Monday, April 28, 2008

How much willpower does an interim manager need?

Sometimes, when I am driving through a new initiative and need to lobby a pathway for the subsequent change management and project teams to flatten out and widen even further, I ask myself why am I doing this? What can start out as a good idea can become a nightmare, especially if the change is big and the lobbying needs to start at the very top and work its way down. At these moments I tend to go back to the project charter and remind myself of why the project was set up in the first place and what needs to be done. The project charter becomes like a religious reference book, a document to return to, to digest and to reflect upon a given situation. But a project charter is not a religious work, its authors are not divine, it is (presumably) a document that contains the method and reasons for increasing shareholder value in some way or another, either in the long or short term.

If it can be considered that it is willpower that drives interim managers, and to a large extent it is true (many interim manager’s profiles reveal people that like to make an impact on their environments, and to do this they need a great deal of willpower), then willpower becomes the energy source that drives them and their desire to influence their environment becomes the motivator.

On a corporate level bringing about change is relatively easy for those professionals with the right skills and experience. However with change on a personal level, everything becomes so much harder. Motivating oneself to change is never easy. We begin with the best intent and motivation, telling ourselves that this time it will be different, but so often we fall back into our old ways. In his book ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’, Robin S. Sharma gives the reader all the tools to bring about significant personal change and growth.

I said in my blog ‘Who is Your Guru?’ back in November 2007 that I would report back on this book, it has taken me much longer than planned because I have been unsure about it. On the one hand, its meaning is good but Sharma tends to repeat the same concept in too many different ways and thereby adds unnecessary complexity and it becomes a little tedious. In fact, I think that if his book was half its length then it would become an even bigger international best seller than it already is.

If you are seriously looking to change your life in any significant way, I can recommend Sharma’s book, even if you only adopt one suggestion, it can be enough to justify the purchase and the investment of reading it. (I quite like the idea of dedicating at least 10 minutes per day looking at an object in detail). When I was a student, it was my pint of beer, today its something else. But Sharma’s style might not be to your liking. It is rather mystical and you are always aware that it is a story beyond belief.

Being the pragmatic person that I am, in my book I suggest some exercises to discover just who you really are and how to set about creating map a new path or ‘life map’ forward for yourself. However, what is becoming more and more obvious to me is that although we maybe very good at reading other people and motivating them to change, when it comes to ourselves it is very unlikely that a book on its own could ever do it, not even mine!

So when Robin Sharma mentions “Willpower gives you the energy to act. …..It gives you the control to live the life you imagined rather than accepting the life you have”, you will need to remember that you first have to understand your past and establish an environment in which you will be able find the energy to change into the person you would more like to be, to have the career that you would more like to have. To do what you want, without feeling guilty or a burden upon others.


Matthijs said...

Harley, you mention that if the interim manager as a change agent has the right skills and experience, it will be relatively easy for him to bring about change on a corporate level. Furthermore, that change on a personal level, for instance that of the same interim manager, becomes so much harder, because motivating oneself to change is never easy.
You are wrong here. To bring about change on a corporate level is in my opinion much harder than on a personal level. In order to successfully implement change on a corporate level, the interim manager as a change agent, needs first of all to be convinced that the change is needed. He makes a personal choice to accept the challenge and to enter into a psychological contract. The latter in the sense that he intrinsically motivates himself towards the change for instance by start showing the right behavior himself. So, being a change agent means beginning to change oneself. And indeed, willpower will be the energy source for him.

However, it does not stop here. He needs to show political entrepreneurship as well, meaning to accept that (D. Buchanan and R. Badham, Power, politics and organizational change, 1999):

- Reality is illusory: it’s all about perceived reality, which differs from the reality. Reality is socially constructed. The difference increases the more complex and/or bigger the organisation is.
- The game is on, in the sense of continuing interaction and exchange.
- His credibility factor is at stake. Reputations established through time are important assets.
- It’s always in context, in the sense what is the political climate, what is the political temperature, what approaches will work in this context?
- A situational ethic is applicable. It’s hard to apply normative universal ethical principles to political behaviour in an organizational context. Informed judgement of what is acceptable, what is justifiable, what is defensible in the context at stake.
- Decisions are based on a combination of knowledge and conceptualization of the context, managerial judgement and creativity.
- The change-driving role is not an easy one. The penalties for mistakes or failure can be high, while the rewards for success are sometimes intangible if significant.

To manage change is to be political competent. Those change agents who are not politically skilled will fail (C. Hardy and S. Clegg, Power and change, 2004). In addition, he needs to create and to keep the right conditions for change, to be sensitive to attacks from outside and inside the change environment and to accept that it takes time. From own experience, I know that it takes at least four years to reach a situation that none talks anymore about the change, but just acts accordingly.

Harley Lovegrove said...

I have instigated many change projects in many different types of companies and althought they can be very tough, I still have not carried out a change project that is harder than trying to change myself. The way I personally behave and act. So I remain with my original statement, deep inner personal change is always the toughest, especially without a coach.