A Conversation with Change Management Executive, Steve Pinkus

We have a special treat for you today, as my fourth in the series of “Conversations With A Change Management Executive” features Steve Pinkus, who is not only a leader in Change Management but has also authored a great book on this very subject entitled “Big Change” which presents an experiential 10-step plan to lead large organizational transformations from the inside.

PGG: Steve, it is indeed a pleasure to sit and chat with you with regard to your thoughts on Change Management. So my first question of you is: In your current role, what have you done to lead change?

SP: I have 3 important goals on every major change assignment:

1.   First and foremost, always work with business change leaders to make their changes a success, be positively and quickly impactful, and make them stick. 

2.   Secondly, integrate change management work into the normal way business leaders manage all of their change projects. 

3.   Lastly, it is to develop organizational leaders’ internal competency and skills in managing major transformations within their organizations. 

In my current role at a major transportation company, I believed I have addressed all 3 of these goals. I have been the change management lead for some of this organization’s largest technology projects, including their enterprise implementation of VoIP and transforming how they communicated with their customers, and in upgrading their core scheduling systems, and many others since then.  Both the Business and I&IT division have stated that the Change Management activities have made a positive difference in the success of the implementation of the project and the longer term sustainability of those solutions. When I began my work with this organization in their technology division, there was no formal change management role or methodology in the delivery of their projects. 

When I was contracted for that role, few understood what change management was. Today, there is a team of 7 change management professionals supporting between 15 to 20 projects at any given time, and I developed a change methodology that is integrated with their current project management methodology. The change methodology begins at the start-up phase for each project, carries on throughout all phases of project work and is mandatory for Project Managers’ to shepherd through their gating process. I believe I have addressed these 3 goals in the work I have done with this organization, and I am passionate and determined in accomplishing these goals with all clients I work with.

PGG: I’m reading your book right now Steve, and I must say your answer is as experiential and thorough as your written word. I’m grateful for that as it offers our audience a real taste of what to expect in your book. Moving along, I’d like you to share with us how you would lead a change when all the requirements aren’t known? 

SP: First, it’s important for me to clarify that I don’t lead change – I support business leaders so that they can lead change. 

The short answer to this question is, you can’t lead a change when the solution isn’t clear. Requirements need to be known early to support the solution and communicated so that all senior stakeholders understand and buy into it.  

Therefore, the initial change management work often begins with assisting and influencing the organization in effectively and comprehensively identifying requirements as a prerequisite initial step of the change. I have had a few assignments proposed to me where requirements weren’t clear, and the client did not feel it was important for the change resource to worry about this part of the project, or felt they would become clear later in the assignment. I either am successful in convincing the client that this is important now, or I do not take the assignment – because the change will likely not succeed. 

PGG: I, for one, really like your answer, Steve. In my recent blog “Starting Out On The Right Foot” http://bit.ly/2pRolwa I talk about the need for clarity and the correct understanding that’s required before you get out of the blocks. I’m therefore pleased to see that you, as one of our most seasoned veterans of the business, feel the same way. Now, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to stay on this topic and get your thoughts on, how you’d lead a change when the impact of the change is unclear? 

SP: The impact of the change is never clear until the work is done to uncover it. One of the early tasks of any change management professional should be to conduct a comprehensive stakeholder impact analysis to figure that out. It’s my job to make clients understand that this work needs to be built into all project plans, and is a precursor and the “raw data” required to develop a change management plan. This is more than developing a pretty “heat map” that rates a level of impact for each stakeholder group. A good stakeholder impact analysis requires a comprehensive and detailed description of all changes introduced by the project or initiative. It then requires the change management professional to engage the right stakeholders to determine how the changes will impact their functions or department. Communications, training and any stakeholder engagement activities are driven by the different and specific impacts on every element of change introduced by a change project or initiative.  

PGG: That’s great Steve and thanks again for appeasing my personal interest in the unclear starts to a potential Change Management initiative. I think it’s important to drill down on this and you’ve clearly demonstrated the need for clarity and understanding before venturing off into a full-blown effort. My final question of you today is on the rather sensitive side of change itself. I’m wondering if you’d share with us, how you personally overcome resistance to change?    

SP: There is a lot written about how to deal with resistance to change. My views are a little different than some of my colleagues. Instead of thinking about people resisting change, we should be thinking about people merely honestly reacting to the change. Everyone’s reactions are reasonable to themselves. Very few people consciously make decisions to throw roadblocks into change initiatives in organizations. Most are merely reacting to their perception of how the change will be affecting them, negatively or positively. I tell senior change leaders and other change professionals working with me, that our initial job as change management professionals is to listen without judgement. It doesn’t matter what we think about the change being imposed on people – our job is first, find out what everybody else thinks, understand why people think the way they do, and then we can address what appears to be resistance.  Sometimes people come up with reasonable issues that should be addressed, and might even impact the solution. Other times, the issues aren’t solvable and people will remain resistant. 

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The message then needs to be “I understand that the change may be difficult or something you may not like, but we need to do this (and state the reason). We will commit to work with you to make it as painless as possible, and support you through it…”.  There are many other communication techniques I write about and use, but they are all based on the principle of “honesty”. Don’t present benefits that aren’t real to the people you are communicating with. If you are honest, people may not like what is occurring, but at least they will respect you and be more likely to comply.

With all that said, in the end, there will be a small percentage of individuals who you will never “convert” to accepting or adopting the change. Do not focus on them. Focus on the majority of individuals who you can effectively move them towards adopting the change, and leave that small percentage of resistors to make their own decisions on how they’ll proceed. You will never get everyone on board with a difficult and significant change. Be satisfied with getting the majority of your stakeholders, or your “critical mass” on board.

PGG: Steve, it’s been great speaking with you. Your frank and very detailed answers have been a real treat to hear. As mentioned earlier in our conversation, you definitely speak as you write, and I would highly recommend that all our readers interested in Change Management pick up a copy of your book.

“Big Change” A 10-Step Plan to Lead Large Organizational Transformations from the Inside written by Steve Pinkus available on Amazon http://amzn.to/2paULTr or Barlow Books in Toronto at http://bit.ly/2pplvvw

Steve is currently engaged with one of the province’s largest government transportation agencies and has been for the past 4 plus years. He is an extremely valued business partner to Watershed CI and, as you can tell, a very straight forward and stand up guy in the business of helping his clients through even the most difficult change.

Steve Pinkus, MBA   

A change leader with 20 years of external consulting experience and 12 years of internal company experience, Steve specializes in large-scale strategic change and project management. As an internal consultant, he has worked with firms such as Unilever and Caterpillar. Independently and as an external consultant, he has worked with Capgemini and Ernst and Young Canada. Applying an integrative and collaborative approach, Steve thrives in complex environments containing multiple stakeholders and extensive portfolios of deliverables. Especially skilled in supervising major technology transformations and implementations, including ERP and business intelligence, Steve has spearheaded numerous initiatives in both the public and private sectors. He oversaw the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s Transition Program, the largest organizational program in Ontario Public Service history, established and managed a change management practice for the I&IT project management office (PMO) for Metrolinx, and served as the change management lead for an enterprise project portfolio solution for one of Canada’s leading banks. In the fall of 2015, Steve released “Big Change”, a book that describes an approach for managing large organizational transformations.


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