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Leading Change: Knowing, Understanding, Empathizing


Understanding the job - not just the How, but also the Why - is just as important as Doing the Job. A key component of Change Management is helping the team see the difference.

Do you know your job, or do you really understand your job? One difficult part of change is getting people to see the difference.

Of course, this is seriously delicate stuff – you can’t just walk in and ask people if they understand what they are doing. You know you’d be insulted if someone asked you the same question. (Come on … not just a little?) But think about it – how often have you had this conversation …

” … I look at the TPS Report every morning, and I look for something that is negative in this column. If the layout of the report changes, I can’t do my job; you are gonna have to relayout this new version of the Report.”

In other words … I don’t understand my job, I don’t think on the job – I just respond to the stuff I am used to looking for.

The great unstated truth is that most folks don’t understand what they do. They didn’t implement it, they inherited it. They know the how, but not the why. And human nature makes us avoid admitting our own ignorance.

As a result, resistance to change means resisting anything that upsets the As-Is. Unfortunately, the As-Is has a stealthy way of changing in little bits over time; that, and the fact that the folks who originated this particular process have probably moved on, taking their understanding with them. And so starts the slow, steady spiral to complete irrelevance, and slavish adherence to non-value adding work.

Empathy Helps Overcome Entropy

To make change happen in these environments, it helps to have – and demonstrate – empathy for how people feel and think, to lower the resistance and open the minds.

Show your self-knowledge, and humility, by freely admitting when your understanding falls short. As a team member – speak up! in public! when you don’t understand the underlying process. As a manager – encourage folks to raise their hands and ask for help. And please – make it easy for me to seek help off-line, after the meeting ends, so I don’t have to demonstrate my ignorance in public.

Realize, however, that there is a significant requirement to Get Things Done; we don’t have time to stop and deconstruct everything. There is a significant business value in having a repeatable, lean process, and all of this ‘search for understanding’ is wasting daylight. Balance the importance of understanding with the need to get stuff done, by designing, documenting, and implementing lean processes with incremental improvements, that can drive results on day one, but can also mature and improve over time.

Set the expectation that Understanding the Job is just as important as Getting It Done – but don’t forget that we are getting paid by our Results, not our Understanding.

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