The Need for Personal Change Management

By Mitch Wienick, President, Kelleher Associates, LLC

It’s hard to find anyone in the business world whose company hasn’t been subjected to the need for change management recently due to one or more of the following factors: intensified competition (often of a global nature), new technology or systems, changes in customer needs and their technology, the emergence of substitutes for a company’s product or service, mergers and acquisitions, new leadership, or changes in the law or regulations or a host of others.

Years ago, a professor and author, and one of the experts in managing corporate change, John Kotter, wrote a book called, The Heart of Change, and he laid out seven key elements of change management for companies that still hold up:

  • Increase Urgency
  • Build the Guiding Team
  • Get the Vision Right
  • Communicate for Buy-In
  • Create Short Term Wins
  • Don’t Let Up
  • Make Change Stick

Coincidentally, an article I recently read, written by an executive recruiter, talked about the need for some older executives (and non-executive employees) who need to play technology “catch-up” if they expect to stay in the career game. This is consistent with what we hear from some of our senior career management clients who may have had 20 to 30 years of management and leadership experience, but find themselves now struggling to be relevant in a digital world. This dilemma seems to be especially acute for marketing and information technology executives whose companies have not kept pace with the leading competitors in their industries.

I would, therefore, suggest that many experienced and heretofore successful executives need to seriously consider and execute a Personal Change Management plan (we could also call it a “learning and growth plan”) well in advance of finding themselves being considered for internal promotion or wanting or needing to look outside of their companies in order to make a career change. At that time, in the absence of updating or upgrading their skills, they may be confronted with a real handicap in an internal competition or during an outside search process.

I would define the seven key steps of Personal Change Management as follows:

Decide you need to update or upgrade your skills.

While this sounds obvious, my point is that people need to consciously face this tough reality, and admit to themselves that they haven’t kept up with technology developments in their field and, if they want to stay relevant, they need to do so and start immediately.

Consult with experts (especially those younger than you) on what’s hot and in high demand.

For some people it may be clear where their technology gaps are, but not for others. In either case, as with most situations in life, it pays to focus on what’s most important. Speaking with others in your field, including tech savvy millennials, can be invaluable in surveying the contemporary technology landscape.

Determine where to concentrate.

The adage, “every journey starts with a first step”, applies here. There may be several areas that need to be addressed. But don’t let that paralyze you. Rather, pick an area, a skill, a device, a technology, or an algorithm and get started. Take a step at a time. Being able to talk about your initial personal development steps to an executive recruiter or a hiring executive may be enough to get you in the door despite your having more to learn. The fact that you’re doing something and are committed to personal development is impressive in itself.

Find and utilize the right training resources.

Can you get the training or instruction you need at your company… perhaps from a younger employee? Is there an online course or program you can take? Is there a community college, local university, or graduate school offering that provides all or part of what you need? Can you hire an expert to train you? Can you use a supplier, vendor, or professional service provider? Any of these or some combination may be right for you.

Get the training.

Sign-up and be disciplined and diligent. Clearly, this is tough work, especially if you have to do it at night or on weekends. But, if it’s really critical and has genuine implications for your suitability for your current role or elsewhere in your industry, you can’t afford to be complacent nor procrastinate.

Start to use your new skills and competencies and acquire supplemental training, if needed.

Like everything else in life, to improve you need to use new skills and abilities. You may find that the training you just received is exactly what was needed or, as in many instances, you need to augment what you learned with some additional development. The best attitude is to build on what you’ve just learned, not to be discouraged by not knowing it all at the outset. Most of us, even the experts, rarely do. Applying new knowledge can be hard. Be patient with yourself. Remember, it wasn’t easy to learn to ride a bike.

Apply the new training repeatedly and, if necessary, execute the process again to acquire new skills or capacity.

As has been noted by a variety of writers and academics, the key to achieving expertise in any skill is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way to do it. Similarly, to refine and hone your newfound technology capability, you need to execute and practice, and execute and practice, until you start to develop some genuine expertise.

Once you’ve finished with the first technology area, depending on your technology gaps, you may need to start the cycle again.

In summary, just as companies repeatedly engage in change management, many executives and technical employees may need to engage in their own personal development to keep abreast of the technology curve. To avoid personal obsolescence and the potential threat to you before someone in your firm or a recruiter says, “Sorry, you’re Old School and you don’t qualify”, develop and act on your “Personal Change Management” plan.