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Change Facilitation: the essential skill for turbulent times

Monday, 20 July 2020

Those of us in business (as well as just about everyone these days) are living in confusing times. Learning how to run our businesses and stay afloat, how to remain connected with staff and clients in a way that maintains relationships and endurance, how to work from home and still manage child care and at-home schooling, have no modern precedent. And I’m not convinced the confusion will end any time soon.

Whatever our new normal will end up being will most likely look nothing like the world we’ve become accustomed to. The systems from which we’ve made decisions for decades – the factors we’d made projections and budgets against, the expertise or industry recognition we were adjusted to, the skills we used to communicate, lead, and sell – will have far less value. And we don’t yet know what will take their place.

WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

Not only do we not know what our future will look like, we don’t even know how to think about it – there’s no ‘There, There’ yet. Our foundations have shifted; new norms don’t yet exist; old ones will fail us because they no longer fit.

With no way of knowing where we’re going or what our new status quo will look like, there’s no way of knowing what skills we’ll need later. Certainly there is no route to success using past norms. Everything has changed. Where folks work from, the jobs that need doing, the client needs and problems, budget and staffing issues…

As first next steps, companies will most likely attempt to work from the ‘old normal’ differently. But after trying and failing they’ll recognize the need for new norms. That’s already becoming obvious as new, creative concepts are making successful debuts in technology, the arts, education, and customer care, to fill gaps where none existed before.

While I personally assume the new norms will drift to the side of integrity, authenticity, respect, values, trust, and fairness, none of us really have any way of knowing. But think about it for a moment: without any conventional norms in place, the only way to assess decisions going forward will be from our guts – usually good indicators of integrity. But the one constant is change.

I contend that the companies who will flourish going forward are those with the skills to successfully facilitate change. Unfortunately, we can’t work from the same standards we used to work from ‘before’. How, then, do we create new standards?

CHANGE

There are many new issues to account for now: the personal for our staff (Do I want to return full time to my office? How can I incorporate time with my children into my workload?) and the professional for our clients and business (What if our clients don’t return? Will I need new marketing strategies? New forms of revenue to match the new temperament? How can I establish trust now?).

All of us must ask ourselves new questions: what must I consider to end up both successful and positioned for a future I can’t yet imagine? What might need to change? Business structure, staffing, organization, management structure, client outreach, branding/marketing/sales efforts, etc. all must go under the microscope.

The problem is we don’t know how to even think about these real issues. Current leadership models work from conventional biases and assumptions; current questioning models work from the curiosity of the leader in relation to existing norms; current sales models work by assuming they’ll find enough folks with ‘need’ to place their solutions – yet those with ‘need’ can’t make decisions now. New thinking must replace most of our long-held assumptions.

The overarching question we face is this: without the myths we’ve worked from, the norms we’ve operated from, the assumptions we’ve made to hire, fire, brand, sell, and organize around, what measures do we now use to compare ourselves against, or truths to think from?

Lots of decisions to make. There are no answers now, only questions. Whatever norms we will develop will become new norms going forward. But not yet. The only measurement we have going forward is our values.

To help address all this change, to help us work toward a future we cannot know, to operate from a blank slate that will inspire new thinking without carrying over the concepts we’ve worked from until now, I believe that Change Facilitation is an essential skill set.

There are just too many issues that represent unknowns to use any of the conventional thinking that has guided us before now: Buyers can’t buy until potentially new stakeholders determine if maintaining their status quo is their best option during their own confusing, risky circumstances; managers have increased responsibility to lead teams possibly working from different locations and time schedules, maybe while home-schooling children simultaneously; priorities of Boards and top leadership teams are not resolved yet, but need to be.

CHANGE IS SYSTEMIC

The issue at hand is how to manage change. Let’s use as the foundational reality that all change must be systemic. Changing one new behavior, one new rule at a time is not only senseless but inefficient. We must restructure our systems.

What are the new norms, rules, beliefs, and values that will take us into a new, unknowable future? How do we operationalize these, and who do we include as we design new possibilities?

There are specific elements necessary to accomplish congruent change. I will list them here but note: each component is filled with unknowns; unbiased guidance is needed to facilitate discovery:

  1. Where are we? And what’s missing? Until all stakeholders (unknowable at the start) are included, there’s no way to assess the needs, the damage to the historic norms and practices, the problem areas. All voices must be heard and collaborate to begin painting a picture of a new future. Without everyone’s voice, any missing bits will emerge later (possibly too late).
  2. What can we salvage? Again, without all stakeholder voices present, there’s no way to assess what might still work going forward.
  3. What rules, norms, outcomes, objectives, need to change now, and what do we change them to? With no baseline standards, it will be necessary to hear the needs, ideas, of everyone as new identities and priorities emerge. Buy-in is crucial; resistance is dangerous.
  4. What systems do we need in place? How can we make these flexible enough as we go through trial and error? Who will be responsible for these?
  5. Who will oversee this period of disorder? No. Seriously. Who? The answer may not initially be obvious.
  6. How will we know what’s right? Are there ways we can build-in trials, success or failure factors so we can change on a dime if need be?
  7. What is the timing on this? Will anything new be a permanent change? or roll out in stages?

With so many issues to manage, a Change Facilitator is needed. But it’s not as simple as using conventional leadership practices. It’s quite urgent now that there be no biases, no assumptions, predicated on past successes. Change Facilitators will need to listen differently than before, ask new questions, and have different goals.

FACILITATION REQUIRES DIFFERENT SKILLS

Current leadership models won’t work now:

  • The problem set, the outcome, the needed skills, the timing, are unknowns. So there are no clear goals or foundational assumptions to operate from;
  • The industry norms are no longer valid and new ones must be developed;
  • No one, no one, has answers or even the right questions to ask: a new set of questions and answers must be developed real time;
  • Conventional industry biases are no longer appropriate.

We must begin thinking in systems as the fundamental ingredient in any change consideration. No change can happen, no new beliefs or behaviors or decisions or actions, unless the status quo agrees to it.

Real change is the result of reprogramming our physiologic, chemical, automatic, neurological, and unconscious brain wiring. Unless fundamental changes to our beliefs and values, and new rules are developed, our systems are set up to continue doing what they’ve always done. It’s now necessary to enable new choices for new outcomes.

For the past 35 years I’ve been teaching Change Facilitation (named uniquely in each industry I teach in, i.e. Leadership Facilitation, Buying Facilitation®, Training Facilitation, Coaching Facilitation). Since it’s vital to avoid historic judgments to ensure all possibilities are on the table, leaders must approach change with a clean slate and without bias. In other words, leaders won’t have answers, or any assumptions based on past knowledge.

The only way to facilitate change is by enabling systemic change. Here are the topics I teach in my Change Facilitation programs:

  1. Systems thinking. Current industry biases are no longer operational. Using systems thinking, there’s a specific trajectory for all change that promotes buy-in, creativity, and collaboration according to the norms of the system – new norms that must be established from a blank slate.
  2. Listening. We all think we know how to listen. But as my book What? explains, conventional listening is biased by assumptions and historic brain circuits against which incoming information is translated. I’ve developed a wholly new way to listen that avoids bias. I call this Listening for Systems; it’s a vital skill set for this new era as biases will keep us doing what we’ve always done.
  3. Buy-in. Without stakeholders agreeing, no new norms, goals, practices, can be developed. Discovering the right stakeholders, btw, won’t be as obvious now as it once was.
  4. Collaboration. Stakeholders must figure out how they, and their teams and unique personal issues, will work together. Answers can only appear when everyone puts their heads together without preconceptions.
  5. Integrity. With no norms to work from yet, how do decisions get made? What interim rules must be put in place that will define and represent the group/company?
  6. Win-win. We’ve all learned how necessary it is to work from win-win. Companies that made money by creating marketing/sales/leadership practices that were less than integrous will no longer be successful. A route must be developed to ensure everyone wins. Customers are hungry for integrity today.
  7. Communication. With industry standards no longer certain, answers will be found in the collective (un)conscious. And make no mistake. This will be messy.
  8. Beyond behavior change. Our behaviors are the means we have to exhibit our values. We need new messaging that leads to new outcomes, and operationally translates values. This is key to our future success.
  9. Trust. Too often leaders and coaches focused on their own reasons, their own desire to engage (to sell, to change, to influence) and unwittingly caused resistance or sabotage. We don’t have the time to handle resistance right now. We must facilitate, not ‘lead’ choice and change.
  10. Enhance creativity and curiosity. Our status quo is just that: set, accepted norms from which we think and decide. To be more creative, to think ‘outside the box’ or beyond norms, to not be biased by what’s been successful up til now, we must expand our parameters.

Change is a systems problem, not an information problem, or a behavior change problem, or an influencing problem. It’s a problem of developing wholly new norms and values that all decision making flows from, operating without bias to enable all that’s possible, and making sure there’s buy-in and collaboration to create cohesion and follow-through.

Normal skills have grown and developed from long-held assumptions that no longer apply. It’s time for internal coaches and leaders to learn new skills that facilitate new decisions, new thinking, collaboration, and true win-win communication.

Please contact me to help your company, and your leaders, learn the tools to facilitate change. I look forward to teaching leaders the new skills.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She’s also the author the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.