When Robert invited me to write a guest post about Change for Kelly’s Contemplations of course I immediately said yes. Who wouldn’t? His brief was simple “Change… Top 3 to ensure success or Top 3 issues to overcome.” Great I thought, easy peasy lemon squeezy. Then I started to think about the underlying message I wanted to give. I could plunge right in with course correction once a project is full steam ahead and the change necessary for tomorrow’s business is in chaos, or, I could start somewhere different. In the end I decided to start somewhere different. Slice what we already know with a different perspective.
Even when people purport to embrace change, experience shows us that uttering the word ‘change’ in an organisation triggers odd reactions. Those normally solid stable employees become disruptive, anxious and angry, lose trust and belief. Others become excited, motivated and energised by what is to come. Reasons for the negative reactions are well documented: top down approach, issuance of edicts, poor communication, too much too soon, a gap so wide between the organisational drivers for change and operational reality you could drive a MAC truck through it, etc. Experience has also shown us these negative reactions always occur regardless of the change strategy and deployment approach used. They repeat because all humans experience a standard process of transition during times of change. However, these reactions can be exacerbated by a company’s culture. A culture where once a decision has been made and sent down the line everyone will of course be delighted and the business will magically transform. And it’s here we can begin to explore what I think are serious contenders for the award of “Top 3 issues to overcome” during change:
1. The work
People will not work differently tomorrow than they are today simply because they’re told to through a change program. While some people are naturally resistant most are simply unable to work differently because they don’t understand how they can when nothing around them has changed. Helping people understand why the change is happening and how they will need to do their work tomorrow reduces the level of anxiety and gives context to the change for both the organisation and their role in it. This builds confidence and trust in tomorrow’s way of working.
2. The Skills
If tomorrow’s work is going to be different people will need different skills. Not everyone doing today’s work will have the skills they need for tomorrow. Creating a skills matrix and training plan helps address hard skill deficiencies but falls short when it comes to soft skills and altering behaviours learned for today’s culture. Take for example transforming an organisation to an entirely new business model. Those in leadership and management roles will not only need new hard skills for tomorrow’s work they’ll also need new soft skills in order to help their team understand and make the transition.
3. The Timeline
What do we want? Everything!
When do we want it? Yesterday!
Pushing to achieve all aspects of a change program through an aggressive timeline is quite simply, nuts. People are spread too thin, relationships are stretched and turn fractious, shortcuts occur and the chance of burnout increases. It’s easy to say prioritise but as the business moves forward priorities will change. Therefore it’s important to simplify, focus on solutions and remain adaptive and collaborative at all times.
If those are the top 3 to overcome what are the contenders for the award of “Top 3 to ensure success”. Let’s be clear about one thing that’s unlikely to change – those with decision making authority will continue to determine the drivers and desired outcomes of a change program then hand it off for implementation. It’s down to the implementer(s) to shine a different perspective on the change about to take place.
1. The critical roles
Critical roles are the roles pivotal to delivering tomorrow’s business. Identifying these against the key needs of the change program is a good first step towards engagement and subsequently changing the way work is done. Second is making sure the people in the critical roles have both the capability and desire for the change as they’ll be influential in changing other people and their behaviours. These roles may not be critical in today’s business and it’s likely the people in them are not part of the change team. Figuring out the critical roles for each change program and ensuring the people in them have the capabilities necessary will help towards ensuring success.
2. Communication, Communication, Communication
The intranet, notice board, email announcements and newsletters are all standard communication methods used to push information. As important as this information sharing is it’s the equivalent of talking at people and achieves little in return. Successful change occurs where there are conversations. A conversation is two-way and consists of 3 main things – sharing information, responding and discussion. Conversations give all involved an opportunity to express concerns, share ideas and agree solutions. Only through conversation is it possible to be clear and meaningful at all times.
3. Up front effort for long term gain
While implementing change in an organisation is not easy it doesn’t have to be difficult. Quick wins are definitely possible. However, the effort required to properly identify those in success factor 1 and establish a solid foundation for success factor 2 takes time. Investing this time will ensure the change program starts at the right place for maximum results. With initial change achieved successfully the program can be scaled up and spread out across the organisation leveraging the motivation and momentum already in place.
What are your Top 3 issues to overcome or Top 3 to ensure success?
Deanne Earle is an expert at initiating, leading and delivering change projects. She has 20+ years of experience in a wide range of initiatives that have spanned the US, Singapore, China, Australia and more. In 2004 Deanne founded Unlike Before Ltd and the firm is based on the principal that change doesn’t have to be difficult. You can connect with Deanne on Twitter and also follow her blog.