Why Facilitators are key to leading and managing change in the workplace

Successfully leading and managing organsitional change is more about developing relationships, circumventing politics and managing emotions and less about logic, change theories, change management models and change processes. Of course it is important to have change management tools and a framework in which to deliver the change, but this really comes into its own to standardise activities and procedures once the change has been accepted and people have moved to the “let’s suck it and see” stage of the  Change Curve.  The Change models and change processes provide excellent tools for people to use to test out the new status quo and once these processes are used repeatedly, they facilitate the acceptance of, and commitment to, the new changes. However, all these are downstream. Unless the upstream change activities and buy-in is achieved before the implementation of any project (and let’s face it, projects should only exist to introduce changes, else why bother?), the downstream activities won’t happen…or won’t happen well. The end result is either a failed project or less than a successful one.

Upstream activities involve creating an environment for the change and engaging with the stakeholders and recipients of the change to minimise resistance to change. It is about leveraging the power of strong relationships to deliver impactful and engaging communications which connect with people and delivering the emotional support which facilitates the individual transition from the shock to denial to anger to depression phases of the change curve  to the more productive experimental stage, which ultimately leads to a successful transformational outcome. Put simply, having effective relationships is key.

In the UK and most anglo workplaces, building relationships is not considered a vital part of the day job as it goes contrary to the accepted work culture where people are expected to compartmentalise their emotions and leave personal stuff at the door before entering the office. In these workplaces, a male manager would rather delegate work to himself than run the risk of dealing with an emotional and or weepy female team member! It is also not unusual for people to work with colleagues for years and yet not know anything about their personal lives. I am not suggesting that this culture is bad, just that it creates challenges when the introduction of change demands a certain element of trust on the part of the followers on their leaders. Communicating the change vision and change agenda to a level that is satisfactory for the occasion is one essential way to create these relationships and bridge the trust gap. The use of external Work place Facilitators  can help here. Facilitators can be used in business conferences, workshops, team meetings etc to engage with organisations and people on the change vision and facilitate essential collaborative dialogue on reasons, concerns, fears, risks, issues etc of the change. Because they are external to the organisation and/ or the change, they come with the perception of impartiality, which is important as it fosters credibility. It is up to the Change Leaders and Change Managers to ensure that this perception remains a reality by providing an accurate brief on the expected outcomes and challenges and leaving it up to the facilitators on how best to achieve collaboration. It is not wise for the Change Leader to put words into the Facilitator’s mouth and micro manage each step of the facilitation. If this happens, the change and engagement project is doomed as people are not stupid and can detect manipulation a mile off.

I once has a client who had a terse relationship with his team which he recognised was a significant barrier to the business transformation changes that he was seeking to introduce to create significant value for his organisation. He engaged me to facilitate a vital business workshop which was to be the start of the transformation process. I understood the brief and after undertaking my own analysis on the people, systems and process challenges that he had, provided a choice of high level workshop designs on the way forward. He “accepted” one but proceeded to change each and every aspect of the detail design. He insisted on words for me to use, how to say them and when to say them. I disagreed with this style and politely suggested that as he had such strong views that it was better that he designed and delivered the workshop himself without any further input from me. He agreed and did it. It was a disaster. I learned that he had major altercations with key opinion formers in his team which resulted in a significant and irrevocable breakdown of trust, and excessive  resistance to change. The business transformation initiative stalled and the client resigned from his organisation a few months later.

Next time you are charged with managing change in the workplace and you catch yourself putting a heavy reliance on change models, change processes and /or change theories to the detriment of relationship management, communications, engagement and emotional support, stop and re-asses. Are you in the upstream or downstream activities of your transformation change project?

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