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The ‘why, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of training in change management

Blog Post

Written by John Berry on 22nd August 2017. Revised 16th November 2020.

5 min read

FireworksCritics of today’s training industry often use the term ‘entertrainment’ to describe how trainers deliver an enjoyable event without actually imparting knowledge. They argue that, more often than not, there’s been no training transfer. They suggest that the delegates will remember that they liked the day but won’t do any more after than they could before.

This rather negative description will resonate with many managers who go on a course, get the binder of slides and return to their day jobs without as much as a hiccup. In the months to come, the entertrainment event is nothing but a distant memory - and that plastic folder.

Training in change management is no different.

Leadership or management?

The problem is that there are two schools of thought in change-management – or is it change-leadership? In fact, the issue lies in the different connotations in the words ‘leadership’ and ‘management’.

Leadership is often thought of as glamorous, chivalrous and dramatic – Mel Gibson as William Wallace, running in front of his troops at the Battle of Falkirk, setting out the ‘vision’ and soliciting support for his ‘guiding coalition’ of disparate captains.

Management is, on the other hand, thought of as pedestrian, administrative and boring.

Many believe that it takes a true leader to effect real change.

But few firms can change their managers overnight – every time they want to make a change – even if they wanted to. Managers must lead and leaders must manage. And just like Wallace, those unstable, poorly skilled leaders soon end up overseeing a disaster. Their lack of management skills seals the demise of the change and often of their organisation.

Management intervention

Leadership is a sub-set of management. It’s a set of techniques that persuades others to do the manager’s bidding – to do things that, without the manager’s intervention, they would not normally do.

The key word is intervention. The manager intervenes. He or she just needs to know why, where, when and how – and of course, the outcomes that he or she expects.

Change management if often taught on the basis that what’s needed is leadership. Kotter’s Eight-Stage Process is easily taught by those who have never led or managed change. It has some sense but no substance. Kanter’s Ten Commandments is the same – all about shared vision and ‘political sponsorship’. And as for Lewin’s Three Steps of Change; espousing ‘unfreezing’, ‘moving’ and ‘re-freezing’ is not helpful to the practicing manager.

None of these academics actually get to the point: what exactly is it that the firm needs to change? And what intervention would cause that to happen?

Intervention design

Change management needs a change manager who is sufficiently engaged with the organisation to know what change is needed. For sure, the need for the change will come from a revised strategy. For sure, it will need some vision to see a future improved state in people, processes or technology. But the emphasis is on determining the ‘why’ and the ‘what’.

So training change management should likewise centre on the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. It’s all about interventions and outcomes – just like management.

Let’s consider an example.

Professional ServicesLet’s say that sales and profits are falling because customers now expect an ever more competent salesperson – engineers are now having to go out with the sales guys. As a result sales is now inefficient and lacking in cohesion.

The sales scenario can be modelled. And the reasons for the downturn can be seen. ‘What if’ scenario-modelling then allows the ‘what’ to be explored. Maybe it’s to re-train the sales guys. Or maybe it’s to make the sales guys redundant and train the engineers to sell.

With the ‘why’ and the ‘what’, the change manager is all set to implement the ‘how’: how will he or she implement that change, evaluate it and make it permanent?

Change is all about intervention design.

Good training in change management

So how does a trainer train change management such that training is transferred? The ‘how’ is, after all, just a bunch of good practices – like communicating the ‘why’, the ‘how’ and the practical elements of the intervention – the ‘what’. But focussing on the ‘how’, like William Wallace, presumes the ‘why’ and ‘what’ and risks failure as staff rebel because their attitudes and beliefs are at odds with new activities that they are now being asked to do in the ‘how’.

Change management must be taught by people who have done the ‘how’ – managers, consultants, not trainers – and who understand how to tease out the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. It must be done by modelling the need for the change and by modelling the outcomes of various possible interventions.

Moving the ‘how’ to second place forces the trainer to deal in practicalities of their customer’s situation. And entertainment is avoided.

Then it’s down to plans to inject the ‘when’, followed by good management to make it all happen.