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Change & Wedding Planner Wisdom

change leadership Nov 29, 2023

Written by Roxanne Brown

“As a leader if you’re not leading change, what are you doing?” 

A friend said this to us a while back. It’s a good point.

The thing about change is it’s personal. It’s ubiquitous and individually defined. A huge change for one person may be barely noticeable to another. And maybe I don’t really know how big the change is. Maybe I think it’s huge but once I step into it, the change is no big deal for me. On the other hand, I may notice a colleague is having a very different experience and a much harder time with it. This fluidity can be confusing to a leader because we want to have vision. We want to make things certain and predictable when possible.

Experience tells us that every change is emergent change. Even when you do something as planful as launching new software for a specific group of people on a particular date at an exact time. Even then you cannot predict everything that will happen with the people involved. That aspect makes it emergent change

You can project outcomes. You can use scenario planning and make decisions based on patterns you’ve experienced to make it easier for people to adopt the new software the way you need them to. And this is important because people adopting the change a certain way means you get the value out of the change that you’re looking for. A structured change management approach makes it much more likely you get that value. This is all wise business practice. Nevertheless, people are always a variable. That’s part of the beauty of us. 

The best relatable metaphor we’ve come up with so far for leading emergent change is wedding planning. (Let me explain.) Even the best wedding planners know they need to be ready to act to handle difficult situations that emerge among people. Dynamics between friends and family members can heighten the tension in an event like this, much like the tension people feel when change is happening at work. There’s a lot at stake. Yes, for some more than others but most everyone feels its presence. 

So, if you were to set some 2024 development goals as a change leader, what might they be? Perhaps we could learn from the wisdom of wedding planners to get even better at leading emergent change.

This article is especially creative in embracing people-difficulties in these wedding events (emergent-change situations) as a joy. (We highly recommend reading it for loads of change leadership inspiration!) Here are just a couple of the author’s ideas that inspired us:

  • “Flexigidity” -- This means being flexible about some things and rigid about others. Figuring out ahead of time what about the change you can be flexible about and what is non-negotiable can help you be ready to react in a balanced way and be a calming force. People like boundaries, even if they don’t like the change itself. Boundaries help people know where they have flexibility to make decisions for themselves. It’s a form of empowerment. No boundaries can be too much to think about and make the change feel unsafe.
  • Patiently ‘Love Bomb’ a Difficult Relative” -- The author talks about not attempting to change how an important person (an “influential stakeholder,” in our vernacular) feels about a strongly-held belief. Instead get closer to them, spend time with them, and listen to them. Make their inclusion feel important to you while you accept that they are unlikely to shift their beliefs. Granted, this needs to be practical and balanced in a business context but a little can go a long way. As the author says, “Sometimes being wanted and being loved patiently shifts the heart.”

We agree, as our friend suggested, that leading change is inherent in a leader's role. Said differently, change is a normal part of the work experience. You may as well create some leadership development goals to be great at it!

P.S. I’ve been talking about the wedding planner metaphor for change for a very long time. To my delight, a Google search led me to discover a Wedding Planners Change Management Template! It’s a project plan for wedding planners. How delightful!

| This was written by a human. 😊