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Change Mastery: Lessons From A Theater Company

Aug 17, 2007
Today's employees have not yet accepted the mindset of professional actors who are fully responsible for their own performance in what will inevitably be a series of plays.

Imagine the performers crying out in anguish and despair at the thought of having to learn new lines in a new play. This would be ridiculous; every actor knows that no play lasts forever. They understand change - and learning new roles - to be an integral part of a healthy acting career.

So what does this mean to you? Well, using a theater company as a metaphor allows us to define and assess change mastery for an individual in a work organization.

We will say that, by definition, a successful, professional actor has mastered change. So what does this look like in our theater metaphor? Our successful actor:

*Stays alert and attuned to the ongoing success of the current production in which he plays.

*Understands the time when the theater company might need to transition to a new play.

*Provides input to the theater company or Director in discussions about possible new productions.

*Pursues, negotiates and contracts for a role in the new production.

*Follows the lead of the Director and works cooperatively with the cast in rehearsing and developing his role in the new play.

*Ensures that he has fully developed his role and integrates it into the overall production in time for Opening Night.

*Cooperatively works with the company to close out the old production.

*Gives his best performance in the new play, taking the initiative to refine his role under the leadership of the Director.

So you don't work in a theater, but your show must go on too. Our metaphor translates to the workplace in much the same way. We believe that individual workers in organizations have mastered change (we'll call them Change Masters!) when they can successfully and consistently perform on each of the eight dimensions of competence listed:

1. Staying Alert and Attuned to Organizational Success - A Change Master will stay tuned to the business environment and his organization's level of success...with customers, with investors, and with employees.

2. Understanding the Time for Organizational Change - A Change Master will understand and appreciate the need to make changes in the organization...and will understand that he must alter his role to fit in with the changing organization.

3. Providing Input about the Future - A Change Master will provide information to his manager and others about what the organization might do and how it might do it for future success.

4. Actively Contracting for a Role in the New Work of the Organization - A Change Master will be alert to new roles she can play after the change or to changes in her current role.

5. Taking the Initiative to Develop the New Work Role - A Change Master will responsibly develop her new or altered role... with the leadership of her manager and in cooperation with fellow workers in her organizational unit.

6. Changing Over to the New Work Role with High Performance - A Change Master will Change Over on schedule to the new way of operating called for by the Vision for Organizational Change.
7. Stopping Old Work - A Change Master will stop doing work the old way and shut down those parts of her role that are no longer in sync with the Vision.

8. Refining the New Work Role to the Needed Performance Level - A Change Master will rapidly work to refine her changed role to reach the targeted and needed level of performance.

Professional actors in theater companies must master change because it is the nature of their business. Doesn't it also make sense for today's individual workers in other kinds of organizations to strive for change mastery since change seems to be the nature of business today?
About the Author
Get a free copy of the 250-page change manifesto Change is the Rule: Free Change Management Book

Dutch Holland is principal and founder of Holland & Davis, specializing in helping clients implement change.
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