Have you ever pushed on a door without it opening? You may have even pushed harder before seeing the “pull” sign. This is a uniquely human experience. Something in our brain tells us to push, even when the sign in plain sight says “push”.
This experience is a metaphor for change management: Sometimes you pull. Sometimes you push.
I’ve done a lot of interim executive director engagements as part of my consulting work. Interim engagement have helped me fine-tune my change management skills. After all, it is natural for an organization to make changes once a chief executive steps away. And the right changes ensure the long term success for both the organization and the new CEOI.
I have found Radical Candor by Kim Scott to be very helpful with creating change. This book helps everyone in an organization communicate better, become more effective, and achieve professional goals. And change management is so much easier when we’re communicating honestly and effectively with each other.
As part of an interim engagement several years ago, I purchased a copy of Radical Candor for every person in the organization. I often praised the book in meetings, chiding staff that they should read it. I did everything possible to push us toward a radically candid workplace, stopping it just short of making it “required reading.”
The majority of employees thought the book would be full of management jargon. Many also felt coerced into reading the book. So I watched the books go unopened as piles of other folders and loose papers gathered on top of them.
This was a wasted opportunity, and I knew it. I worked hard to change my approach for those staff. I spent countless hours covertly working to instill a baseline knowledge of Radical Candor, without most employees realizing I was doing it.
Fast forward a couple of years to a different interim executive director engagement. Again, I felt the staff should read Radical Candor but had learned from my past mistake. So this time I asked the management team if they would like to read Radical Candor. I proposed we read it over 12 weeks and discuss one chapter at each of our weekly meetings. They agreed to form a “book club”, and about two-thirds of the management team found tremendous value in the book.
So they formed book clubs with the supervisors who reported to them. Now the management team was reading the book a second time. They were also facilitating discussions with the supervisors reporting to them.
Soon, direct service staff were clamoring for the opportunity to read Radical Candor. They eagerly set aside time to read the book and applied the strategies to their own teams. The organization embraced a radically candid culture as a result.
These two organizations had very different reactions to the exact same book. This underscores the importance of pulling for change instead of pushing for it. If you’re trying to push someone through a door, you’re standing behind them pushing. You only go through the door after they’ve gone through it. No one likes that kind of change.
When you’re pulling for change, you walk through the door first and you show the person how great the new room is. Once you settle into the new room, others will want to follow you through the door.
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