What is required in a ‘post COVID-19 world”? Let me re-frame this discussion a bit. It is NOT ‘change management’; it IS Leadership Transformation. Change management implies incremental modifications in existing processes and is associated with management fashions of the industrial age. My discussion here is about adopting new belief systems, associated attitudes, and, ultimately evolutionary supportive behaviors in the workplace. There is no return to the old pre-COVID19 normal.
This transformation has three dialectically related parts—first, the force for modification – a thesis. Second, the resistance to that modification – an antithesis. Finally, a resolution of that conflict – a synthesis.
The force for modification is the process of transformation told as a story. It is a seven-step process that leaders pass through as they adopt new belief systems. Examples include Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” or a commonly used screenplay technique called “Save The Cat.”
The leader goes through this process in ordered steps. They usually encounter a mentor or ‘helper’ between stages 2 and 3 when they enter the realm of the unknown. Along the way, there are challenges, a transformative ‘dark night of the soul’ (stage 6) and finally, a return to the known with a gift of new insight and motivation.
The process looks like this:
Resistance to Modification
While our leader (the Hero in the story) is traveling through this process, they are met with resistances – some internal and most external.
When faced with a life situation that requires people to change their behavior, attitudes or ultimately their entire belief systems, people resist. It’s not so much they resist the change; they are fighting against having change forced on them. The deeper the change required, the more severe the reaction.
Until people realize that the pain to remain in the current state is greater than the pain to make the change, people will resist. For example, think of the pain involved in:
- “Weight Watchers” requiring behavior and attitude adjustment
- Military indoctrination requires complete behavior and attitude adoption of new peer groups.
- Addiction recovery requires new behaviors, attitudes, and social groups and acceptance of new beliefs – the proverbial “come to Jesus” moment.
Let’s scale that.
This diagram shows the severity of resistance scales from mild curiosity to outright hostility. It begins at the bottom (we call this Level 0) – meeting people where they are currently. Next up is Level 1 and so on. Experience tells us that it takes approximately six months of concentrated personal development to move through each of these levels.
Reconciling the Forces
The leader’s primary task passing through this transition is to reconcile, or resolve, these forces of change and resistance. I submit that the most expeditious way to do this is to employ a guided social-psychological activity of ‘engagement.’
“Work engagement is the “harnessing of organization member’s selves to their work roles: in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, emotionally and mentally during role performances.”
In the organizational context, engagement is closely tied to a person’s experience in the workplace. In turn, engagement gives rise (or attenuates) productivity and finally yields operational cost. The Transformed Leader’s job to “stage-manage” people’s experience of the workplace, which correlates with their engagement.
The good news is that ‘engagement’ can be reliably measured to track the transformation process’s effectiveness – and leaders’ performance. I see three major components to engagement in the context of transformation; cognition (thinking), engagement with work tasks, emotional attachment to functions and team members; and their experience of the environment’s physical aspects.
It’s about Leadership Transformation – not change management. This process has three parts; a leader’s motivation for evolution and the journey they need to embark upon; the organization’s resistance to having their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs changed; and the guidance system of measured engagement used to steer the course.
This Leadership Transformation is especially relevant in the supposed ‘return to work’ following extended periods of isolation and dislocation. The cognitive and emotional vectors of engagement are of prime importance. Hence, we need transformed leaders, not ‘up skilled managers.’