I often meet people who want to move into change management from another job, and they ask me, where do I start?
The good news is that most of the people I know who do change work full time didn’t start there. When you’re in school, you typically don’t recognize that it would be necessary to study change or that change is even a job unto itself. You have a different job first, realize that there’s got to be a better way to get things done, and decide to do something about it.
I started as an engineer, and quickly discovered that the improvements I was designing were worthless if people didn’t adopt them. I went back to school to study leadership and change management, and while learning how organizations should work, I started to implement some of those ideas. I started with process improvement teams, which was in the scope of the engineering job. But as I peeled the layers away on what was holding improvements back, it became necessary to change the organization too. So, I started working on strategy and culture work, and expanded my role into organizational effectiveness.
Based on my own experience and also many people whose stories I’ve heard over the years, my advice for how to get started as a change practitioner is twofold:
1. Learn as much as you can
Read as many books as you can on topics like change (Leading Change, Managing at the Speed of Change, Lean Change Management), influence/behavioral science (to name a few: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Influencer, Switch, Nudge, Drive, Predictably Irrational… and 99 Ways to Influence Change for a summary of all of them), and leadership (there are a lot to choose from… read some and then also read Leadership BS to see another perspective). Pass the books around to colleagues, or write up a summary and share with people you think should know about it.
Attend training. And not just one. Experienced change practitioners know that one size does not fit all. The more methodologies and approaches you know, the more you can bring to a change initiative, and the better you are able to get unstuck. If you can’t attend in-person training (or even if you can), attend webinars and watch video courses. You can find an upcoming schedule of learning events on the Enclaria events page.
2. Start making a difference right where you are.
Apply what you learn to projects happening in your area. Do it even when it’s awkward and people look at you funny. Share what you’re doing with others so they can see the activities that lead to results.
If there are leaders who want to implement changes, share your learning and offer to help. Provide them with feedback when you see them doing something that is contrary to the change they say they want to implement. (Yes, really.)
Join up with others in your organization who have a similar interest to create an informal change management practice. Start a book club over lunch. Support each others’ change initiatives.
If there’s a change management or similar function within your organization, start a conversation with them to see how you can get involved. Most of them are short-staffed and would welcome the help.
Don’t wait until you have “change” in your title to start applying change management principles and using your influence to make your workplace better. In the words of Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”