*Inspired by Dr D Drake
I have been deeply inspired by the work of Dr David Drake, a global thought leader in transformation. In his scholarly text on narrative coaching, he provides us with his six principles to guide practitioners. As a change manager of over ten years, I have a passion for exploring how we put theories into practice in sensible ways to make a real impact. I understand that nothing about change management is one dimensional.
When facilitating meaningful and sustainable change, we are faced with layers of intricacies and nuances in the systemic landscapes in which we work. In the centre of all changes are people, and they are fascinating and complex and, at their core, human. My underlying driver in my practice is to bring humanness back to the centre of the work we do. I often hear people in our field say, ‘humans are messy’, and I love that. They are deliciously complex. I had the privilege of exploring Dr Drakes’ work and being taught by him whilst undertaking my certification as a narrative coach. His work comfortably translates to working with individuals and teams, and his approach is well suited for transformational work within organisations.
Dr Drakes’ 6 principles are recognisable and valuable wherever you are in your journey as a change agent. I have added my thoughts to his principles for working in organisations. These insights come from observing my teams moving into a deeper understanding of how to support people to own the changes they face.
1. Be fully present to what is without judgement
Show up authentically. If you enter a situation with an ego or arrogance thinking you know it all, right there and then, you lose the opportunity to engage with people. Do the work, take the time to understand the organisation you are working with, and conduct research to have relevant authentic conversations. This demonstrates to people that you honour the work they have done without judgement, allowing you to meet them where they are at and take them on their journey of transformation. As the change agent, be present in yourself, understand your strengths and your limitations. Bring your authentic self to your work, and honour your practice by continuously improving your skills and knowledge.
2. Trust that everything you need is right in front of you
I have observed how change agents struggle with the notion that you need to know everything, relying on your knowledge and experience. Being present and landing yourself in the space you are working in is key to trusting that what you need is right in front of you. When you approach your work from a place of authenticity and without judgement for others and yourself, you become more aware of what is available to you and where the gaps are. The people we work with know so much more about their organisations than we ever can, and if we take the time to explore what is already available, we can build on that knowledge and those skills. When we identify gaps, we can support and guide people to discover ways to fill those gaps. It is all there in front of you; the key is to be aware, open and honest, not make assumptions and do the research to resource yourself.
3. Speak only when you can improve the silence
In my experience, sitting in silence while I coach someone allows that person to process information and new insights. The individual then owns that insight fully. That is so powerful, and the wisdom that emerges are the gems that help people move forward. Applying this to working in organisations takes skill, experience and loads of courage. A common misconception is thinking that it is enough to tell someone how to do something and expecting them to apply the thinking. Change is a journey; the role of a change agent is to guide and support people, knowing what is needed to support their journey. People need time to find their way and assimilate information. It is important to allow people space and time to explore and integrate changes. This approach can be very frustrating when organisations are goal-focused, but if we do not allow people time and space to fully integrate and own the changes authentically, the changes will not be sustainable. Consistently checking in on people’s understanding and where they are is crucial and not easy in all instances. Change management is riding the rollercoaster with teams, understanding when to provide input and allowing space.
4. Focus on generating experiences, not explanations
The underlying mindset is generosity. Explanations are not generous; taking the time and effort to create experiences for people is - and people respond to generosity. People learn through experience. Create safe spaces for people to explore the changes they are expected to embrace. Generous spaces allow people to be vulnerable and make mistakes while exploring change, taking feedback on board, and ensuring each person experiences their value. Include people in designing the change journey. Too many people in organisations are not seen or heard. Be generous in your approach at every level of interaction.
5. Work directly with the narrative elements in the field
Every person, team and organisation have their narratives; we cannot rely on the posters on the wall or documentation to inform what that narrative is. When engaging with people, allow yourself to listen without driving your own agenda, then you will hear that narrative. The stories people tell will provide you with information about how people do their jobs, the culture, their desires, and what real issues they face. Every narrative you glean have elements you can use. If you do not take time to understand the current narrative, any new narrative will fall on deaf ears. Understand the current to inform the future.
6. Stand at the threshold when stories emerge
Be present and aware of what stories emerge during the change journey. Are you noticing resistance or struggle? Are people understanding and starting to embrace change? These are the obvious stories we can recognise. The stories we can train ourselves to listen to are the ones that are beginning to emerge but do not have a complete form yet. Learn to recognise when people are struggling to articulate something and when something new occurs. Feel their discomfort. You can either kill it but making assumptions or allowing it to emerge by exploring possibilities together. Use your somatic (physical body) intelligence to guide you. That feeling of discomfort in your body tells you to explore, observe and heighten your awareness. You are facing a threshold. When your body relaxes, and you feel totally at ease, that is when you have crossed the threshold.
These principles take courage, creativity and time to integrate into your practice as a change agent or change leader. We work in a dynamic field. You can make it a meaningful experience for everyone by having the courage to explore new ways of being. My motivation is to see people grow and change and become more authentically themselves, which informs my practice. I would encourage us all to continue to explore our personal practice and how it influences the way we work.
* To learn more about DVT’s change management services, visit our website.