What do you do for work? It’s an anxiety-inducing question. My mom is still asking that question almost four years into my career. The follow up is: “How did I end up working in change management?” This launches me into a detailed history of my graduate school internship, turned job and on from there. But in actuality the story is short. I sort of backed into change management. In retrospect, I can see how my undergraduate degree in strategic communication coupled with my MBA, that focused on organizational development, was the perfect education to do this kind of work. But it didn’t all fit together until I landed my first change management job.
If you are considering a career in change management or are hoping to find something you love, here are some important things to know.
What is Change Management?
Change management is the application of a strategic approach aimed at preparing and supporting individuals to adopt change and achieve desired business outcomes for their organization.
More simply, it’s like taking a road trip. You plan your itinerary, pack your bags, gas up the car, and you’re on your way. At some point, your GPS will inevitably lose connection and you’ll miss a turn, but you’ll eventually arrive at your destination. Change management is the planning, preparing, and adjusting that goes into getting ready for your trip. When you arrive at your destination, you’ve successfully implemented and embedded a change in your organization.
What do you do as a change manager?
A lot of things! At this stage of my career, my role in change management varies based on the complexity and size of the project. In some cases, I’ve filled support roles with smaller scopes, focusing specifically on communication or execution of a previously developed strategy. As I’ve “grown up” in this job, I’ve started to take on lead roles for projects where I’ll partner with my Project Manager to develop and deliver a comprehensive change strategy and plan. In other words, I’ll plan the road trip and drive the car.
What are the important skills to have to be a change manager?
Adaptability is number one. Projects, especially long ones, are always shifting. As a change manager, you’ll find that information comes to you piecemeal with the understanding that you never have everything you need when you need it. It’s important to be flexible. Adapting to constant directional shifts, and making sure you are prepared to manage them is key. You rely on others for information, technology, insight, and even to champion the change. In turn, they rely on you to read the stakeholders, understand the team’s progress as a whole, assess risks, and to forecast which discreet data points represent themes that will change the direction of the project.
Empathy is critical. Many times, project teams are focused on the technical outcomes and it’s the job of the change manager to focus on the people outcomes. In order to truly understand how best to help people in their transition, it’s important to appreciate where they are coming from and to empathize with their situation. Change is hard and there are many personal reasons why people resist. Think about the last time you underwent a major change. How did it make you feel?
Anticipate what comes next. Again, project teams are usually focused on technical and/or immediate outcomes, which means they often overlook any downstream impacts of an activity or decision. If you can look a few steps ahead, think through what those impacts are, and proactively address and resolve them, you’ll be able to help your clients institutionalize changes.
Fortitude; stand up for yourself. Change management is not widely understood. Help team members grasp exactly what value you bring to a project. It can be a struggle to break out of the boxes people put you in based on a lack of understanding, but to be effective at your job, you do need to be able to push back. Change managers are not just communication developers, event planners, or administrative support. It’s true, we can do all those things, but they are done as a part of a greater strategy. Have the confidence to tell people that.
What are the challenges?
Building your personal brand. As a consultant, I am an unknown quantity to my clients. Luckily for me, Expressworks is well-known and highly regarded, so I get the benefit of the doubt. Senior consultants share with me how they have built their personal brands through their networks, connections and by word of mouth. Their reputations are strengthened because of the great work they’ve done on projects, and through multiple engagements with the same client. I’m working on this and I’d like to think it will come in time. I try to keep in mind to always be on my a-game so that I can get there eventually.
Applying past lessons to new projects. It’s easy to take what you’ve learned and apply it on a new project. What’s more difficult is to use your experience and knowledge to figure out a way to make those strategies fit the purpose of the next project. I’m always looking for ways to simplify templates and methods to make them work for a project. Admittedly, I’ve occasionally caught myself using a complex or overly robust process for something that really doesn’t need it. Be aware of that trap and remember to simplify!
I like change management for a lot of reasons. The fast pace and constant evolution of my work means the days are never the same. I love the unique opportunities project work provides for young and developing change managers, such as myself. Making an observable impact on organizations from an early point in my career keeps me enthused about my choice. It’s fun to be creative and to see quick results that show, that in fact, I am helping people in a time of turmoil within their organization and their lives.
Despite all that, I wasn’t fully prepared for the challenges that working in this field would bring. Do I love those challenges? Yes. Were they hard to handle at first? Definitely, yes. But here I am, as a change manager, evolving, learning, applying practical and academic knowledge to the work I do everyday and truly enjoying it.
A shout out to Mom, please read! All will be answered about my career choice.