The term Change Management brings in more than 10,000 hits
on Amazon.com, an informational overload. But there is no need to
feel overwhelmed. This short article will focus on lessons learned
in managing change projects from the front lines of government,
businesses, universities, and non-profits. Simply stated, the
"rules" are as follows:
- Ensure buy-in up front.
- Communicate in multiple ways with multiple tools.
- Train, or don't train, if not necessary.
- Expect the Unexpected.
- Take time to reflect, learn, and share.
Herd Your Cats Early: Ensure Your Leadership Buy-In Up
Both the executive change sponsor, who has the power to approve
action, and the sustaining sponsor, who stands with the change
agent and regularly participates in events, must understand and
sanction the strategic and tactical plans. Why? It is detrimental
to a project if executive sponsors call a temporary halt to rollout
in order to review a work process, communication package, or other
deliverable. The pause can undercut the credibility of the change
and can create conflict. Assuming you have support based on a
three-minute blurb in a large meeting may be a false assumption and
the required human and financial resources may never materialize.
Communicate in Multiple Ways, With Multiple Tools
Consider multiple communication formats, aligned to the business
cultures. Large organizations will have multiple cultures, be they
in a corporate, government, university, or manufacturing
environment. Formats include emails, electronic or print
newsletters, posters posted on the walls of the lunch room, flyers
dropped on desks, face-to-face lunch-and-learns, face-to-face
meetings, conference-calls or electronic Town Hall meetings,
Website announcements, giveaways such as pens and key chains with
slogans or telephone numbers, and cutting-edge tools such as Text
Messaging and Podcasting.
Communication events or tools, over time, can move from an
awareness level to a detail level. Six weeks to go live,
Three weeks to go live, and Go live
communications potentially all have a role in managing knowledge
and expectations around the change.
The first questions the ordinary reader will ask are How does
this change affect me? and How does this change make my
life easier or more difficult? Determining the What's In
It For Me may be one of the most challenging aspects of
successful communications, but it offers change managers the
opportunities to gather input, thus increasing the chances of
buy-in. Communications that stress the good of the organization
will, more often than not, have a less-than significant impact.
Finally, written communications are not the primary tools to manage
the pain and resistance often brought by change: face-to-face, open
and honest discussions, and question-and-answer sessions are often
the most effective format.
To Train or Not To Train?
Do you need to seek out training professionals to design training
to be delivered by subject matter experts or do you need to create
a written communication as a professional change manager? Change
does not always require training. In addition, often the act of
communicating is confused with training. If the change is minor or
simple, the communications campaign described above may be
sufficient. But beware! A pack of 50 slides delivered by a talking
head in a darkened room is not training or communication. It is a
prelude to a nap.
Training to improve workforce performance requires participants to
do something, to lead or participate in breakout sessions, to share
their stories, to design processes based on what they have read or
heard. And communication also requires end-user engagement and a
willingness to read.
Expect the Unexpected
One step in strategic planning involves predicting barriers or
risks and anticipating ways to remove or go around the barriers or
mitigate the risks. However, the unexpected does happen. And the
unexpected is more than unpredicted barriers and risks. Change
managers can leverage naturally emerging change. In complex,
adaptive systems where multiple change agents network, share
learning, self-organize, and identify additional resources, change
to the plan can naturally and spontaneously emerge from the bottom
up. As change managers listen and engage, they can identify areas
for continuous improvement. Rather than reject these emerging ideas
as out of scope, the wise change manager will listen and
Take Time to Reflect, Learn and Share
During the rollout and after the change is implemented, ask
yourself three questions:
- In the beginning, what did I expect to happen?
- What actually happened?
- What would I do differently if I could do it all again?
For the first question, have participants use Post-It notes and
write one expectation per Post-It. They can then, after 10-15
minutes of silent writing and reflection, post their ideas on a
wall to group all ideas into categories. Discussion naturally
occurs during and after this activity. A facilitated discussion
then follows for the second and third questions. Share your
insights with other change agents and with your executive and
sustaining sponsors. Treat your findings as open information for
business improvement, and not as confidential discoveries, unless
Abraham Lincoln told his cabinet that he would lead reconstruction
like a riverboat captain, one bend at a time on the Mississippi,
about as far as a captain can see. Change managers today lead one
bend at a time, accepting emergent change, but they also have
Global Positioning Systems to successfully implement major change.