Brave New Role: Leading Workplace Innovation and Change: Learning Professionals Are in a Unique Position to Uncover and Take the Lead on Organizational Change Opportunities

Article excerpt

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"OK, let's get training involved and see how fast they can roll this out." These are the words from senior managers that (should) send chills through even the most responsive training departments.

Trainers are usually the last to know of impending change because most of the time, only when senior leaders have made all the decisions do they turn to the training department and ask for training, usually within an unreasonable timeframe. Time after time, senior leaders launch initiatives on issues ranging from sales to systems, and they fail to produce the desired results. That applies to more than half of salesforce software projects and to more than half of all corporate mergers.

When training departments are asked to accomplish the task, they design programs, invite employees to skills training, present the course content, and then watch 10 percent of the participants apply what they've learned to produce a result. This is a gross waste of everyone's time and training dollars!

Training professionals can help organizations avoid this waste and aggravation by guiding management to implement best practices for leading workplace innovation and change.

Left brain, right brain?

At some point, as managers rise to senior leadership positions, they come to believe that "if I say it, it will happen." In other words, senior leaders think, "I've seen (or paid for) the vision, I've approved the strategy, I've approved the budget, I've set the financial targets, I've set a deadline, I've delegated this to my team, and they will get it done." The leader's direct reports turn to their employees and say, "get it done," and, within a short period of time, slide shows are created, documents are written, and someone calls the training department and says, "We need you to train people to do 'X' by the end of the next quarter."

This call to the training department can also come as a result of a senior manager seeing an execution problem. For example, a senior leader concludes, "My salespeople can't close" and calls the training department to ask for sales training on how to close the deal. Or, the leader finds that, "My salespeople can't negotiate" and asks the training department to prepare a course on negotiating skills.

In either case, the senior leaders make three critical mistakes. First, they assume that "if we tell them, they will respond," so they lead change the same way they would order a steak at a restaurant--issuing pronouncements to staff in the form of "road shows" with text-packed slides, slick financial graphs, and frequent "buy in" exhortations.

Second, they think that they know enough about their organizations to understand the impact of a change on the individuals and roles in their companies and how the change should be managed best to achieve the desired results.

Third, they assume away, with waves of hands, performance barriers that may slow down or derail their change initiatives. If they give thought to performance barriers at all, they conclude that the barriers will fall in the face of the right mix of threats, promises, success stories, and harassment.

This very left-brained, command-and-control approach might work in military organizations, but it certainly doesn't work with knowledge workers who have been taught to think and are expected to think. They don't jump willingly with their hearts and minds just because some corporate executive said, "jump."

"The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people," John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, says in a December 19, 2009 Fast Company article, "Change or Die," by Alan Deutschman. "Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people's feelings," Kotter says. "This is true even in organizations that are very focused on analysis and quantitative measurement, even among people who think of themselves as smart in an MBA sense. …