Four Insights from ACMP 2019



May 15, 2019

Orlando has a reputation as a magical place: charismatic mice, an abundance of wizards and witches, above average concentrations of princesses. The impossible is possible in this city, so it seems fitting that members of the global change community found their way to Universal Studios Florida with the theme of “Change is Universal” for the ACMP 2019 conference.

Perhaps inspired by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, several conference attendees mentioned needing a magic wand to successfully manage seemingly impossible transformations. With over 70 sessions plus additional workshops bookending the two-and-a-half-day conference, magic wands were not the only tools attendees would walk away with to handle change management challenges.

What were some of the key insights from the recent conference in Orlando?

1: Building Trust by Speaking the Truth

In the opening keynote session, Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, told attendees that relationships break down “one failed, one missing conversation at a time.” Scott challenged the room to interrogate reality, have hard conversations, and speak truth. Trust and deep conversations can only happen when we take time to understand where a person is at in a given moment. Once trust is established, only then can the issue at hand be approached and addressed.

Although much of her message centered on coaching leaders by listening to and understanding the current context of an individual’s world, her words could just as easily be applied to individuals going through a change. Change managers must understand what is behind the fear of a change. They must encourage organizations to speak truthfully about what a change means to individuals and groups, even if it is not always an easy conversation.

In another session, Mark Norton from Symantec discussed how full transparency was essential to his organization navigating a five-year period of heavy change that included multiple CEOs, business divestitures and acquisitions, and changes in strategic business direction. Employees needed to have a clear sense of purpose to stay engaged through the transitions.

On the other hand, Jamie Lahiere from Whole Foods even shared how to build trust when change is a secret and can’t be shared with employees. Although more challenging, by working with leaders and even asking them to do work they may not normally perform, the grocer successfully facilitated a confidential transformation through trust.

When constant change is expected and the unknown is often filled with anxiety, change practitioners must work with organizations and leaders to build a trust between them to push through challenges related to transformations. Trust must be built up early, especially when a change is not clear to those impacted. Once trust is established, it becomes easier to share facts and messages with employees to move forward with a change.

2: Change, an “Always-on” Function

Several sessions highlighted areas where change management is no longer a temporary, discrete effort, but rather embedded as an “always-on” part of normal business operations that continues once a transformational effort concludes. Accompanying this emerging mindset is an increased focus on measuring the ROI of change management efforts.

Reoccurring comments from attendees suggested that the role of change practitioners is evolving in an increasingly strategic direction. One audience member discussed the recent creation of the Chief Change Officer role. As companies build out more robust change infrastructure, practitioners are being invited to strategic discussion earlier and helping influence enterprise direction.

For example, as leaders and organizations evolve to include change as a core competency, a transition will occur where practitioners are coaching across the organization, helping provide connections between different parts of companies, and influencing how companies execute business strategies.

3: Incorporating Neuroscience into Change and Learning

Since the first MRI brain scan about 40 years ago, science continues to provide new tools to understand how the human brain deals with change.

Dr. Dustin A Jackson, an organizational psychologist, shared that physical, emotional, social—and even someone else’s—pain affect the same two regions of our brain. Most change practitioners agree that workplace change impacts employee performance. In understanding how our brain processes pain, we better understand why humans generally react to change poorly.

Lauren Waldman, founder of Learning Pirate, informed attendees that the more we learn, the more connections our brain can make which in turn, increase the abilities to learn. Waldman even shared several design tricks to help our brains learn, including concepts around simple chunking a technique in which a larger concept is broken up into smaller blocks of information to make it easier to absorb. He also spoke about our environment’s relationship to memory retention and increased retention from social learning.

By understanding the biology of the human brain, change practitioners can design tactics to help individuals adapt on their journey through change.

4: Crafting Stories that Lead to Change

In leading change, storytelling is a great way to build human connection. Author Seth Godin asked the crowd during a fast-paced keynote, “What do we make? We make stories that lead to change.” Effective change practitioners spend much of their time listening to different groups, understanding individuals’ fears and hopes, and ultimately building a story to anchor a change plan around.

Patti Sanchez from Duarte and Amy Haworth from Citrix similarly presented a session on how to harness the power of story to drive change. A common story pattern such as the likable hero, who encounters a roadblock but overcomes the challenge and emerges transformed, can help people connect with a change.

Compounding the excitement surrounding the theme park locale of the event, attendees also felt fueled by the momentum in change management. As demonstrated by the insights from the event, the next several years will see a maturation of the processes and tools used by practitioners—along with greater connectivity to program management—to bring the profession to the next level. The magic of change will continue in 2020 when ACMP lands across the country in another city known for its magical experiences: Anaheim, CA. Hope to see you there!