Is change management the worst part of planning?

Successful change management takes vision, leadership, and just a bit of salesmanship. Change Agents must prepare the organization both logically and and culturally for a shift in the norm that achieves a higher business outcome.

There are five steps in the change management process:

1. Thorough, thoughtful, empathetic discovery

When considering organizational process change, it is critical that the Change Agent fully understands the problem for which they are solving. This from both from a business perspective but also from the perspective of the employees who will experience and ultimately be responsible for the change.

Empathy plays a big role here. When people feel forced into change they are more likely to resist.

As a Change Agent, you must find out all you can about the existing process. Ask stakeholders the following kinds of questions:

  • How do you feel about the current process?
  • What do you like about the current process?
  • What could change about the current process?
  • How would some new process effect the current process?

By taking the time to listen to the effected stakeholders, you give them a sense of inclusion, of being a part of the change process rather than swept up by it. While this does not mean bending to their desired outcome, this empathetic discovery will help the Change Agent better craft a message, vision, and strategy for change.

2. Craft a Message, Vision, and Strategy for Change

Once armed with an understanding of stakeholder perspectives, it is time to start to presenting your message and vision for change. Begin by explaining the strategic goals for the business and how each stakeholder contributes to those goals. Explain how the current process impedes those goals and why there is a need for change.

Next, present the new process and how it is better suited to reach your business goals.

An important process in this step is a tactic known as “tying down the objection.” Using the information gathered in the discovery phase, the Change Agent should be able to anticipate the kinds of objections the stakeholders will raise about the new process. Take plenty of time in the presentation to go through these anticipated objections and the solve for each. It is easier to overcome objectives that are presented upfront rather than playing a game of whack-a-mole as each stakeholder tries to pick apart a new idea.

Finally, present the key performance indicators by which you will measure success. Take time to explain why each of these KPIs positively impacts each stakeholder so they have motivation to see them reached. Be sure to communicate things like project owners and project scope as well.

3. Implement the change

Soft skills alone wont be enough to ensure successful change management. when it comes time to implement change, Change Agents should prepare the following:

  1. Proper Resource Allocation - Are the right people in place to ensure success? Has enough time and capital been allocated to the project to get it across the finish line? Change management requires daily management to ensure employees are adhering to new policies and this requires resources to facilitate.
  2. Proactive Risk Assessment - Identify the weakest parts of the strategy and where are the potential threats. For example, is there a mission-critical employee who has a had time picking up new software tools? Plan ahead by allocating additional training time to this person to mitigate the risk that they struggle with the software.

    Another area of potential risk comes from competing stakeholder interests. In these cases, it is important to carefully review the incentive structures in place for each stakeholder. Conflicting interests will hobble efforts to implement new processes.

    Having a plan in place ahead of implementation to address these weaknesses is critical to the success of the new process.
  3. Precise Plan and Progress Markers - A roadmap for change management is an essential component of a well-defined implementation strategy, as it provides a clear and detailed plan for implementing the change initiative, and helps to ensure that all stakeholders are aligned and working towards the same objectives.

This high-level plan outlines the steps required to move from the current state to the desired end state, including any major milestones, key deliverables, and timelines. This roadmap provides a clear overview of the change process and would help to ensure that all stakeholders are aligned on the plan and are working towards the same objectives.

Once all these are in place, it’s time to take the first step along the journey of change, whatever that first step might be.

4. Review progress

Once change has been set in motion, it is important to track the progress of your change and keep forward momentum. Remember those earlier KPIs?

One preferred method for tracking change come to us from Danaher Business System and is a concept called Daily Visual Management (DVM). DVM involves using a formatted spreadsheet called a “Bowler” to track change in a KPI over time. Managers pick a cadence by which to measure and review each KPI — usually daily or weekly. If the KPI is met for the given timeframe, the cell in the spreadsheet is colored in green. If the KPI is missed, it is colored red. Several red cells in a row indicate a need for a thorough review, or “Kaizen,” to understand why the KPI is not improving.

When assigning KPIs and tracking progress, it is important to keep stakeholder motivation and incentives in mind. The best KPIs are ones that, when improved, bring benefit to the company and the stakeholder in one stroke.

5. When needed: “Burn the Ships”

Even the best planned change has potential to fail. In his book "The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone's Mind," Jonah Berger discusses the principle of endowment and how it can make it difficult to persuade people to change their minds. The endowment effect is the tendency for people to place a higher value on something they already own, possess, or use, compared to something they don't.

When persuasion and change management falters, it sometimes requires turning to Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, for inspiration. Upon his arrival to the New World in 1519, Hernan burned his ships to prevent his troops from deserting the mission. It forced his troops to press forward and not look back.

Burning the ships as a change management strategy means eliminating any alternative other than the new process being adopted. This includes things like discontinuing old software or service contracts, decommissioning old equipment, or rejecting orders placed through legacy systems.

While it can be a bit draconian, Burning the Ships is a very useful tactic in the quest for new process adoption.

Additional Resources

“The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone's Mind“ - Available from Amazon here
“Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard” - Available from Amazon here
“Leading Change” - Available from Amazon here

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