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Tools to effectively lead change – EUMA Spain (Zaragoza, February 21st 2015)

By Andrea Macarie

2015 is the year of change management within EUMA. The Training Day to be hosted by our Italian colleagues, the Annual Conference organized in Cyprus and the numerous national and local trainings of the EUMA network are a proof that change has become a constant feature in the corporate environment in the last decade and we, as EAs and PAs, have an important role in the process, thus we need to be duly prepared for it.

On February 21st EUMA Spain organized a half-day training in Zaragoza, meant to give its members the necessary tools to lead change. Our trainer, the renowned Spanish coach Silvia Lacruz, guided us through the 8 steps of the Kotter (1) model, as a starting point in our goal setting process, over which we then brainstormed in small groups to fine-tune it according to the Smart (2) principle. Using powerful coaching questions, the facilitator boosted participation in this short but empowering session. The 8 steps of the Kotter model are:

1. Create a sense of urgency
We tend to be reluctant to change; just think of when we go to the supermarket and discover our favorite products are no longer in the same place. To make it exciting enough for people to sign up to change, we need to ensure the opportunity it entails is clearly perceived. Just like in a Swot (3) analysis, potential threats must be identified and answered along with the opportunities change represents. When all parties understand change is needed and its benefits have a tangible positive impact on them, they usually engage in the process. A successful leader involves and empowers the team without impositions or threats.

2. Building a guiding coalition
Once the need to change is clear and people are engaged, we have to set up a team to lead it. As change drivers, they must be committed and have the authority to perform it. They will assemble an energetic group which ideally includes people of different areas and hierarchical levels, adding a broader vision.

3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives
Vision helps to set the objectives for which we will subsequently define the strategy to achieve them. We must know where we are headed to, get there and seeing ourselves in the future having already accomplished them helps step back and identify the specific actions that took us there.

4. Enlist a volunteer army
Change leaders and the teams they bring aboard should be ready for action. Communicating the plan in a detailed and efficient way is part of their duties. The objectives set are to be reminded as we move along, to keep people on track. Credibility is at the very core so the change management team must lead by example and be open to questions and doubts likely to arise throughout the process.

5. Enable action by removing barriers
There will be obstacles threatening the achievement of the vision. It is highly important to have them identified. Acknowledging and rewarding change ambassadors is more effective and convincing than punishing reluctant and fearful members. 

6. Generate short term wins
Although vision is a long term bet, taking small steps to avoid overwhelming the staff is the best option to keep them aligned. Tracking, assessing and celebrating small victories maintains engagement and focus, like puzzle pieces that fit together to make the whole picture.

7. Sustain acceleration
At this stage it is time for a thorough analysis of what has been achieved so far: what went well, what went wrong, what can be implemented and what needs to be dropped. Variables might be policies and structures that don’t fit in the vision or new skills staff have to acquire, just to name a few.

8. Institute change
The final stage of Kotter’s 8 step change model focuses on strengthening the connections between new behaviors and success. As in the previous phases, the achievements will be discussed and people embracing and contributing to it shall be publicly appraised. Leadership development and succession plans must be created to keep a record and address future needs.

After discussing the main takeaways (involve people affected by change, appoint a committed team to drive it, engage through clear communication and remind regularly where we are headed towards), each of us had to think of an area of change or improvement to answer an apparently simple question such as “What do you want to achieve?”. As we brainstormed on the outcome under the coach’s guidance, the difference between desire and purpose became clear.

Firstly, we were advised to always express our thoughts positively; as a simple exercise, one participant shared with the rest an efficient method to get into a positive mindset: writing a list with the things we DO NOT want and then rephrase them into what we DO want. The coach challenged us with a series of powerful questions which helped to understand what our area of change really means for us, why it is important, whether it is aligned with our ethics and moral code, what makes it stimulating, what its consequences on us and the rest would be, what its costs are time/effort/money-wise and if we are willing to pay that cost.

As we dug deeper, some refined the initial purpose, others kept it the way it was to define specific and measurable actions and KPIs with a realistic sense of the resources owned and those needed to achieve it, the extent to which it is up to us (winning the lottery for instance is not a purpose but a desire precisely because of the odds of it actually happening) and the timings. Though it is important to set the start and end date to avoid procrastination, in most cases deadline can be extended especially if external factors are involved to a certain degree. A case that was brought up was job search: one can set an estimate timing to find a new job and prepare for the process itself (update the CV, look for job offers, etc.) but external factors such as market demands are beyond our control.

All in all we had a fruitful and refreshing training session followed by a networking lunch kindly sponsored by our gold partner SNCF, whom we would like to take this opportunity to thank, as well as the hotel Tryp Zaragoza which hosted us and of course our trainer Silvia Lacruz (SLC Coaching) for sharing her time and knowledge with us.

For more information on the training session, feel free to contact our National PRO.

*** Should you like to read about the Kotter model,

check out the official page: http://www.kotterinternational.com/the-8-step-process-for-leading-change/ 

EUMA Spain. Zaragoza, 21 February 2015


(1): Dr. John P. Kotter is a New York Times best-selling author, award winning business entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and former Harvard Professor. He is regarded by many as the authority on leadership and change

(2): SMART is an acronym which stands for Specific – Measurable – Attainable/Achievable – Realistic/Relevant – Timely; it is usually used in goal setting

(3): SWOT is an acronym for Strengths – Weaknesses - Opportunities – Threats and it is an internal and external analysis model frequently used in business plans