The volume, momentum, and complexity of change are all accelerating as never before, and we run the risk that the challenges brought to us will outstrip our ability to keep up. (Maybe this is already happening for some.) At one point or another, we’ve probably all told our clients (those we serve, whether we are an internal or external resource) that “change is changing,” but are we as practitioners changing at a commensurate speed (evolving ourselves as well as the state of the art)?
GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS
The good news is that clients are relying on us more than ever. Yes, we still have to convince some leaders that attending to the execution of critical initiatives is as important as ensuring that the right solutions are being implemented, but more and more leaders are turning to us and asking, “What do I do now?” In addition, we are better equipped to address these requests than ever before.
The bad news is that, even with these gains, many of us are simply not as prepared as we need to be to do what we have been asked to do. There are too many times we guide clients through territory we are not so familiar with ourselves. This results in situations where we lack the deep credibility with senior leaders we need in order to serve them as true trusted advisors (rather than change-related SMEs).
Because the advances in volume, momentum, and complexity feed on each other’s dynamics, the overall scale of change today has generated demands that often call for more than we have in our experience base. Moreover, we all know that these stresses are only going to grow, possibly exponentially, during our careers and beyond. These are the “good old days” some of us will look back on and say, ”If only the challenges my clients face today could be as manageable as they were back in 2009.”
I’m not questioning whether an experienced practitioner can offer value to his or her client. The issue isn’t, “Can we be useful and provide a degree of benefit?” Instead, it’s, “Can we make a truly meaningful difference, given how sophisticated and interconnected everything associated with major strategic change has become?” To what extent do our skills and knowledge match the actual demands the people we serve deal with day to day?
SOMETIMES ALL WE HAVE ISN’T ENOUGH
Let’s face it—we can give a project everything we have, and receive thanks for helping the people involved, yet still recognize that there was more to be done. Surgeons who performed operations before anesthesia was available were well-meaning, hard-working professionals and their patients were often grateful for the excruciatingly painful procedures, but none of us would accept that standard today. And who carried the burden for advancing the state of their field? The doctor, not the patients. Patients assumed that if a doctor told them the leg had to be amputated, the agonizing torture was non-negotiable. It was up to the physicians themselves to know there had to be a better way.
It’s no different for us. We can’t afford to become complacent just because our profession has gained credibility in recent years and we enjoy the ego strokes when clients recognize the value we provide. Respectability and satisfaction are wonderful experiences, and they are no doubt well deserved, but we must push ourselves and our craft to new horizons. This isn’t just an opportunity for learning—it’s a responsibility we carry because we’re the ones who know where the edge of our field is and what is left to be explored…what is possible but not yet realized.
As change practitioners, we are not accountable for figuring out what should be executed. We are responsible for the how part…guiding the implementation process so the desired results of critically important changes actually materialize. In any change initiative, what we bring to the table is equal to half of the prognosis for success. Sound decisions about what needs to change, without the ability to fully realize their intentions, puts the future of the people and organizations we serve in jeopardy.
Next series: Degree of Difficulty