote out of it that struck me. “We change for a reason. As simple as that sounds, an underlying principle for managing change is that a future state can be envisioned that is different than today, and we are changing to that future state to achieve a specific and desired outcome.”

Oh come on. How basic is that? I’ve moved my attention long since away from change ‘management’. You don’t manage people into a future state through specific, planned, timed interventions. It’s all so much fuzzier. You need a change approach (not a plan), you need stories (not comms), you need leaders (not managers), you need a shared purpose (not a leader driven ‘vision’). I feel like I’m reading the past when I crack open this book. But…


Yeah. Nothing we’ve invented since Hiatt wrote this has actually changed the bottom line that we change for a reason. We find that reason within ourselves and we make ourselves move forward because we have to. Sometimes it is a joyful journey to a desired future. Sometimes it’s a miserable slog through a hell scape of poor decisions and worse options. Sometimes we just endure. But when we change ourselves, we do it for a reason.

Today, I want to throw away the WIIFM acronym. I’m just gonna call it… the idea that we all change because we identify “What’s In It For Me” feels so helplessly, hopelessly, self-consciously American that I am not willing to buy into it any more. What a materialist, selfish way to think about things. I like Hiatt’s phrase better because it green frames the motivator. Yes, you could easily argue that “What is my reason to change?” isn’t semantically different than “What’s in it for me?” However, I’d counter that a reason can be generous. It can be selfless, affirming, engaging, and collaborative. I can have a reason that isn’t just about me. And while the selfish gene theorists will tell you that all altruism can ultimately be twisted into a statement about ensuring the reproductive success of your DNA, it doesn’t feel the same. I can believe in a purpose to make the world safer and see the connection between making a change in myself to help my organisation collectively achieve that larger, humanne goal.

Narrative for change is probably the single most important contribution a change professional can add to any endeavour. To truly add value, we need to provide insight, language, and connection to the story that must emerge through the clouds of ambiguity and confusion introduced by any change. Increasingly I feel that I am Hansel strewing breadcrumbs through the woods and hoping beyond hope that the reason for each person will be I want to get me some of that too.

When project managers and business leaders assume that the human factors of change (ultimate utilization, speed of adoption, and proficiency) will automatically reach 100% the moment a change is introduced (or at the go-live date), they fall into the trap that designing and implementing a business solution is sufficient to achieve results.” ~ John Hiatt