Theresa Moulton, Editor-in-Chief of Change Management Review, recently spoke with Dr. Jim Bohn (known as the “Blue Collar Scholar”) to discuss how to become an architect of change In addition to Praxios, his change management and organizational transformation practice, Dr. Bohn is the author of Architects of Change: Practical Tools for Executives to Build, Lead and Sustain Organizational Initiatives and The Nuts and Bolts of Leadership.
How did you get into the change management field?
When I was young, I spent time as a performer and as an entertainer. I had the ability to read audiences, most of the time when things were going poorly. As a young person, you pick up sort of different emotional cues from people.
Career-wise, I started out on the drafting board. I did engineering and sales. But there came point and time when I started working with a project team. None of those people on that team reported to me at all. But I noticed that people responded, and that some of them struggled with different things along the way. Later, I started working in Human Resources.
Organizational change really started to come into its own probably in the ’90s. I was getting prepped, through experience and education, at that point in time. About ten years later, I was ready to go. Back then, few people just walked into change management. Back then, it was just more of an understanding that people had to adjust to things. These days it is a little bit more precise.
At the same time as your career progressed, you continued your studies around change management. Can you share about that?
While I was working in HR, I completed my master’s degree and my PhD. It took me ten years to finish my PhD – sort of an exercise in persistence. At the same time, I started to read about change from guys like John Kotter; the great archbishop of change. It made sense to me, but how could I apply it? Around the time I finished my PhD, my company specifically needed someone to manage change within the organization as a huge merger.
How do you define your role as a change management advisor?
At the end of day when people ask me what I do in Change, I just say one very simple thing. I help people adjust to new things. In fact, that is really a lot of what management in general is about. It is just helping people adjust to new things. Except what makes change management practitioners interesting to the organization is we understand the personal psychology and social dynamics, and group dynamics, and all those things that many other people do not get.
In your book, “Architects of Change: Practical Tools for Executives to Build, Lead and Sustain Organizational Initiatives”, why do you use the analogy of “Architect”? What is the value of that metaphor?
My whole goal with complex stuff is to simplify it so that everybody gets it. Sometimes, academics use jargon that people just do not understand. But if you translate it into something they know – if you say “architect” – everybody knows what that means. The architect is responsible for understanding some of the general contractor stuff. They see literally from the day that the first shovel goes into the ground until the tapping off; and the last light switch is put in. They walk the building. That is a massive responsibility.
But the architect also has one huge advantage. They saw cognitively; or in their mind that “something” that did not exist. Executives, when they get prepared to do change, see things that do not exist. They see a design. They see an outcome. They see revenue benefits. They see changes in organizations. It is all very cognitive, no different than an architect. Then they begin to design it. They design it within the context of leadership team. How can we install X, Y, Z system?
To carry the analogy on through, the architect is engaged. They put a hard hat on. They walk the site. They check to make sure that things are being installed properly. The general contractor is doing the actual work. But the architect is overseeing, like an executive, to ensure that the design and the concept becomes real.
What do you think gets in the way of good change management?
Number one are executives that just really have not bought into their own project. Conversely, if you have executives that really want to get this done, you will get the work done.
Number two are change managers who start to use change management speak, like “let us do a RACI chart” or “here is a stakeholder matrix.” Frankly, it can be very off-putting at times because it makes us sound like we are some sort of special group. Instead, I use simple terms like “architect” that anyone can easily understand.
Number three is having the wrong people on the team. Good change managers, when push comes to shove, have the courage (and quite frankly the audacity) to go to the executive and say “Joe Smith is simply not working out on our team. I know that he was available during this time but he needs to leave.”
What do you mean when you write: “All management is change management”?
If I come into a management role in 2016, and by 2017 or 2018 I have not changed anything, then why am I still there? As managers, we are changing things. The challenge is: we may do it well. We may invest in people properly. We may bring their voices in. We may have them help us with the design. Or, we may not. Whether it’s effective or ineffective, all management really is change management.
The trick is, change managers understand far better again things like group dynamics and the team who have not resolved conflict. We understand things like getting stakeholders involved and making sure that you have executive support. Some people are naturally good change managers because they can read the emotional environment that they are swimming in. But I just used that because it is a simple way to say this is what it is about.
How does one get the attention of an executive who is wary of change management?
The key is to speak to them in financial terms – the thing that matters most. Speak to them in the terms of data and in terms of things that make sense. If you start to talk about RACI charts, forget it. But, any executive is going to understand that if they install an $12 million ERP system, they want a return on that investment.
Here’s another approach: ask the executive if they’ve been through a change that you absolutely despised. The executive may say “yeah, they changed the benefit package at my old corporation.” Then ask why it went wrong. They may say “nobody told us what was going on” or “I did not know how it worked”. That starts to activate some emotions you can tap into.
Another approach is just to say, “look, this is just good management practice. Let’s get a good team together. Let’s have metrics. Let us have goals established.”
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to a newcomer in the change management field?
I think the key is to not get wrapped up in the job you are in. Do not get wrapped up in the terminology. Instead, get wrapped up in assisting your client and helping them get change done. Say “I am going to help you get this done. I have some tools. You do not need to worry about those. But I want to help you get this done.” Every executive loves this approach and mindset.
Remember that change – even good change – is scary. Clients are scared. Executives are scared. They will not tell you that because they need to keep up appearances. But if they have someone who they can turn to who says “I am here. I have tools. I have a network. I am going to help you get this done. I am here to do that” – nobody is going to turn that away.
Author, keynote speaker, and leadership and change advisor Dr. Jim Bohn (The Blue Collar Scholar) is an overachiever with a passion for the success of others. He has more than 43 years’ experience personally leading the transformation of multiple underperforming teams to achieve award-winning levels of success. You can connect directly with Dr. Bohn on LinkedIn and Twitter.