Monday, July 19, 2010
Have you ever been to a presentation on leadership and said to yourself, “Why isn’t my boss here to listen to this?” I’m sure that was the minds of a roomful of EPA employees at a recent seminar called “Getting Change Right,” by author Seth Kahan.

The seminar – like his book -- was a very practical description of real-life experiences in leading organizational change. A self-described former street performer, Kahan engaged his audience in ways to create rapid, widespread engagement in their organizations. He offered both a framework for understanding how to do this, as well as a series of specific actions, based on his personal experiences in helping foster large scale changes in the World Bank and other organizations.

Kahan asked the group: “how do you get people to stop, stay, and engage?” Sending out emails or directives “Don’t create fire-in-the-belly. Only people can do that, person-to-person.” 
He says new ideas are adopted through engagement or force. Force works if people don’t care or the change doesn’t affect them. Otherwise, engagement – where participants see the importance, significance and value of a change – is the only path to success. Getting engagement, therefore, is key. And engagement requires participants to understand the proposed change. Kahan says that making “meaning” is a complex task: “The reason we need teachers and other students is that we construct meaning socially, through interactions. We need the input of others to help us develop our ideas, place them in context, and make them relevant to our world, our experience . . . We construct our understanding of the world through our relationships.”
He said communication is not effective using a transaction model: ‘humans don’t transact meaning. Individuals have to create it within themselves . . . Understanding can only occur in a relationship, not in a transaction.” 
With this in mind, he offered seven specific lessons to leaders for “getting change right:”
  1. communicate so people get it and spread it. It is a conversation that spreads, usually around a story rather than a memo.
  2. Energize your most valuable players, since your people are the heart of change.
  3. understand the territory of change; that is, understand and adapt to the culture of your organization and how it gets things done (as well as dealing with toxic people in the workplace).
  4. accelerate change through existing communities of people that share a common passion for performing the organization’s mission.
  5. generate dramatic surges in progress via a campaign approach, quick wins, and joint ownership.
  6. break through logjams by holding a “break through” session with key players.
  7. create a “Work-Life Success” balance for yourself, the leader, to ensure you don’t burn out.
Want to know more? His book is worth reading and is full of examples and practical checklists.