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Corporate transformation is a political game

#NimbleVlog Episode 2ORCHANGO’s president & co-founder Edmond Mellina shares the story of how he realized that change management is essentially a political game (fortunately, this aha moment occurred early in his 30-year career in the corporate transformation business). He discusses the difference between “dark-side” and “light-side” politics; and stresses the importance of engaging in the latter in order to successfully execute change. At the end of the video, Edmond unveils the focus of the upcoming episodes of the #NimbleVlog…

Transcript

Reading time: less than 5 minutes

I’m lucky because I had my most critical aha moment about change management very early in my career as a transformation leader.

And the funny thing is that it all started in the mornings, while shaving in front of the mirror. I’ve always used that time to reflect on my actions the day before and I started growing very uncomfortable with the guy looking at me in the mirror – which obviously was myself.

And the reason is that I’ve always disliked office politics… with a passion! So, as I was reflecting on my actions from the previous day driving change, it occurred to me that, well, I had been playing politics. In other words, my actions were in direct conflict with my values – which is never a good situation to be in. So after a few weeks, I was really struggling with it.

Fortunately, my boss at that time was a very good leader. His name was Didier, this was back in France. He was an older gentleman, close to retirement, and he had taken me under his wing. He had become my mentor.

So one day I decided to open up to Didier during our one-on-ones in his office. I basically shared with him my struggle in the mornings while shaving. And Didier looked at me and he said: “But Edmond, you have to keep in mind that office politics is like the moon: there is the dark side, but there is also the light side.” [Huh?] I had no clue where he was going with that. Didier said: “The dark-side is when you use politics for your own personal advantage”.

And at that time I jumped. I said: “I know, that’s exactly what I don’t like about office politics!”. As you can see, I was already quite passionate back then 😉. So Didier said: “Edmond, I know, I know, take it easy”. And I said “But what about the light-side then?”

And he said “Light-side politics is when you use politics to advance the company’s agenda… it not about you; it’s about the organization”. I remember moving backward in my chair because what Didier had done he had just created two boxes in my brain. You see before I had one big box for office politics and it was a really bad one. And now, I had these two boxes that he created for me – one for dark-side politics, and the other one for light-side politics. And this was starting to help a LOT with my internal struggle.

But the next thing that Didier said was the real gift he gave me that day – the big insight. He said “Edmond, engaging in light-side politics is not only noble – because it’s for the sake of the organization – but, if you want to succeed as a transformation leader, you have no choice but to plunge into it.” In other words, Didier helped me understand that day the true nature of change management: it is a political game. And unless you understand that, as Didier said, you cannot succeed as a change leader. That is why a big part of the ORCHANGO Method™ is about light-side politics. That’s also why 10 years ago or so we created the STEP UP!™ Game simulation, which is a facilitated competition for leaders to learn to excel at light-side politics in order to succeed with their transformation initiatives. And you can see some of the materials from the STEP UP!™ Game behind me.

So, let me be clear: playing light-side politics, this is not about producing an impressive-looking “stakeholder analysis” report. You know, the kind of reports I’m talking about? The ones based on all these beautiful templates from Prosci and the likes. No, playing light-side politics is something completely different. So, our plan for this #NimbleVlog, is… we are going to use the next episodes to go deeper into what it means to play light-side politics to succeed with transformations; and I’ll share some practical tips and even some tools from the STEP UP!™ Game.

One last thing… I said before that Didier was an older gentleman. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure he would have used a different analogy than the moon. He would most likely have used the Force from the Star Wars universe. Because like the moon, the Force has two sides: the dark side; and the light side.

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Edmond Mellina

Edmond Mellina is president & co-founder of ORCHANGO. He is internationally respected as an expert in change management when change is fast-paced, ongoing and disruptive. For over 25 years, he has partnered with public and private sector clients in Europe, North America and the Middle East to build their change capabilities while helping them win in an increasingly digital world. Prior to co-founding ORCHANGO, Edmond was a corporate transformation executive in drastically changing sectors: CIO at Delta Hotels when Expedia disrupted the hotel business; VP Corporate Development & GM for the technology business of Envoy Communications Group when marketing agencies started to become digital. Edmond serves on the National Board of Directors of the Strategic Capability Network.

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