At Prosci, we talk a lot about change practitioners—individuals who are actively involved in the art and discipline of change management. But no matter where you sit in the organization or what your full-time role is, you can adopt foundational mindsets and take actions to be a leader of change.
I live in the Midwest, where we often see geese flying overhead in a familiar V formation as they head south for the winter. Science has revealed that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds flying immediately behind them. Together, the flock can fly more than 70 percent further than if each bird flew alone.
What do geese have to do with change? Their story can help you understand five important lessons that help you fuel your ambition to be a leader of change.
Geese share a common sense of direction and sense of community around the outcome of reaching a warmer destination. During change, we talk about this in terms of closing the gap between requirements and results, outputs and outcomes, specifications and sustainment, installation and realization. When we manage the people side of change, we close these gaps, share a common direction and sense of community, and get where we are going faster and easier.
The people you are working with often don’t know why you want to put resources, time and energy into the people side of change. To create a shared direction and goals, communicate the “why change management” story, including the value proposition. When your direction is important and accurate, others will follow.
Geese know that there is greater resistance or greater drag when flying alone. They fly in V formation to take advantage of the lifting power of those around them. We need to enlist others in our formation—by starting informal communities with those who are headed in the direction we want to go.
It takes a whole system of people in the organization to support the transition from the current state to the desired future state. To ensure needed support, change teams need specific individuals to fulfill the formal core roles in change management below.
When a goose tires of flying up front, it drops back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position. In other words, it pays to take turns on the hard tasks. In change management, we work alongside other technical resources—such as project management, IT or L&D—and when we respect and protect each other’s unique skills and capabilities, we can accomplish more.
Managing change effectively requires multiple leaders and different types of leadership at different times. What matters is stepping into that change leadership role, enabling others to step into their role, and helping share the workload. We must build and draw upon the strength of others.
When a goose drops out of the V formation because it’s sick or injured, two geese follow it down to the ground to help and protect it. When people have personal challenges, we must also stand by each other. A foundational belief we know to be true from our research is that change is challenging, and people do resist change.
People tend to "drop a pin" in the current state, and having to move in a new direction can challenge social structures, habits, working norms, and sometimes even psychological safety. It's not until I understand what it's like to walk in your shoes or for you to walk in mine that we really start developing an understanding about the true problems each of us is trying to solve.
To speak a clear language around what is changing, change leaders can use the 10 aspects of change impact to explain the degree of impact to a particular group. Defining change impact enables you to walk in someone else’s shoes and help them see that they’re going to have a new system, tools, mindset, etc. about their work and role in the organization to drive success. This is a gift we can give to the people around us.
Prosci 10 Aspects of Change Impact
When a flock of geese are in formation, they honk constantly to encourage those up from to keep up their speed. In groups and teams of people, production is greater when there is encouragement.
For change leaders, that might mean sending an email or writing a personal note. I received a handwritten note of encouragement from someone on my team. That was impactful. Could you do that for others? Make a call, schedule a one-on-one. It could be for a senior leader who demonstrated effective change leadership behavior or a project manager who intentionally considered the people impacted by the change in their planning activities. We just need to make sure our “honking” is encouraging. Leaders must honk with constant support, hope and confidence to those around us in change roles, technical roles, or employees affected by change on the front line.
We can learn a lot from geese when it comes to managing change. I find the story of geese an inspiring and memorable way to frame key learnings: Share a common direction, don’t fly alone, take turns on hard tasks, stand by each other, and honk with constant support. Regardless of whether you’re a sponsor or supervisor or project manager, we are all change leaders when we support, equip and enable others through change.
Karen Ball is an energetic leader with over 30 years of experience working with organizations as a trusted partner and advisor. Her passion is to help organizations manage the people impact of change to improve adoption and drive benefits realization. She uses her unique ability to bring clarity in complex situations to optimize organizational results.
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