What people *say* isn’t what they *do*!

Portion of a black-and-white clock face with the hands pointing to the words TIME FOR CHANGE I’m presenting – virtually, of course – at the OHIMA conference this week. Subject: Change Leadership.

The conference organizers asked the speakers for some pre-session warmup questions about our topic.

This is what I sent:

  1. When I’m asked to lead change, I…
  2. My favorite ways to resist change are…
  3. Being required to change makes me feel…

I’m fascinated by the answers attendees are posting on the virtual conference platform; they give me a window into people’s thoughts about change and leading change.

Because here’s the interesting challenge: how someone answers a theoretical question isn’t going to be how they act in a real situation. The theoretical question invites a theoretical, intellectual answer, often based on what we think is the “right” thing to say or do – or what we wish or hope we’d say or do. And when we answer in a public setting, whether it’s a conference or a team meeting, we have the added pressure of “But what will they think of my answer?”

One of the case studies I’m putting together for the program is about a company-wide cross-department knowledge management project. All the department heads agreed that it was a great idea … in the meeting with the CEO, COO, and Sales VP. Outside that meeting, it was a different story.

As leaders of change, we need to recognize the reality that there will almost always be a gap between what people say about their participation in the change, and what they actually do. If we understand this, we avoid being blindsided by resistance that, when we don’t understand this, feels like it comes up out of nowhere.

Change initiatives fail all the time. Usually it’s attributed to poor communication, poor planning, scope creep, and so on. In my view, however, these are surface reasons – the symptoms, if you will. The root cause is the natural human resistance to change, which is based in neurological realities around safety, uncertainty, and survival. When change leaders understand this, they can manage it. When they don’t, they’re overlooking the human factor of change and, in short, they’re not change leaders; they’re change managers.

Change projects fail all the time. Communication, planning, and scope creep are the symptoms, not the root cause.Click To Tweet

In that case study, the person leading the change could easily have failed if she hadn’t recognized the reality of how the department heads actually felt about the project. Instead, well aware that what’s said to executive leaders for political purposes isn’t necessarily what will be acted upon, she was able to take steps to bring the department heads into alignment – even if it was begrudgingly at first.

Change leadership skills are different from change management skills. Both are essential; neither are sufficient on their own.

Why should you care about change leadership? If I haven’t already convinced you, try this article.