When Change Management is Personal

pre-remote year Feb 04, 2019

It was great to be back in Anat Lechner's Change Management class at my alma mater, the NYU Stern School of Business, almost 10 year since graduation, as the teacher instead of the student.  I enjoyed sharing my own case studies with MBA students on the challenges I've faced in impacting organizational change and how I've successfully applied what I learned from that very class.

Change itself causes a lot of anxiety in people and when we add the word "management" to it, it has an almost clinical feel to it.  The term is most often associated with managing the complex adoption or integration of different organizational cultures, systems, and process, often times with a company merger, or structural re-organization.  I've been part of change management teams and initiatives in different organizations and I have seen how executing a change management plan successfully is essential for the utmost productivity and motivation in individuals.

This year, as I prepared to teach an MBA class on Change Management at NYU Stern School of Business, I was going through a professional and personal change by leaving my whole life in NY and working and traveling around the world while participating in Remote Year!  I wondered if John Kotter's famous 8 steps to change management, which I've long followed for organizational change management, could help me manage a change in my own life.  Could I apply this "formalized" and "complex" process to managing a personal change?  I realized, in fact, I could. Here are Kotter's 8 steps with my personal twist.  I added questions I recommend you ask yourself during your times of personal change:

  1. Create a Sense of Urgency
  • What is my impetus for change?
  • How will I benefit from this change?
  • What will I lose by not changing?
  • How can I overcome my concerns about this change? 
  1. Build a Guiding Coalition
  • Who has been through a similar change that I can talk to?
  • What support do I need from my mentors, coworkers, friends, or family?
  • How can they help to hold me accountable?
  • Who else can I ask for feedback or advice?
  1. Form a Strategic Vision
  • What is my vision on what this change would create?
  • What would success look like in 6 months, 1 year, 2 years?
  • What are milestones I can achieve along the way?
  • Does this vision inspire me to make the change?
  1. Communicate and Enlist Support
  • Who can I share this vision with that could support me?
  • Who do I want to be aware of my aspirations?
  • What are the best methods to communicate my aspirations?
  • With whom should I build relationships to support me?
  1. Enable Action
  • What actions can I take right now to prepare for the change?
  • What barriers to success could I remove?
  • How can I make it easier for others to support me?
  1. Generate Short-Term Wins
  • What milestones can I celebrate?
  • What other measures of success should I measure?
  • To whom should I communicate these wins?
  1. Sustain Acceleration
  • How can I use my credibility of successful quick wins to make further change?
  • How can I build on wins to get closer to my vision?
  1. Institute Change
  • What have I learned about the connections between the new behaviors and my success?
  • How do I ensure new behaviors and skills have developed enough to replace former ones?

Answering these questions for myself really helped me to navigate how I could make the change I wanted to in my life.  I created a sense of urgency by getting really clear on why I wanted to do this specific program and why now was the perfect timing.  I built a guiding coalition by speaking with other people that had participated on the program before and got advice on how to best pitch this opportunity to my employer.  I created a vision of what I want my experience to look and feel like on a personal and professional level. I communicated and enlisted support from mentors, my family, and close friends that supported my decision and helped me think through how to make it a reality. I enabled action by creating a project plan of everything I would need to prepare and accomplish before the program started. I generated short-term wins by successfully completing the actions and tasks on my list and sharing those milestones with friends to celebrate. I sustained acceleration by working especially hard in my job to make myself as indispensable as possible and continue to show my commitment to my role no matter where I’m located. And I’ll be instituting the change on March 3rd, 2019.


Since I saw the application of John Kotter’s 8 steps work for me personally, I knew I wanted to share this angle with the students at NYU Stern to personalize change management for them.  As many students getting an MBA are going through a career change, after I took them through an organizational case study and discussion, we also did exercises on applying these same change management steps to their own career change.  Much to their pleasant surprise, they were able to take "theory" and put it directly into practice in their personal lives.  There is no better way to learn that to put things into practice. And practicing how to manage our life's changes is essential for our own productivity and happiness.

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