“The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.” - Joshua Harris
After college, my professional journey started in the arena of adult learning. I provided software training to individuals with various levels of technology experience, across multiple industries. I learned many great lessons from my training days - lessons that later helped me be more effective in my IT project delivery roles. For example, I learned how to develop and deliver training content, as well as how important it was to understand an impacted stakeholder's experience level before diving into specific (application) function and feature communication. (Think about trying to teach someone how to enter a formula in MS Excel - when that someone has never used a mouse. That happened!) Most importantly, I learned what it meant to be the 'face of change'…when the targeted audience wasn't even aware a change was coming.
I know what you're thinking? "What? You were a software instructor. How did you learn about being the face of change? Training comes towards the end of a project/change cycle. Surely impacted stakeholders were told before they got to training that something new was coming?" Right…scene 1: I was a total of eight months out of college and received an exciting assignment. One of our banking clients had acquired a local brand. For three weeks, it was my job to travel daily to the acquired brand's headquarters. Specifically, I was tasked with delivering a series of four-hour sessions. Each training included a standard message that had been scripted for me, highlighting the technology changes team members were expected to adopt in the coming days, and an overview of each 'new' system. Up until this point in my (short) training career, I had received very favorable feedback about my services; I had no reason to believe this engagement would be any different. I was optimistic (and naive) that the crowd would love me and I would be successful with helping them build new skills. That however was not the case. As I kicked off the first session, it became very clear that the group was hostile - like, if they had access to tomatoes or rocks they would throw them at me hostile. You see, there I was, some strange face delivering a message that their daily work lives would have to change...and soon. As nasty comments and difficult questions were thrown my way, I tried to remain cool and calm, but deep inside I was panicking. My scripted messaging didn't give me any information about why these system changes were being made. And, I was clueless about what steps had been taken up to this point to facilitate the acquisition; I had no idea what other changes these folks were trying to understand and manage. I was being asked a lot of questions I could not answer. My fumbling reaction did not help the situation.
These people were caught off guard and responding from a place of fear and frustration, and I was the messenger. I was their (ugly) face of change.
Throughout this engagement, I felt beat up daily. My morale had been significantly impacted, and my performance showed it. Over time I had adjusted my opening remarks ("I do not work for your company…I am only here to deliver an important message on behalf of your managers…") but my audience continued to be shocked and angry about the message coming from MY lips. It was hard not to take the reaction personally. In years to come, as I matured professionally, I was able to recognize that it was a lack of change leadership to blame and not my execution. Why hadn't the company given these people some warning prior to sending them into these training sessions, with a contractor (aka the strange face)? Did the company really think attendees would be able to focus on skill building, immediately after hearing this bomb of news? I equate the event to telling your teenage daughter over dinner that you are moving to another state during her sophomore year of high school - oh, and by the way "We are moving tomorrow!" Surely she has the right to act a little emotional when first hearing this news, and surely you'd understand if she didn't eat the food being served. In both cases, timing is everything.