May 18, 2017

Facilitating Lasting Change

Jessica Hartung

Jessica Hartung
CEO and Founder/Integrated Work Strategies and Work That Matters

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Lasting change efforts align multiple perspectives, priorities, and activities so that the design and strategy behind the change stem from the intersection. These change efforts result in the organization being more capable of self-directed improvement in the future.

Leadership teams make decisions to focus their limited time and resources on what really matters and tune out what isn’t on point. If the current change effort does not intersect with the existing priorities, it won’t get much attention. Regardless of the type of change, improvement moves more slowly if you don’t understand the current priorities or fail to link proposed changes to the diverse perspectives of the c-suite. The willingness of the leadership team to champion new approaches determines the speed and success of implementation. So if you can’t work around them, it’s best to work with them.

Coaches create significant behavior change without formal authority and by having only periodic telephone conversations. A powerful coach knows that “telling” is a blunt instrument in the quest to ignite change in others. “Asking” is the power tool. Coaches continuously learn along with their clients—and from their clients. Designing and refining change based on great questions leads to the discovery of new frameworks and approaches to be more strategic, effective and innovative.

Useful questions allow new insights to arise in the shared space of conversation. Questions reveal patterns of thought and critical connections as well as contextual understanding. Lasting change requires collaboration, which will be best serviced by genuine inquiry, rather than being sure that we already know.

Breaking through tough barriers and accelerating group progress — an art few leaders have mastered—requires an integrated blend of nuanced facilitation skills mixed with assessment, consulting, coaching and on-the-spot training. 

Integrated facilitation is decidedly challenging because it is not a rote application of a cookie-cutter methodology learned long ago. Instead, it is a highly rewarding, sophisticated way of leading through asking so that solutions are co-designed and actually accelerate the intended progress.

Company leaders routinely face challenges with multiple, intersecting issues, diverse perspectives, and gaps in knowledge at the same time that a cogent strategy is urgently needed.

Exclusively using one modality such as planning tools, neutral facilitation, or training programs doesn’t offer enough options to address what organizations need next within their current windows of opportunity. Running through a standard process is great when you have lots of time, resources to hire individual specialists, and static conditions. Such situations are rare, however. Therefore, an iterative, collaborative process gives the organization tailored support to move the needle using established modalities in customized combinations.

Coaching conversations with executives can determine critical success factors, while expert consultation can address knowledge gaps. Several rounds of assessment may be needed to more deeply understand the issues and current strategic challenges. Facilitation creates group alignment about what needs to happen next.

Each of these five modalities intersect to move forward to an aligned, smart focus for influencing key priorities and making the necessary organizational change. Developing mastery of these different modalities and how they can work together takes time. It also requires (advanced listening skills and) a willingness to forego knowing the answer (jumping to a solution) before you begin.

I recently hired an outside accounting team to take over our bookkeeping, financial forecasting, and metrics reporting. It was a rocky transition, but I knew the accounting team had expertise that could benefit us, so we kept working on it. After six months, we still could not make progress in the areas we most needed improved. The accounting team focused on improving areas they knew previous firms had valued, but those did not relate to what was most important to our business. The accountants and CFO already “knew” what we needed and didn’t create alignment with my team. It was frustrating all around, wasted time, and caused more delay for our goals than forward momentum. This was the opposite of facilitating lasting change. The accounting firm used only one modality: consulting, and they did not assess, coach, facilitate or train. Of course, they lost our business.

With a new firm now, we are collaborating on priorities and in only a few weeks have made significant headway. Partnering holds real power for directing work to the issues that make all the difference.

A partnering mindset that seeks the intersection between perspectives and needs across the organization is much more likely to facilitate lasting change. The individuals involved will help make the change work, share ideas for how the effort can be improved and will raise red flags before an effort goes off the rails. To facilitate strategic adaptive capacity in your company, expect to sequence these different modalities to design your change approach.

  • Assessment - Research on the key priorities and pain points of the organization from the perspective of its leaders. Explore data to understand the current situation. Summarize and synthesize information from multiple sources.
  • Coaching - Clarify and shift thinking that supports effective action. Verify understanding of strategic priorities, identify the highest impact areas for focused improvements, and explore how to engage stakeholders and supporters. Reflect on progress and lessons learned.
  • Facilitation - Surface issues from multiple perspectives and create alignment around the current situation, develop options for moving forward, and outline plans for action.
  • Training – Close a gap in skills or knowledge while advancing the implementation. Train on contextualized information, include skill-building practices and work directly on current challenges to build foundational capabilities for making the changes needed. Facilitative training approaches—where individuals reflect on and apply the training material—are most effective.
  • Consultation – A consultant shares industry knowledge and subject matter expertise including hard-won lessons from experience, troubleshooting skills and advice.

Discerning between the different modalities, so that each can be used at the best time and mastering our ability to work well in each maximizes the impact. Ask yourself or your team, ‘What will equip us to create widespread change across multiple organizational levels?’ Based on this information, you can determine how to best sequence the different options for support. Artfully blending these different modalities will help facilitate lasting change in your company.

Asking Great Questions

It is helpful to have a list of high-quality questions on hand to engage leaders in discussions about change. Here are some examples to customize:

Clarify the topic

  • What’s most important about that for you?
  • What led you to that conclusion?
  • What opportunities exist in this situation?
  • How does this issue connect to other priorities?
  • What drove this situation to unfold the way it did?
  • What is most pressing about this?

Identify the ideal

  • What do you most want to see happen here?
  • If this turned out ideally, what would that be like?
  • If you were to state the overall goal, how would you describe it?
  • When you have seen successful versions of this in the past, what made it successful?
  • What is most important to accomplish?  

Generate options

  • What other options should be considered?
  • How are you evaluating suggestions?
  • What other situations or industries can we draw on for ideas or inspiration?
  • Which options fit best with our decision criteria?

Refine and improve options

  • What else might accomplish the same purpose, but with less effort/time/confusions or stress?
  • How can we learn from our previous experiences around this area?
  • What will it take to create change on this issue?
  • What does this suggest about the next actions?
  • What is missing from the picture so far?

 Strategically collaborate

  • What can we do together that none of us can do alone?
  • What are the strengths we can contribute most effectively here?  
  • Who could be allies we have not thought of?
  • How could we tie this initiative to work already underway?

Bring forth conclusions

  • Is there a common thread among the options we have been discussing?
  • Where do we have the greatest alignment?
  • How do you propose to move forward?
  • What actions are needed next?
  • How can we partner with other leaders to ensure mutual benefit?

--- About the Author

Jessica G. Hartung, MSM, is the founder and CEO of Integrated Work. Jessica’s 20 years of professional experiences with a variety of organizations—government, non-profits, businesses, and entrepreneurial ventures—have provided strength and flexibility to her skills as a coach, consultant and facilitator. She is known for her straightforward and compelling style that moves individuals and teams to develop the skills necessary to meet and exceed their goals. She is frequently called upon as a trusted advisor to executive leaders.

Integrated Work partners with mission-driven companies to apply real-time leadership development embedded in everyday work experiences. Applied leadership development accelerates impact and achieves measureable results. To learn more, please visit The ExecRanks profile for Jessica or visit Integrated Work.

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