Alrighty, be calm fan girl. You got a chance to talk with Daryl Conner. There’s going to be a whole stack of you out there who’ll know immediately why this was SO cool. But for the uninitiated, Daryl is the founder and Chairman of Conner Partners and behind much of the change methodology  and tools we use today in contemporary practice. Author of Managing at the Speed of Change (1993) and Leading at the Edge of Chaos (1998), Daryl’s content creation is prolific with more than 250 blog posts, articles, video talks, book chapters and the like!

There is so much to say about Daryl, but I think it’s probably best if you head to his bio here.

After 40+ year of working with the most successful companies in the world, Daryl has embarked on his own workplace change agenda! I talk about that with him in this change chat! For those experienced change practitioners who are curious about his Raising Your Game workshops, head here or reach out to your local CMI chapter if in Australia. We also talk about his new initiative Conner Advisory that focuses on “change that matters” .


Jen: Hello everybody, this week in our change chat, I’ve got the extreme pleasure of being able to speak with Daryl Connor. Now, I could speak for three to five minutes, citing all of his various accomplishments and bonafides, but you know, that’s going to cut into our time, so, we will leave that information in the blog post notes. Suffice to say, if you have ever used the Burning Platform Metaphor, that’s Daryl’s work, if you’ve talked to the Change Commitment Curve, that’s Daryl’s work and simply put, Daryl or Dazza, as we know him here in Australia, is the ‘yoda’ of contemporary change management and it’s a true honour to have you on the show; Daryl, welcome to our change chat.

Daryl: Thank you Jen, I’ve been looking forward to us having a little time to together, so thanks for the invitation.

A change expert goes through change

Jen: Absolute pleasure. So, first question Daryl; after what forty plus years at the coal face, with Conner Partner’s consulting, you’ve now moved away to focus on developing high impact practitioners with Connor Academy and working with NGOs in Connor Advisory, can you tell us a bit about that shift, what was the impetus for it? What brought it about? How that has gone for you?

Daryl: Sure, well, if you ask me, moving… first of all, Connor Partners is still alive and well and moving forward, just with a lot less of my energy. I actually came back from giving a speech years ago and the speech was about how our profession, it was largely practitioners, and the speech was about how I thought ways of the profession needed to be much more attentive and mindful, not just about being good at what we do, but about being attentive to where we do it and then, I feel like that, you know, the change management either really makes a difference or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t make a difference, for instance, we have some responsibility to apply it to what I defined as ‘changes that matter’ and it is a broad definition but I see change that matters, is a change that that will actually have an impact on the human experience, not just profitability for particular organization.

Well, you know, the speech was well received but I came off the stage a bit destabilized by my own speech because, I realized literally, when I was in the process of giving it is that, I wasn’t at all confident that I was living up to the challenge, that I was asking other practitioners to consider and so, I got in a plane, came back to Atlanta and within a couple of days, I called the staff together and I said;  “I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, but I need to shift my energy into focusing on changes that matter at the level of humanity” and so, over a little bit of time, that took two forms; Conner Advisory, is a separate company that works exclusively with international NGOs, they’re dealing with no different, the same dynamics around executing large scale change and I work with the CEOs and the senior staff, in helping them in being clear about their role but what’s at stake isn’t profitability necessarily, it’s really impact on humanity and maybe, working with, our work with Habitat for Humanity. So, it may be building houses or Doctors without Borders and it’s obviously medical care. Just several different organizations that we work with and is just incredibly fulfilling, to practice the craft in such a way, so that the impact is at that broader human level and so, I thought about the actual way to serve leaders of changes is what mattered and the other side.

Connor Academy, was formed to work with practitioners, the people in our profession because, when leaders that are really trying to make a difference through change, when they decide to be serious about it, they need to turn to those in our profession for guidance and sometimes, that’s an internal practitioner, sometimes, it’s an external consultant, but let’s say to our professional field. And the Connor Academy is not about tools and techniques because, I think that our profession has plenty of options about methodologies and training for that, what I want to focus on in honest, is not what we do, but who we are, what kind of character and presence do we bring to your work? So, Connor Advisory works with international leaders of international organizations, that are focused on shifting the quality of life in some way for humanity and change, and the Academy, focuses in on practitioners, you know, putting them up to that mastery level, where they’re not just relying on the proficiency that they’ve developed around tools and techniques, but they’re also relaying on their character and presence and bringing that into the value stream for their clients.

Jen: It’s interesting, you know, that in terms of the change language we use, that’s more than a step change, in terms of where you’re going there and it makes me curious. That has been a big change particularly for the people who you had previously working with, in terms of Connor Partners. As an expert in change management, what surprises you about your own change process?

Daryl: What a great question. I haven’t heard that question before.

Jen: You see; I was under pressure with these questions.

Daryl: So the surprise Jen, was… I anticipated some  grieving that didn’t occur. In Connor Partner, I mean, I started Connor Partner in 1974, okay, so, it’s been the primary expression of personally and professionally who I am and you know, it’s just a wonderful platform and so, it’s been so much part of my life, that I anticipated really a sense of loss about it but you know, certainly it took some adjustment to be in other, you know, I’m still involved, I mean, I still own the company, so it’s not like I don’t care, right, but the energy, my focus has shifted and so, it was a bit of a surprise that there wasn’t, you know, there wasn’t that kind of grieving that and I think two things probably contributed to it; number one, Connor Partners didn’t go away, it’s still there but number two, all of that energy around creating, that I set into Connor Partners all those years, that I had two new vessels to put it to that year.

In the Academy, well, it worked, it’s just phenomenal, you know, we only accept really seasoned practitioners, you know, into this these programs. On the Connor Academy side, is we are going to work with professionals that are serious about change management and are ready to move to a mastery level, I mean, that’s…what an honor, what a gift to do that and then, to have the privilege, to take our profession to leaders that are serious about making a difference in humanity and so, I think I just was expecting there to be grief but that didn’t stop us.

Jen: How interesting because, that really, I guess one of the debates in the change field is of, you know, whether the Kubler Ross’ Cycle is appropriate and when we have assumed that everybody’s going to go through shock, despair before they get to the good bit and you know, you’ve just provided a proof point that not everybody does go through that.

Daryl: Well and by the way, I’m a real subscriber to that model and just as a side note, I had a wonderful fortune of actually having some training by her.

Jen: Beautiful

Daryl: In an earlier part of my life, so I think it’s a wonderful model and how I made sense out of that in my own experience years, that nothing really went away. I just had an opportunity to expand, without having to give up and that’s the best I can make sense out of that, you know, why there wasn’t. Now, I think that if our partners disappeared and or I didn’t have new vehicles to express my, you know, myself and to try… I see this these particularly, the Academy, as a way of not just supporting individual practitioners as they pursue mastery, but really to try to help the professionally involved and I think without those vehicles, it would probably be a very different story for me.

Of high impact, adequate and inept practitioners

Jen: Yeah absolutely. So, in Raising Your Game, you made the distinction between high impact practitioners, those who are adequate and those who are inept, can you tell us a little bit about how you came those distinctions? And what have been the implications of those categories?

Daryl: Yeah. So, I began a very informal non-academic, non-rigorous research project a couple of years ago, I started asking consumers of change management what they saw, what value they thought they were getting from our profession. By consumers, I mean leaders who either hired somebody full time to be an internal change agent or hired a consultant. I started saying; “What do you think? You know, are you getting your money’s worth?”

And I got back some, you know, as the patterns evolved, I got back what I thought was pretty sobering findings. Twenty-five percent of the time, what I got back was… the question was; what value are you getting from working with your change practitioner? And twenty-five percent of the time, what I got back was; “I’m not getting any value, this person is useless, I avoid them if I possibly can, you know and no, I’m getting no value at all”, twenty-five percent of the time.

Sixty percent of the time what I heard was; “I have got no complaints, you know, I asked for something, they give it to me, they do a good job, I don’t expect a lot out of them, I don’t consider them strategic resources, but if I have a tactical need, you know, if I need some communications or some training, anything I think that would help a change, hey, I think change management is fine, no complaints at all”

Ten percent of the time, what I got back was; this person… sometimes it was a team , usually it it was a person that I’ve worked with  Again, inside or outside practitioner doesn’t matter, “this person is not a vendor, this is a partner with me. I think I would never go into a serious change project without this person being surgically attached to my hip and change. I believe this is a true trusted advisory”. Really, amazing testimonials about these people and by the way, they came from all… It didn’t matter what discipline they were using,  it didn’t matter what certification, I saw no pattern at all about the training they have got but there was clearly this separation of those in it and they were having  unusual levels of influence with their clients.

Now, no client was going to give you carte blanche and do whatever you say, but these clients, they were deeply listening and valuing to the advice they got. So, of course I got intrigued  with that and wanted better understand this distinction between… what’s separates adequate from high impact, the sixty-five or forty percent? And as I called into that, I gained a further appreciation for the value that was being provided by the sixty-five percent or so. So Jen as we talk about this, I want to be really careful that what I came out of this investigation with, it’s by no means is there a pejorative spin here, about the adequate practitioner. They’re being asked for tactical work and they’re doing a good job of delivering tactical results.

So, you know the inept is a whole different category, I wish that they didn’t exist but the adequate practitioner is doing a perfectly, honorable job and yet, you know, I think it’s important that we be honest with ourselves, that there is ten percent of our profession, that is just having, just this disproportionate kind of impact. When I crawled into the separation between the two, yes, those of the ten percent, certainly were more proficient with their tools and techniques and methodology, yes that was true but that ended up not being the critical differentiator. The key differentiator was that; adequate practitioners were bringing tools and techniques to the table, the ten percent high impact, were bringing tools and techniques AND the uniqueness of their character and presence and what I mean by that is, adequate practitioners would spend a lot of time making sure nobody gets upset and you don’t get, you know, you don’t get offended by the feedback…

Jen: Yeah

Daryl: “Let me make a little suggestion…” but the ten percent were not doing that, they were just in your face, “this is what’s going on”, you know, I don’t mean it in a disrespectful way but they put very little attention to making sure everybody was comfortable, they were focused on creating value.

Jen: Yes

Daryl: And they did that by bringing that uniqueness of how they saw this information, they would bring wisdom if you will, but they didn’t come out with just the tools and techniques and so, that helped me begin to shape this distinction between; who we are as practitioners and the shorthand for that is; that’s our methodology. It doesn’t matter what methodology we use, we all have one or two or three, that’s who we are, then there’s that’s what we do, then there’s who we are and that’s when we stand on our truth and whatever our methodology has taught us is going on, that we actually are really honest with the client about that and we bring real mitigations strategies to it, not just tell them comfortable words, we’re brutally honest on all of those sorts of things. Mastery, the mastery isn’t simply getting another certification, mastery is taking our certifications and adding the uniqueness that we have to offer as individuals and another finding that came up for me was, when I would ask the adequate category; why aren’t you being more honest? A lot of them would say; “well, yeah, you know, I got a mortgage to pay and kids to go to school” and so, it was a safety issue whereas the ten percent were like; “it’s safer to be really honest with the client because, clients want that kind of truth, like at least the  right kind of client”, you can’t you can’t be this way with every client but if you match up with a client who not only wants somebody that knows tools and techniques but wants somebody to be really truthful about what’s going on and not put veneer on it. If you match up with that kind of client, the last thing they want to do is to get rid of a practitioner like that. So…

Jen: Yeah.

Daryl: I felt the ten percent actually didn’t feel like they were taking a risk, whereas the sixty-five percent were afraid of taking risks.

Jen: Yeah I think you’re right there because, like if I think about when I face into those conversations which are difficult and one might think you need courage to have, when I frame it up, which I do and say “I do you an injustice and a disservice, if I sugar coat this” because, they seem quite comfortable with it. You know, I think to some extent, it’s about the intent that you have in delivering those messages, you know…

Daryl: Yes

Jen: is it in service of the client or is it in service of yourself, which sometimes the mortgage is what’s holding you back and that’s the intent behind it, it’s fascinating.

Daryl: That’s the intent that you were just mentioning, the language we use in our profession years, you know, of course we’re all in service to our clients, right but again, if you look at our behaviour and much of our behaviour as profession is; yes, I’m here in the service of the client, in the unspoken, then in coaches, as long as I don’t jeopardize my business, as long as I can still pay my mortgage. So, in reality what I’m saying is, the client comes first, unless I’m in risk, then I’m going to put myself first.

Jen: Yeah.

Daryl: So, even if the CEO. hired me to find out what’s going on in the organization, I’ve learned that he or she is actually at the epicenter of the problem. Now, the issue is; am I going to be in service to the client and tell the CEO all that or am I going to be in service to me and find a way to water all that down and make sure that he or she doesn’t get upset?

What’s in a metaphor?

Jen:  Yeah. Now having, you just mentioned the language that we use and it prompted me, having done the Raising You Game workshop with you, metaphors plays a really big structural part in it. You’re working the clay, playing your music, finding your fans,  you know, revealing the inner sapling. Tell me a little bit about your relationship to metaphor, has this always been an important modality for you in your change work.

Daryl: Yeah, you know, I feel a bit apologetic about it. I seem to not be able to get through very many client conversations without inserting metaphors. Yeah, it’s always been. I think it’s because, you know, at the heart of my work all these years, I’m a researcher, now it’s field research, it’s not academic research but I’ve always been about trying to identify patterns of success and failures about change, but I’m into research that can be applied. So, I can’t just come up with interesting findings, I’ve got to craft it in such a way so that the client can actually get practical value.

Jen: Yeah.

Daryl: In my early years, simply feeding back data of findings from research that doesn’t help, but if I can craft those issues into a memorable story or just a narrative or a metaphor that has more sticking power, you know, that you mentioned, the burning platforms and various things. People can remember images filled with content better than they can remember content alone. And so, I just early on, just got really drawn to watching a person or a crowd of people react to a story that they could see themselves in, much differently than data that may or may not be so relevant for them.

The year ahead?

Jen: Yeah, beautiful. Daryl, now I know there’s potential for you to be coming back to Australia perhaps in around September for more of your Raising Your Game workshops. Tell us, in 2017, what’s exciting you besides potentially coming back to Australia, about the field of organizational change management?

Daryl: Well, that I’ve got to say this; that’s high on my list!  So last year, I was there with just two wonderful cohorts, the cohorts from these workshops are very small, we only have fourteen slots. So, there was one cohort in Melbourne  and one in Sydney, unbelievably phenomenal practitioners coming together. So, I’m looking forward to coming back in September and meeting with… this time, I think we’ll do one in New Zealand as well. So, that’s a big something that really has me energized. We’ve also, the Academy, you know, we’re not only conducting more workshops this year and we’ve got one in South Africa, we’ve already done some in Europe but we’re also moving into trying to address, you know, people are coming out of the workshop saying; you know, I’ve begun a journey of mastery and I want to keep it. So, we’re looking for ways to try to support that journey.

As a profession, Jen,  I’m concerned about our profession in that, it’s become so focused on certification and by the way, I support certification, I think we need that to stabilize the profession, so it’s not that I’m anti-certification but most of the certification is about what you do, not who you are and if mastery is the integration of not only what I do but also who I am, there’s got to be some place to go and foster that kind of introspective work and so, that’s what these workshops are trying to provide and it’s already there, just that doing more workshops is a big energizer for me. We’ve got some add-on options for people, to be able to go to after the initial workshop just to help people continue on this journey of mastery development

And then, I got to say this; the nature of the work with the nonprofits and the international NGOs. is very humbling very humbling. Over the years, I’ve, you know, I’ve got used to senior leaders,  granted, you know, some credibility and moving in a direction that I would suggest around change but what was at stake was profitability or market share or whatever. Not that that’s unimportant, but in this zone, to be a part of taking our profession and applying it to something that actually could have a qualitative difference in the life of our grandchildren, I just feel really blessed by it and I’m mentioning all this about my passion for it Jen, because, I want to encourage other practitioners, you know, you don’t have to work for a big NGO, you can find a local, anybody, but to me, it’s not even a matter of whether it’s a profit or nonprofit, what’s what matters is; what are they up to? What’s the nature of this change? See, most of these forty plus years that I worked, I didn’t pay too much attention to what the change was going to do, I was trying to look for people who were serious about the change.

Jen: Yeah

Daryl: And, you know, to my knowledge, I never helped with an unethical change but I wasn’t looking to focus myself on what changes that would make, you know, huge difference in the quality of life of the people, for our profession to have that kind of impact, I just, you know, it’s there, it’s there for us. So, I encourage other practitioners to be looking for places and, you know, you may not be as nuts as I am to, you know, to really want to do this full time but any part of your practice that can go to helping organize patients make a difference in life, as opposed to just profitability, I just, I encourage people in taking those steps.

Jen: Daryl, I can’t think of a better encouragement to the change community to be really focusing on what matters than the more you just shared with us. So. Daryl, it’s been an absolute joy to have you as a guest on the change chat. Thank you so much for your time.

Daryl: Thank you Jen, it was really great spending time with you
For more about my Raising Your Game experience read here.

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