Change Management via Systemic Leadership
Daniel F. Pinnow, April 2010
In the world economy rages a stubborn virus, the „Project Mania“. Wherever something new needs to be created or old done away with, managers summon up project groups, whose work not only mostly creates opposition, but also oftentimes ends in talk. The reason: change cannot be outsourced, it does not start with a project, but rather within the manger himself. In order to lead change processes, a manager must first begin to lead the central person in the process, himself. This competence is not a tool that the manager can learn and put in his toolbox; it is rather a continuous process, for which training is needed: Change Management comes through Management Change.
Change Management today is on the agenda of most managers, either by choice or by necessity. For the purpose of a continuous improvement process, mangers work day-to-day on improving their system, strategy, organization, processes and their resources constantly. They have the ability to conceive out the future and prepare for all foreseeable and unforeseeable changes - in an ideal setting.
In reality, this process does not happen as an action, rather as a reaction, in which the general conditions change. Under captions like „Innovation Engine“, „Quality Offensive“, „Cost Optimizing Process“ or „Personnel Customization Initiative“ companies start – or rather their decision-maker – projects in a hurry, because the competition presents a technical revolution, because the energy prices are either exploding or how they currently are imploding or because in the current economic crisis, from one day to the next a company’s liquidity can melt away. Such projects have as a definition an official start and an official ending. The project manager receives a concrete assignment and a date, on which it is expected he will come up with a solution for the problem. He opens his valuable filled tool box, analyzes the problem, develops solution alternatives, and presents these results to his executive on the deadline. The executive then communicates the results down the management cascade. The hope for success fails to appear even months afterwards or the project comes to nothing. It is because change cannot be assigned. Even when the change managers, charged with this task from the decision-makers, elaborate in their projects and use evaluated instruments, these instruments mostly move their analyses forward only on a single level. Inside that chosen level, „When-Then Relations“ are fabricated and in so doing neglect such a complex system as a company, which simply cannot be reduced to single levels, rather should always be regarded as a whole. Only in rare cases are causes to be found on the same level as the symptoms.
Employees – and still way too many company decision-makers – consider change projects as exactly that of a task force, the reason it was called to life, and that they must deal with in their workday. Such extra tasks are in themselves first uncomfortable. The employees see these as bothersome, since the tasks put into question the familiar, create uncertainties, and give more workload at first without offering a measure to those affected of an immediate individual use (Frey & Schulz-Hardt 2000). In this way, the respective team member not only inwardly but even sometimes openly fights against this change, rather they simply suspend their actions, and look forward for the time when it’s „back to normal business“.
However, projects are meaningful and necessary in order to give innovations the necessary energy, manpower, a creative „way of playing“, and the time that they need. However, change begins not in a project. Projects are neither the first nor deciding step for change, rather merely give an instrument among other things for the toolbox of a successful manager. The actual engine for a successful change is the manager himself. He initiates far-reaching and sustainable changes in the inner workings of the system (cf. Chell 2000; Knippenberg & Hogg, 2003; Hambrick et al. 1997; Tidd et al. 2005).
Changes means leading
The systemic approach to leadership, developed by the Academy for Leadership (Daniel F. Pinnow, 2005) sees a manger above all as a part of a complex system, which is constantly changing. Every system – and therefore every company – has not only everything that it needs to survive, it has also available the needed energy to promote innovation and stay in competition with other systems, thus other companies. A system drives not only itself, it orients itself also towards balance and self sustenance. The central task for a manger is to trigger changes in the system (cf. Neuberger 2002).
In this way, the particular system dynamic is so big that a manager will never be able to control the respective system. He who wants to introduce changes as a manager, can only make an indirect influence on his system, in that he observes and analyzes it and through incentives sets it off towards progress. The art of managing is thus composed not of managing a system, rather in managing its relationships.
In order to do this, systemic thinking mangers focus their attention deliberately away from the superficial symptoms of the system. They don’t question „Which experts do I need for my change project?“, they begin a step ahead and start at a deeper level. They analyze which objective, social, and temporal patterns and processes in their respective system are underlying and ask „Which incentives must I bring into line in order to set a course for the new goal?“ With these insights, they lead their team members indirectly and from the inner workings of the system – instead of directly and from the top down.
Leading means to lead oneself
The requirement for this is that the manager is able to lead the central person in this process: himself. At the Academy for Leadership managers practice this systemic leadership approach, here this seemingly mundane fact makes up an indispensable foundation for success. He who recognizes his own behavior patterns and understands them, can consciously steer his actions and therefore lead himself. He who can lead other people, can learn to lead a company. (cf. Drucker, 1956)
At the beginning of a change process, there is always a self-reflection on the decision-maker himself. In order for this development to happen, the manager must fulfill three requirements: 1) he must be attuned to his environment in a way that is open-minded, appreciative, and cooperative, 2) his attitude and values should be clear and transparent, and 3) he should be ready to reflect on his behavior and its patterns, to change, and to continuously develop. (cf. Drucker, 1956)
For managers in the lower and middle hierarchy level, the consultant market nowadays offers uncountable standardized and good validated feedback instruments. Companies apply these as objective instruments in order to lead performance evaluation interviews and to plan for the development of the manager. Excluded from this personal development process are generally the central persons for the change, the leading thinkers of the organization, its decision-makers. In this method, they stand „above all others“ at the top of the system and because of their position, receive only with the biggest of exceptions, an open, honest, personal, and constructive feedback. So it can happen that this manager despite the best of intentions, can become stuck in habitual behavior patterns, to mark time, and thus through their own behavior patterns, directly block the change processes in their own systems themselves – through a project for example – that they would like to push forward.
Leading oneself means to change
In a seminar for top leaders specially designed for this excluded group of company decision-makers, the Academy for Leadership supports and accompanies company directors and executive boards in reflecting on their behavior and the underlying patterns and in developing their leadership personality with aid from immediate and above all open feedback. To recognize one’s own ways of behaving, to accept them and to consciously steer them is not a tool, not a patented recipe that managers can learn and put into their tool box, rather it is a continual process, for which support and incentives are needed. A seminar – as an initial ignition of this process – leads the participants in four steps:
1. To leave behind social identity and accept one’s individual identity
What is important is that the participants do not start in the role of executive board members or that of a company director, rather with their own entirely personal individual identity. For this two trainers lead the participants from the outset cautiously from their current social identity. The company directors step virtually out of their day-to-day activities at the company. Their group identity, title, function, branch, and status symbols stay at the reception of the seminar hotel, the often common introductory round with name tags does not take place. (cf. Hogg & Terry 2000)
Instead the participants stroll through the seminar room as one would through a market. They study each other and make controlled observations about one another: „What do I really observe about the others? What makes up the others exactly, which feelings does this incite in me? What would really happen if I concretely told him what would come first to mind if he does this or that?“ These questions sharpen perception and bring unconscious processes into a cognitive level.
The nonverbal market flows into a most seldom and therefore most valuable feedback: every participant asks two of the others for their first impression of him, thus for a public image that people normally do not openly exchange. Through this type of feedback, the participants get insight about how they – without even have spoken – affect other people, a recognition that would have been impossible through self- observation. After this first feedback, the participants introduce themselves, again only their person, their most important qualities and defining experiences, not about their positions in a company, this remains secondary throughout the seminar.
2. Steering perception into the here and now
At the beginning of a planned change, there is as a rule an analysis of the status quo and a definition of the goal. In such a personality development, both these processes do not run consecutively one tied after another, they are rather parallel and reciprocal. It is mainly occidental-influenced managers that have this hard task of analyzing their own person, which hardly ever before fit into their workday lives: they are accustomed to observing and evaluating numbers and facts, yet not their own behavior and much less their own behavior scripts.
In order to do this, they must train beforehand, to bring their perception into the here and now, and on the side of company numbers and to recognize exactly what pushes and what slows down their inner systems and learn to read this. In the seminar, this is driven on a cognitive as well as on an emotional level. The trainers steer the participants at the very beginning in a thought experiment directly to their personal present: „How do I feel right now? With which thoughts did I leave home? With which thoughts am I now here? Am I really ready to take responsibility for my part in the upcoming change?“ Exercises of this sort alternate between body exercises and instructed learn partnerships, in which the two participants exchange their observations, feelings, and thoughts. The learn partnership has the function to analyze and interpret the residual unconscious processes through these exercises and bring them to a conscious and cognitive level in a protected environment. A representation of scientific theory that explains these processes is not given in the seminar. Experience has shown that such a frontal presentation interferes with rather than enriches the process of self-recognition. It is better for the participants to attain a handout after the end of the seminar with leadership models and theoretical explanations.
3. Getting to know the „inner team“
Our behavior consists mostly of a pattern that is formed from our attitudes and our subjective norms. Already in early childhood we take on behavior scripts, through which we observe our environment and we try to mimic. For our behavior as a manger, both people stand at the center in which we have already directly experienced leadership as a child: mother and father or, relatively speaking, caregivers that stepped into to fill these roles. Our behavior toward other people is composed of three components: the wish that we have for the relationship, the expectation of how others will respond to this wish, and from our affective and cognitive reactions, how others would react to this wish. This script runs not only in our private lives, but also colors how a person deals with the theme of leadership in his working life. Thus even experienced managers act with their employees often with habitual patterns formulated in their childhood and teenage years. (Andersen & Chen 2002). The higher they stand in the hierarchy, the more seldom it is that they attain the corresponding feedback.
The good news: these scripts indeed are deeply anchored in us. Their reflexive function can be leveraged out under certain conditions, namely, when we are motivated and have the occasion to think about our behavior (Fazio, 1990). A foundation for this is created by the trainer already in that they steer the process from the top with a description of the individual identity of participants and not with that of a group identity, this sharpening of recognition on the part of the manager for his own feelings and thoughts in the here and now. These two conditions are necessary, but not yet sufficient. For now it depends on motivation, the ability and the trust of the manager in himself, the trainer, and the other participants to analyze his scripts. (Van Velsor et al. 2006)
A central method for this is constellation work (cf. Weber 2001). Like the constellation that is used in therapy, the manager puts together his „own inner team“(Schulz von Thun 2003), consisting of his inner „supporters“ and his inner „inhibitors“, in the true sense of the word, in the seminar room: chosen participants position themselves symbolically as agents for typical feelings, thoughts, and qualities that support the manager in leading or oppose the diverse poses and in diverse separations to the respective manager in the room. With the help of the trainer, but also with the „supporters“ and „inhibitors“ positioned throughout the room, the manager analyzes his personal team and the behavior patterns are represented three-dimensionally throughout the room. It is these represented attitudes and norms that are always arising again and again. And he searches for experiences, that led to the development of his inner team. What is important, that in this situation, not only the social desirable traits of the person are spoken about, rather the manager introduces also all of the uncomfortable themes as well, such as his fears.
The trainers’ function in this situation are as „midwives“ in that they help prepare in the best possible way for the environment around and the „birthing process“ through incentives. Only the manager himself can decide – in order to stay in the picture – to bring „their baby into the world“.
4. Putting together a new „inner team“
Once the manger has analyzed and recognized his unconscious mechanisms, he works them out with the help of the trainer into a new constellation for his inner team. Now, courage is called up from the far reaches of the room to the front in a heartbeat. He consciously confronts the fear of losing, while creativity and enjoyment support the manager. Important is the understanding that negative experienced emotions cannot be expelled or negated from the inner team. The manager recognizes in this process, that his inhibitors are just as much a part of his personality as his supporters. His performance is to recognize the entire team as his own and to think about how it can optimally function together.
What may seem on the first look as unfamiliar and rather strange, is a process that is self-lead from the manager himself, in that he forms and tries out his team affectively as well as cognitively, for which structures work. The new constellation is tested and justified immediately in the seminar through group exercises and role games. If the restructuring of the inner team is successful, the manager leaves the seminar with the awareness „I know who I am. I recognize my attitude and stand by it.“ He has begun to lead himself.
Now – but only now – that he is able to lead himself, has a manager created the necessary conditions; for example, tools which are required for a successful project. And he has raised the probability of not standing in the way of their next change management project, rather can give it the right incentives.
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