You know your IQ, but what's your CQ®?

developing change intelligence® (CQ®) to engage sponsors, wow the workforce, and partner across levels to make change stick

Barbara A. Trautlein, PhD

Principal, Change Catalysts, LLC


You've heard of “IQ”—raw, “intellectual” intelligence. You've heard of “EQ”—emotional intelligence. Yet, what about “CQ®”—Change Intelligence®? Change is the only constant. Reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, job transitions—the modern workplace is replete with never-ending, dizzying changes.

Yet, so many changes fail to achieve their lofty goals. According to various estimates, as many as 70% or more of change efforts fall short of expectations. With so much experience with change, what have we learned?

We know that to boost EQ we need to bolster skill in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management—to know oneself and to play well with others. What are the critical aspects of CQ® to catalyze positive, powerful change?

The “CQ® System for Developing Change Intelligent Individuals and Organizations” is based on decades of partnering with clients ranging from steel mills to sales teams, refineries to retail outlets, and healthcare to high tech to lead organizational, team, and personal transformations; years of conducting global research spanning America to Australia, Canada to the Congo, and Italy to India on managing change; and study into the psychology and neuroscience of change.

As a leader…

img Is your organization struggling in the current economy, forced to make tough business decisions that are unwanted, undeserved, or involuntary?

img Are you tired of the “Program of the Year” and want to know how to make change stick?

img Are you frustrated in your inability to overcome resistance to new ways of working?

If so, read on to learn how to build your CQ® for yourself, you team, and your organization.

We each have our own unique Change Leadership Style. Our style is comprised of our tendencies to lead with our heart versus our head versus our hands. Powerful Change Leaders “start with the heart,” “engage the brain,” and “help the hands” move in positive new directions.


Exhibit 1: The heart, head, and hands of CQ® — Your heartset, your mindset, and your skillset as a change leader.

Some Change Leaders have a dominant tendency, and others focus equally on two or even all three components. The most powerful Change Leaders have all three tools in their toolbag, skill in using the tools, and the savvy to deploy the right tools in the right situation. That's CQ®! By building Change Intelligence®, Change Leaders are able to overcome what looks like resistance but is really either confusion over the goal (no “head”), lack of connection to the goal (no “heart”), or lack of tactics and training to partner together to work toward the goal (no “hands”).

The relationship between the three styles can be represented as a triangle, which, incidentally, is also the Greek symbol for change depicted in the figure below.


Exhibit 2: The CQ® triangle.

CQ® in Action: Leading Change Across Levels.

Consider this scenario:

Acme Corporation is implementing a new technology.

  • Executive Eric exclaims, “We need this new technology to remain competitive in the new economy! Why is it taking so long? Why aren't we seeing a return on investment yet?!”
  • Project Manager Pam complains, “I got an edict to implement this new technology when we haven't even finished our last major rollout. It's a buggy new software release, and many of the key functionalities are inconsistent with our legacy systems. We don't have the resources to do this right. Basically this project is another unfunded mandate.”
  • Supervisor Stu says, “Here we go again. Another program of the year. My staff just rolled their eyes at me when I announced the new technology during our team meeting, making comments like, ‘We'll out live this change, just like the last one corporate tried to shove down our throats!’”

Sound Familiar? Change challenges vary by organizational level and role. For executives like Eric, the challenge is to lead the entire enterprise, transforming its traditional operating systems and organizational culture to be more competitive for the future. For Pam, the project manager, the challenge is to design and implement a new technology with limited budget, staff, and authority. For supervisors like Stu, the challenge is to motivate his team to adopt new ways of working, even though he may not have all the training or tools to do so himself.

Not only do leaders face different types of problems based on the types of changes they are tasked with, their challenges are also impacted by where they sit in the organizational hierarchy. But no matter what position you currently fill, you will be able to lead change much more effectively when you understand how Change Intelligence®, or CQ®, works at different levels of your organization.

Even if they are “open” and participative, most organizations are still structured hierarchically. Change leaders can exist at any level of the hierarchy, but there are predictable differences in how people at the top, middle, and bottom relate to organizational change. Those at the top usually set the direction of the change and are most convinced of the need for it, but they tend to be isolated from many of the change's direct impacts. Employees at the bottom, though they are most removed from the rationale behind the change, are often most directly impacted by it; an alteration in their behavior is usually a significant part of the change initiative, and they can thus appear the most resistant to it. That means that supervisors and managers typically find themselves stuck in the middle, squeezed between these two levels, sandwiched between the edicts of their bosses and pushback from their staff.

And, project managers (PMs) have their own set of change leader challenges. Executives initiate change and supervisors implement them. Similar to executives, PMs can influence an initiative's overall direction, but typically they're not yet strategic leaders. Similar to supervisors, PMs are accountable for executing change, but they have to operate on a more tactical level as they plan and coordinate the change process. This process typically involves people from multiple departments, working together on a temporary project team whose members often report to other managers and who have additional and potentially conflicting responsibilities.

What is CQ®, and What Do We Know About Leading Change at Different Levels?

Once again, Change Intelligence®, or CQ®, is the awareness of one's own change leadership style and the ability to adapt one's style to be optimally effective in leading change across a variety of situations. Regardless of level or job title, each change agent has a basic tendency to lead with his or her heart, head, hands, or some combination of the three. Leaders who lead mainly from the heart connect with people emotionally (I want it!). Those who lead from the head connect with people cognitively (I get it!). And those who lead from the hands connect with people behaviorally (I can do it!). The powerful combination of all three is what Change Intelligence®, or CQ®, is all about.

Research indicates that executives tend to lead with the “head,” project managers with the “hands,” and supervisors with the “heart.”


Exhibit 3: Change leader styles by level.

Said another way, almost half of the executives surveyed lead change by focusing on vision, mission, and strategy (head strengths). Almost 40% of project managers emphasize planning, tactics, and execution (hands strengths). And more than half of supervisors place a premium on connecting, communicating, and collaborating (heart strengths). Executives tend to have their radars tuned to purpose, project managers to process, and supervisors to people.

Overall, these results are logical and a good thing. A defining aspect of the executive role is to spearhead organizations toward brighter futures. Project managers are accountable for adhering to schedule, scope, and budget. And it's great news that admonitions for frontline leaders to engage in “coaching” and “motivating” their teams are embraced.

How Can Leaders at All Levels Use CQ® to Lead Change More Intelligently?

While all leaders have a natural tendency, and while certain roles may mandate a specific focus, the most effective change leaders at any level are able to flex their style when called for to manage successful and sustainable change.

Executive Change Leaders at the helm of an organization “engage the brain” to perform the critical function of scouting out new opportunities, discovering trends that could impact the business, and steering toward new horizons. However, at times they may neglect the map and the needs of the people whose help they need to realize their vision. Questions Executive Change Leaders should ask themselves to avoid common head-oriented traps:

  • While you imagine new possibilities, are you keeping your feet firmly planted in the here and now? How can you translate your lofty vision to specific plans and tactical steps so others can confidently champion them?
  • What's the potential impact of your vision on the organizational culture? What do you need to do differently to ensure a committed and engaged workforce?

Project Manager Change Leaders “help the hands” get things done, and their execution is usually backed up by comprehensive, step-by-step plans. While focusing on the details, such change leaders may neglect the big picture and are prone to overlooking the need for positive team dynamics. Questions Project Manager Change Leaders should ask themselves to avoid common hands-oriented traps:

  • Are you balancing execution with communicating the why of the change and where it's taking your team or organization? Do people focus on more than just today's to-do list?
  • Do you make it a practice to set up structured time to meet with key stakeholders and ensure that they're on board with the direction your project is headed? Although your plan may be logical and sound, if you haven't addressed the concerns of key players, they may not be supportive when the time for implementation comes.

Supervisor Change Leaders “inspire the heart,” engaging their team members and supporting the people around them as they all move through a change process. However, such change leaders may not confront others who are not behaving consistently with the change or give enough emphasis to completing tasks and making progress toward challenging new goals. Questions Supervisor Change Leaders should ask themselves to avoid common heart-oriented traps:

  • Do you shy away from giving constructive criticism because you think it might damage your relationships? In times of change, it is critical to both reward positive behaviors but also to give people constructive feedback when they were not performing to changing expectations.
  • Do your team members challenge you because you skirted the rules and didn't adopt new work practices when you were their peer? Show vulnerability and build trust by admitting your mistakes, explaining why you were wrong, and committing to role model, change-friendly behaviors in the future.

Change Intelligent Leaders demonstrate the savvy to apply all three tools in their tool bags—to engage the brain, help the hands, and inspire the heart—so people at all levels are empowered, equipped, and engaged to partner together toward mission-critical transformation.

CQ® Case Study

The Change Challenge

Now we will transition our discussion to an actual CQ® case study inside an organization. To do so, we will use the case study of a major change project in an industrial setting.

The client involved is a 2,500-person, 100 year-old family owned ice cream manufacturer. The company was doing very well financially—everyone likes ice cream, even in a down economy. They had a strategic plan to double in size within 10 years.

To meet this ambitious goal, the company's executive team knew it needed to vastly improve its approach to learning and development. While sophisticated in terms of some of its systems, there was nothing resembling a best practice approach to training, particularly technical training at the operational level in the plants. Instead, supervisors relied on “tribal knowledge” passed down across generations of workers to train new personnel. That had worked in the past but would not be effective with the projected rapid influx of new personnel due to the expansion, as well as due to the need to relocate many of the best supervisors and technicians to integrate new acquisitions.

Therefore, the executive team chartered a Learning and Development Project Team (PT) to design a solution, overseen by a Learning and Development Steering Committee (SC) to sponsor the effort and approve the final plan.

Using CQ® to Set the Teams Up for Success

To launch the PT and SC, the author (the external consultant partnering with the case study organization) conducted a workshop to enable the team members to diagnose their CQ® and develop a plan to bolster their collective Change Intelligence®, to equip them to partner to design a world-class learning solution.

The workshop was revealing. The company had a history of, as they said, a “flavor of the month”—not just in terms of ice cream but also in terms of project management. They had great ideas and created great plans but struggled to implement and sustain change.

What the teams learned is that the SC—executives—was comprised mostly of visionaries—very strong on head skills—focusing on vision and strategy. And the PT—plant supervisors and human resource professionals—consisted of mostly coaches, high on heart skills, focusing on engaging and communicating. The SC saw that while they very frequently leveraged their strengths (as was evident by the goal to double in size), they also at times fell prey to their blind spot—moving on to the next exciting initiative before the current one was fully implemented, taking their eye off the ball, leaving the old project to flounder for lack of champions.

The PT saw that they also were savvy in deploying their strengths—the company had a true family culture at all levels, living their value of participation in major decisions and including all voices. However, at times this strength could be overdone, resulting in poor results; supervisors at times hesitated to hold people accountable to new, demanding expectations for fear of damaging relationships, and staff support personnel like those in HR at times shied away from strongly influencing without authority for fear of “rocking the boat.” In times of change, we need the heart focus. Yet, part of any change is moving people out of their comfort zone and challenging them to stretch in new ways, and this can be difficult for coaches. Therefore, while well-designed, and well-intended, new initiatives failed due to lack of strong, decisive leadership on the floor level.

Additionally, both groups recognized that there were few if any executers—people with a strong “hands” orientation, planful, organized, and efficient. Indeed the “flavor of the month” phenomenon often boils down to a failure of execution—great strategy, great involvement, but no or faulty implementation.

Having a new project manager with a Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification was a huge boost to the Learning and Development (L&D) initiative and was to lay a great foundation for future projects at the company. The teams recognized that they needed to compensate for their missing skillset/focus area by adopting a structured project planning methodology. Therefore, the teams set themselves up powerfully for success. They gained self-knowledge, built relationships between team members, and crafted an action plan.

A Change-Intelligent Course Correction

About four months into the project, disconnects between the SC and PT began to emerge, impacting the project. The PT was frustrated that the SC did not appear to adequately resource the project. The SC was frustrated by lack of progress. The PM interfaced between both groups and recognized the need for a joint session.

At the session, the PM encouraged the team to revisit their CQ® profiles. Again, another enlightening discussion ensued, resulting in actionable insights. The SC acknowledged that several of the members had been traveling frequently to assess potential new acquisitions, had missed several L&D meetings, and had caused the process to stall. However, they also stated their disappointment that while the PT had made requests, they hadn't backed them up with a solid business plan to justify proposed investments in new technology, such as a Learning Management System (LMS), and new roles, such as training coordinators.

The PT realized that when making their resource requests, they had not “spoken in the business language” of the executives. To them, the need was so obvious, but they had not enlisted the appropriate financial or Information Technology (IT) personnel to help them explain the expenses. And they were “being nice”—reticent to “influence up” and hold their executives on the SC accountable to give them feedback in a timely manner, even in the midst of their other critical accountabilities.

Both groups learned the “Platinum Rule” that day. The Golden Rule, of course, is “do unto others as you want done unto.” The Platinum Rule is a slight twist: “Do unto others as THEY want to be done unto.” As leaders, we are a lot more effective—and less stressed—when we communicate and connect with others in ways that work for them: speaking in business metrics to executives, taking time to engage on the floor level—giving others what they need to be successful, so that we can all win together.

Going forward, the L&D teams made important new commitments that day and agreed to utilize additional PM tools such as scorecards and communication plans to guide their efforts and foster mutual accountability.

Case Study Results

So what happened? In 14 months, the SC and the PT were successful in:

  • Developing and implementing operator training programs for every production line in the enterprise;
  • Installing a new qualification process that provides a high level of assurance of employee competency.

In a company that traditionally “started strong” but too often lacked follow-through and sustained activity, the SC and PT were able to manage a portfolio of training projects to their conclusion.

And, thereafter, leveraging their CQ® learning, the teams went on to embed a new computer-based training platform providing even more improved efficiencies for the delivery of training.

These significant achievements, and others, were possible because the SC and the PT paid close attention to head, heart, and hands during the execution of the training projects. The SC members were naturally strong on head and were effective in identifying and communicating the strategy, and the PT members were naturally strong on heart and were effective in helping employees to understand the why and the “what's in it for them.” Both teams were somewhat short on hands, and were not immediately effective in defining the project plans and resources needed to achieve the SC's challenging agenda. The development and use of strong project plans and the alignment of these plans with each other and with the activities of the manufacturing organization proved to be the key elements for the success of the overall effort.

What's Your CQ®?

By now, you probably have some idea of your own CQ®. Here are two tips to get you started diagnosing your own CQ®:

First, engage in self-reflection. Do you tend to lead with the head—the big picture goal, the business objectives? Or the heart—personally connecting with your people at an emotional level? Or the hands—giving them the tactical tools, skills, and a detailed path forward?

Second, what's missing from your Change Leader style? Observe your people.

img Are they working really hard, but their efforts are misplaced? Then add more head—clarify the target – the “what” and “why” of the change.

img Are they unmotivated, indifferent, or even afraid? Then add more heart—share your own story, build trust, and show what's in it for all of us working together as a team.

img Or, are your people paralyzed, like deer in the headlights and can't seem to get unstuck and into effective action? Sounds like they need a heavy dose of hands—a plan, process, and skill-building to guide their efforts through the change.

Based on your self-analysis, here are some tips and tools to jump start developing your CQ®:

Head/Mindset: People need to understand the change that is needed—the business case, the bottom-line metrics—the what. If they don't—chaos and confusion will result. Ask yourself:

img Have I created and communicated a compelling vision, business case, and plan for change?

img Have I painted the picture so others can dream the dream?

Heart/Heartset: People need to believe in the change—the sense of urgency, the emotional commitment—the “why.” If they don't, the best result will be passionless compliance, and the worst, demotivated resignation. Ask yourself:

img Have I engaged people in the change beyond the intellectual level—made the personal, emotional appeal?

img Am I continually listening, giving and receiving honest feedback, and keeping a finger on the pulse of the human side of the transition?

Hands/Skillset: People need to know how to act consistently with the change, to have the skills and knowledge to do the right thing —the “how.” If they don't, what may appear as resistance may in fact be fear and frustration. Ask yourself:

img Do people know what to do? Have I made the parts they are to play and expectations for deliverables clear?

img Have I provided the training and other developmental experiences people need to build new competencies? Have I coached people to feel confident and empowered?

img Have I provided the resources and removed the barriers standing in their way to make them successful?

These are the kind of conversations we facilitate with leaders at all levels to their build their Change Intelligence®, overcome resistance, and make change stick.

Remember that depending on the circumstances, sometimes we lead in one way and sometimes in another. No style is better or worse, right or wrong. However, at any given time one style may be more effective in leading change. Awareness of our style can help us adapt to different people and situations and ultimately take action to become more powerful change leaders.

The most effective Change Leaders—project managers, program managers, and portfolio managers—are aware of their Change Leadership Style, to accept their strengths and developmental areas, and get into action to build CQ® to catalyze powerful change in their careers, teams, and organizations. As you build your mindset, heartset, and skillset—you will become more savvy and adept at selecting the right tools for the right situation —bolstering your effectiveness as a Change Leader.

Concluding Thoughts

Utilizing Change Intelligence® and sound project management tools, the SC and the PT were able to develop and implement enterprise-wide training processes that are now instrumental in preparing the company for the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.

These efforts demonstrate the natural and powerful support that the concepts of Change Intelligence® offer to project management. For example, it is not that the SC and PT members did not already have project management tools and processes at their disposal, what they lacked was a tool and process for leveraging the various strengths that each possessed and for understanding and mitigating the imbalance of Change Intelligence® styles in their efforts. Every organization has exactly this dilemma. Every project has exactly this dilemma. Change Intelligence® offers to the project management community, and to you, a new opportunity and a new tool for you to use to support your success.

References and Recommended Reading List

Keller, S. & Aiken, C. (2008). The inconvenient truth about leading change. McKinsey Quarterly. Boston, MA: McKinsey and Company.

Kotter, J. (1995). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, March-April.

Maurer, R. (2010). Beyond the wall of resistance: Why 70% of ALL changes still fail and what you can do about it. Austin, TX: Bard Press.

Nelson, K. & Aaron, S. (2005). The change management pocket guide. Cincinnati, OH: Change Guides.

Rock, D. & Schwartz, J. (2006). The neuroscience of leadership. Strategy+Business, 43, Summer.

Trautlein, B. (2013). Change intelligence®: Use the power of CQ® to lead change that sticks. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press.

© 2015, Barbara A. Trautlein, PhD
Originally published as a part of the 2015 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – London, UK



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