Method or Business Acumen? I’ll take acumen every time

Over the last two years I’ve observed a growing number of ‘change managers’ who are ill-equipped to do the job. Clients tell me the same thing: “There are too many people who have taken a change management course and think they can lead a change effort.” In fact, few are truly prepared to help clients implement change successfully.

I was talking with an expert in the area of innovation and growth. She has worked with Amazon, Microsoft, Google and many others. She knows leaders.

I asked, “How do executives ask for help managing change?”

“They don’t,” she responded. “They ask for help getting results.”

I’ve met many consultants who are very fast to quote a method and produce a template but are at a loss when asked to step outside the lines and adapt according to the needs of the business. They lack understanding of operations or supply chain or accounting.

Leaders in the area of change management cannot afford to be purists. Executives don’t care about impact assessments or stakeholder analyses. They care about results. To speak the language of results, change leaders need strong business acumen. Knowing the business enables us to modify our approach as required in the moment.

When I graduated with my Master’s degree I had very little practical experience and major gaps in understanding what my clients would need help with. If I wanted to assist them, I needed to get up-to-speed quickly. I subscribed to a business newspaper and Fortune magazine. I read both ‘cover to cover’ so that in meetings I had a working knowledge of current happenings in business as well as trending ideas in management. This proved invaluable.

When I first heard EBITDA used in a conversation, I couldn’t recite what it stood for, but I knew it was a measure of revenue and that allow me to participate in the conversation.

When I was helping a manufacturing client improve the operation of its self-managed work teams I dove into Deming’s work and studied Baldridge and Total Quality Management so I could engage effectively in leadership meetings.

I often prepare for client meetings by reading their annual report, reading recent headlines about them, and making notes about their business structure.

How well do you know your client’s or company’s lines of business?

Methods are important and gives us a structure to work within, but structure also brings limitations. Business models change continuously. The most effective change managers are able to ‘read the business’ and participate in all of the discussions. Their value proposition is in their ability to bring the human dimension to the table and help executives navigate it effectively regardless of the scenario and how it shifts. For that, we must be able to speak their language.