The chief executive officer and senior executive leadership team are gearing up for a large-scale, wholesale change initiative. This decision comes on the heels of 18 months of research, focus groups and process studies to determine the best way to organically grow the business. This initiative touches every aspect of the organization in one way or another — people, process and product offerings.

As the senior executive leadership team listens to the timeline offered by the consultants it hired to help launch and initiate these efforts, one executive asks the group, “What is our plan for sustaining these efforts once they’ve been installed?” The air in the room suddenly becomes thin.

Under their breath, the consultants indicate that they could remain beyond installation if the company wants to extend the contract. Everyone immediately sees dollar signs flying out the window. The CEO and his team know there must be a better way.

And there is.

The Missing Piece

A company’s training and development function is often forgotten in large-scale change initiatives, but training and development is the part of the organization with the skills and abilities to develop learning modules that not only sustain the change long after the consultants are gone but also help prepare the organization for the impending change. Planning for change requires attention to the unseen pitfalls that always exist in the “space between.”

Change management requires change leadership.

It is true that change leadership must begin in the C-suite for the change to be successful. Championing the change must seamlessly cascade through each level of the organization, with each leader taking up the cause as strongly as the leader before. There is no magic button; making it happen requires thoughtful preparation in the form of consistent messaging about the “why” and time dedicated to support individuals and teams as they move through their own change process.

But leaders cannot do it alone. The training and development team has a critical role to play in helping the organization realize its desired outcome. In this role, training and development can help relieve pressures that leaders face when navigating change with their teams by being an active participant and “change advocate” for the initiative.

The Change Advocate

Daryl Conner, chairman of ConnerPartners®, has over 40 years of experience leading, researching and working with organizations on change management initiatives. His book, “Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail,” offers a well-designed framework and structures for training and development practitioners to follow — not only for the development of their own skills and competency but also for the design of curricula and training experiences that aim to increase understanding of change itself while reducing the fear, anxiety and worry that employees at every level experience when change occurs.

ConnerPartners® defines a change advocate as “the individual or group who wants to achieve a change but does not possess legitimatization power.” In a Northwestern Kellogg School of Management article, Steve King, who serves as academic director for Kellogg Executive Education’s Driving Organizational Change program, writes, “Advocates are people within an organization who have serious ideas about what must change but wield no institutional power or resources to make the change happen. They are people in search of a sponsor.”

It is important for training and development professionals to position themselves as the organization’s change advocates by using their influence well before a large-scale, wholesale change initiative is underway. In this capacity, training and development professionals are instrumental in educating the organization on leading, managing and navigating change. Serving the organization in this capacity also enables training and development practitioners to collect qualitative and quantitative data from their learning sessions that can aid leaders in:

    • Working more productively with their teams.
    • Addressing critical stress points within the organization.
    • Discovering the veiled elephants that are creeping around the room.

Furthermore, by serving as change advocates, training and development practitioners increase the likelihood of organizational success by:

    • Creating a safe learning environment for leaders and employees to challenge their assumptions, biases and beliefs about the change — which helps individuals readily embrace the change and evolve their level of commitment to the change.
    • Helping leaders and employees debunk the myths of how hard change can be through education and facilitated conversations. (Moving individuals and teams from physically accepting the change to emotionally accepting the change is a critical step in achieving sustainability.)
    • Reinforcing the behavior change necessary for the change initiative to be successful — which requires not only a different approach to the work but also to how the organization, teams and employees think about the work.
    • Identifying where weakness and opportunities lie with in the change initiative (given that training and development professionals have access to real-time data arising from learning conversations).

As the consultants phase out, the training and development team should step up its efforts to ensure that education and ongoing learning experiences continue to evolve, with a heavy focus on resilience, maintaining a commitment to the change and the sustainability of the change. An organization’s movement from implementation toward realization is easier when training and development partners are actively involved from the beginning.