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Identity as a Tool for Change

I saw someone today carrying a notebook that said: “I am an early adopter!” Why is this a genius move for change effort? Let’s find out.

One of the hardest things for a Transformation Initiative is to open people up to new ways of thinking. People have to let go of the behaviors they’ve been trained and rewarded for and replace them with behaviors that they may have been punished for in the past. There is a large body of knowledge out there around Change Management, but a lot of it has been distilled into a checklist, losing the essence of what’s really underneath change resistance. One of those hard things is that we are seeking to change people’s identity.

Skill creates identity. When people build skill in something, they start to identify with that skill. Think about the skills you have, and how you tie them to your identity. “I’m a project manager”, “I’m an ScrumMaster”. The biggest challenge with change is that we are asking people to give up their identity. When project managers hear that there is no project manager on an Agile team, this is a big blow to their identity. They hear “YOU are no longer valuable to this organization.” The first step is to recognize that this is happening, and the next step is to address it.

Create a new identity. One thing certification does is create new identity for people. “I”m a certified scrum master!” is much more powerful than “I went to scrum master training.” But it doesn’t have to be a certification. A laptop sticker or notebook that says “I am an early adopter”, helps create new identity and positions that person to welcome new ideas.

Brain Twist. What new identity elements can you create for your team? Someone told me they “do the impossible”. That’s a great identity to build on. Or how about “I challenge the status quo”? Brainstorm a bunch of identities that you want to build on your team, and determine which ones resonate. Write a definition of your team identity framed in the present. “We are….” and “I am…”

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