This model will fundamentally shift how we manage change

This model will fundamentally shift how we manage change

Change Management is full of concepts and frameworks that are outdated and not based
on empirical research. It seems that in the business world we are very comfortable with
concepts that sound like they make sense intuitively. If the concept is simple and
interesting then we’re in. We don’t require them to have any scientific proof and research
is often not required.

Let’s take one example. The Kubler-Ross model is one of the most popular models that
outlines the 5 stages of grief by a psychiatrist from the book ‘On Death and Dying’. The 5
stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, there is a lack
of empirical research supporting these 5 stages, and in fact research suggests other
expressions of grief.

Moreover, we’ve somehow applied this model to change management assuming that it is
relevant. Whilst dying is a change process, this context cannot be generalised across all
other changes such as implementing a new system, a new product or a new policy.
Moreover, there is no research supporting this. In fact, we all know that there are lots of
people who do not go through these phases during lots of change processes. And certainly
it would be hard to imagine someone going through these phases after buying a new
desirable iPhone from a previous older model?

Now, if there are so many popular concepts that are not backed up by research what
should we use that is based on proven evidence? Self determination theory (SDT) by
Edward Deci and Richard Bryan should be one that the change management community
adopt. It is a broad-based theory about human motivation focuses on people’s inherent
growth tendencies and our innate psychological needs. There has been significant
research supporting this theory since the 1970s and more research is underway.

What is the self determination theory about motivation?

The theory states that there are 3 innate human needs that if met will provide motivation,
motivation to undertake tasks, to develop and to undergo change. These 3 elements are:

1) Competence
The experience of mastery and being effective at ones activity. When people feel
that they have the skills required to be successful they are much more likely to take
on tasks that will help them achieve their goals

2) Relatedness
The need to feel belonging and connectedness to others.

3) Autonomy
The feeling of choice and control over one’s focus.

Each of the three elements contributes to motivation, by having the right level of skills and
confidence, by wanting to be connected to others and by feeling in control over one’s
focus or task.

Some implications of these 3 elements on how we manage change include:

1) Simply conducting training may not address someone’s level of competence. The
outcome is that they need to feel confident. This means that there should be a
holistic focus on a range of learning interventions to promote and support
confidence, such as managerial acknowledgement, catering to individual learning
styles, supportive learning environment/community after training session, etc.

2) Change activities should not be implemented for individuals in isolation to others.
For example, if elearning is utilised, the change approach should design to provide
visibility on how others are undergoing the change process, where they are share
their experiences. This is why change champions are so important since effective
champions promote and build a supportive community

3) Especially for more significant changes, it is important to design into the change
process a sense of autonomy for those impacted. This may seem contradictory to
how most company implement change, i.e. one that is characterised by one common
set of activities for all employees. What this important to emphasise according to
SDT is to build in employee involvement so that they feel that they are shaping and
developing the change versus being negatively impacted by it with no choice

There are 2 types of motivations:

1) Controlled Motivation

• “The carrot and the stick” approach to motivating someone
• Seduced into the behaviour
• Coerced into the behaviour, often with the threat of punishment
• Experience of tension and anxiety

Employees that work in a controlled motivation environment usually have negative
emotions and their confidence and well-being also suffer. Also, in this environment
employees usually take the shortest path to reach the desired outcome. This may or may
not have the best consequences for the company. If the company is trying to stipulate a
set of behaviours, these may be avoided or blind-sighted to get to the ultimate ‘measure’.

2) Autonomous motivation:

• Experience of volition and choice about the work that one is doing
• If the person enjoys the work and finds it interesting, then the autonomous
motivation level increases
• If the values of the work is consistent with the values of the individual this also
increases motivation
• If the person endorses the work, then he or she will also be more motivated to
undertake the work

Organisations want more autonomous individuals that are aligned their work. Why?

Because research has found that autonomous workers are:
• More creative
• Better problem solvers and be able to think outside of the box
• Better performance
• More positive emotions
• Better psychological and physical wellbeing

So how do we promote a change environment that develops autonomous workers?

• Take the perspectives of the workers and their mindset, and be clear around what
moves them, what bugs them, what they get excited or bored about, their core
values and interests, etc.
• Providing them with choice and the ability to participate in the change and the
decision-making process where possible. This will encourage their buy-in and
• Support them with exploring different ideas and trying new ways of approaching the
work in a different way. This approach is also very consistent with agile ways of
working, encouraging innovation and ‘safe to fail’ environment
• Encouraging them to be self-starters and self-initiated
• Provide them with a strong and meaningful rationale of the ‘why’ of the purpose of
the change so that they understand the reasons behind the change

Edward Deci goes on further to state “Don’t ask how you can motivate others, ask how you
can create the conditions for them to motivate themselves”.

From activity driven to design-driven

One of the biggest implication from SDT is that next time you design your change
intervention you should focus away from key standard change management activities such
as communications and training. Instead, focus on creating and designing the
environment from which people can motivate themselves.

This is a fundamental shift for a lot of change practitioners and requires a depth of
understanding about how the organisation functions and what will move its dial. It is not
about implementing 1 or 2 core activities, it is about implementing a range of
interventions to shape the environment to support change.

Some practical ways in which you can design an environment to promote change

1) Workshops for participants to brainstorm and discuss ways in which they can
undergo the change journey
2) Share stories of how other employees have experienced through change personally
Use different mediums in which to communicate the change, to appeal to different
people preferences (e.g. video, online, face to face, posters, etc.)
3) Leverage key influencers to influence the community
Provide sandbox or other platforms (such as online platform, showcase room, etc.)
from which employees may experience and play with the new environment
4) Break up the change journey into small steps and milestones and acknowledge each
5) Encourage community discussions about the change

The challenge in building change environments

When we start to design a holistic environment for change, most often than not we are
designing this for a set of changes and not just one initiative. In this complex, continuous
changing environment, we need to be able to keep tab on what the change environment
looks like and how it is evolving amongst the various change initiatives.

As different change environment interventions ramp up, we need to be able to visualise
how these interventions and activities are impacting the employees and their
environment. This includes being able to visualise the pace, scale, nature, and multiplicity
of the changes across various parts of the organisation. Using data visualisation tools such
as The Change Compass is valuable for organisations within agile environments.

Using the insights and core concepts from the self determination theory will serve

significant value for the change management community. Not only are its concepts well-
researched and proven by research, there is a range of directly applicable implications for

the change practitioner. No longer do we have to work with frameworks that are
fashionable but lack the rigour of empirical research. The challenge now is how we adopt
this within our change approach and ‘change the way we approach change’.

The secret in motivating change

The secret in motivating change

Move over older concepts and frameworks such as Lewin’s, Bridges and Lubler Ross models that are dated and not based on years of rigorous research…..

It’s time we started to focus on well-researched and evidence-backed models that explain people’s behaviours in change.

Click here to download the infographic on ‘Self-Determination Theory’ of motivation. Stay tuned for our up-coming article on this.

The #1 success factor in driving agile changes

The #1 success factor in driving agile changes

There are many facets of driving agile changes.  Agile changes are featured by such as developing minimum viable product and not investing too much initially, developing a series of iterations to gradually improve the product, engaging stakeholders early and frequently to ensure the outcomes meet business needs, developing working product/solutions from which feedback may be sought to feed iterative improvements prior to final release.

With so many facets of implementing agile changes, what is the most important part of driving agile changes?  What is the core concept that must be done right without which the change would not be considered ‘agile’?

One of the most critical parts of agile change is the concept of developing a hypothesis that can be tested.  The outcome must be clear in terms of whether the solution developed meets the business needs or not.

Why hypothesis?

In waterfall methods of delivering projects, the focus is on spending significant focus understanding and detailing features and ‘requirements’ from the business.  From these, the solution is then designed and developed.

The problem with this approach is:

  • Significant resources and investment may be required to sufficiently develop the solution depending on the complexity involved
  • It may also take a long period of time to involve various stakeholders and investigate solution design options before a final product can be developed.  A series of design decisions also need to be made, each step taking time to undergo
  • The business may not know what they want and they would need to provide ‘requirement’s that may or may not meet their needs.  For example, prior to the launch of iphones, touch screen phones were not popular and were not seen as the design of future phones
  • The risk can be significant if the solution developed does not meet business needs.  Millions of dollars of project investment could have been wasted if this is the case.   

On the other hand, what is the advantage of a hypothesis based approach?

  • Does not spend a lot of time creating a sophisticated solution or product.  Instead, a simplified version is developed which captures the core of business need.  This is then tested, and then the results can then feed into further improvements required.  In this way, the process allows organisations to fail early and cheaply in order to eventually come up with the winning solution
  • Instead of focusing on detailed planning which is based on a series of assumptions which may not have been tested to be valid, the focus is on deriving a solution that CAN be tested and validated or invalidated.  This is especially important when the solution is new and has not been implemented previously in the organisation
  • The hypothesis approach is a scientific approach where the focus is on proven results based on data.  In the same way a laboratory technician would conduct a series of experiments to test the properties of a chemical solution to further understand it, in the same way the project team would conduct a series of ‘experiments’ (or iterations) to gradually test and from testing results, improve the solution
  • Tests are always based on ‘real’ data and real scenarios therefore there is a much greater chance that the final solution will meet business needs

The importance of a hypothesis-approach for organisational agility

The survival and growth of a company are dependent on its ability to go into different products, different territories or different customer groups to expand its offering.  In order to do this, the company needs to ultimately launch various products or services that do not exist currently or that have not been launched in certain new areas/segments. 

Therefore, the ability of the organisation to continuously develop, launch and learn from new products and services is critical for its success.  Each product launch is a new hypothesis that is to be tested.  And with each testing, a set of learning is achieved which will improve its next product launch.  In this way, this is how companies become agile and develop the ability to flex and change based on its ability to generate hypotheses.

For digital businesses developing hypothesis is a core way of operating.  A hypothesis can be as small as testing the wording of the website using A/B Testing to see which wording is more engaging for website visitors.  A/B Testing is where a certain number of visitor traffic is channeled into one version of the website versus another version.  And the results of visitor interactions can be used to validate which version is more engaging.

Change management hypothesis testing

To truly adopt a hypothesis-based approach to change management one needs to adopt change hypothesis testing.  What is change hypothesis testing I hear you ask?  It is basically developing a series of small change experiments to test assumptions.  Change experiments are important because they help to inform what change tactics or approaches work or do not work.

Some examples of change experiments include:

  • Wording of campaign phrases or positioning
  • Email click-through rate based on details such as who email is from, time of delivery, etc.
  • Effectiveness of training exercises
  • Employee awareness after town hall messages
  • Website effectiveness
  • Impact assessment approach effectiveness
  • Campaign medium effectiveness such as freebies, posters, etc.

However, it is critical to ensure that hypothesis to be tested is not time nor resource intensive.  The experiment must also be tested using feedback data.  The hypothesis cannot be proven or disproved unless it is backed by hard data and not just opinions.

The secret in understanding the core of change management

The secret in understanding the core of change management

Change management is a broad and diverse discipline with many facets.  Just like other disciplines like Finance, Marketing, Human Resources or Management, there are many sub-components.  In Finance there are sub-disciplines such as accounting, tax, budgeting, and investment.  Likewise, in Human Resources there are sub-disciplines such as employee relations, remuneration, organisational development, business partnering and learning and development.

In change management there are also various sub-disciplines such as change leadership, learning and development, change impact assessment, organisational design, communications and change portfolio management.  There are also multiple functions that all claim to have change management skills, for example Human Resources, Project Management, Strategy and Operations Management.  To read more about this topic access our infographic ‘Why lots of functions think they are all experts in managing change’.


Change impact

With so many components to grasp where does one start?  And which component is more important?  It’s easy to say that all components may be important depending on the nature and context of the change.  However, to manage change, one needs to understand what is changing.  To understand what is changing, one needs to be crystal clear on what is the change impact on various groups of stakeholders, internal or external to the organisation.  It is only after a deep understanding of the impact that it is possible to plan how the change can be managed.

Too often, generic change approaches are used such as training and communications without a detailed understanding the nature of the change to the impacted stakeholder.  The result is that the change interventions miss the mark, resulting in resistance and lack of support.

How do we understand change ‘impact’?  There are many ways to do this.



1. Perception of the change

How does the impacted stakeholder group perceive the impact of the change on him/her?  If we are implementing a new system and most of the users are very comfortable and happy with the existing system, then the perception of the new system may be one of scepticism and negativity.  This could especially the case if the ‘why’ is not established for needing to transition to a new system.

The perception of the change is about the mindsets, attitudes and expectations of people.  These are not easily quantifiable and will require deep understanding of that particular stakeholder group and the history of how they have transitioned through different changes.

The perception of the change can also be positive or negative.  Positive perceptions of change could be the result of a perception or expectation of benefit, for example the system may be easier to use, saves time or accomplishes significant tasks that are not possible with the existing system.  Negative perception could result if the benefit case is not clear, or worse, perceived to be adding more time, more complex and providing less value.

Typical ways to understand the perception of stakeholders may involve surveys, interviews and focus groups.



2. Severity of impact

Another way to assess and understand the impact of change is the severity of level of the change impact.  Is the impact such that significant investment and resources are required to undergo the change?  Such as a major restructuring exercise.  Or is the impact small as it only involves a minor process tweak and only requires emails to notify those impacted?

The severity of the impact may be measured and quantified using a Likert scale.  For example, 1 could be deemed as small impact, 3 being medium in impact, and 5 being very high in impact.

Note that if you are using a scale to rate change impact it is advisable to use a 5-point scale versus a 10-point or 3-point scale.  10-point scale is quite complex for the average person to understand and select from.  For example, how would one select between 6/10 versus 7/10 and there may not be that much material difference between the two levels of impact across change initiatives.

Likewise, a 3-point scale is too few of a scale to be of any value.  Most organisations have multiple changes going on, and all impacts of changes are forcibly categorised into one of 3 categories.  The result is that the analysis becomes too general and not sufficiently detailed to differentiate the levels of impact in any meaningful way.



3. Capacity of impact

Another way to understand the impact of change is to assess to what extent the capacity of the stakeholder is affected in order to digest and transition through the change.  For example, what effort and activities are involved for managers of a business unit to be sufficiently briefed about the new system so that they can then lead their teams through the process?  What are the learning requirements and what support is required?

If a change is more complex and requires significant effort and involvement to go through the change process, then what are these activities and how do they impact the stakeholder group?

Typical change and transition activities that could impact the capacity of the stakeholder group include:

  • Town halls or briefing sessions
  • Workshops and focus groups
  • Involvement of subject-matter-experts
  • Watching videos or reading emails about the initiative
  • Team meetings to discuss the change
  • Learning and development sessions
  • Practice and gradual familiarity required
  • Providing feedback about the change
  • Attending any celebration or other events related to the initiative


Another way to view capacity of the impacted stakeholder is to examine what else is going on during the time of the implementation of the change.  Are there are other changes or key work tasks that are notable?  For example, is the change happening during peak customer period or major annual peak work cycle such as end of financial year or audit?  If so, the capacity of the stakeholder could be greater reduced.

In fact, for most large organisations there is usually at least a few change initiatives occurring at most times.  The trick is then to work around the anticipated capacity and bandwidth challenges ahead of the game, and plan around them.  To learn how to do this, read our suite of articles on change portfolio management to learn how to manage multiple changes.



4. Time Impact

Stakeholder capacity can also be measured and quantified using time.  In fact, all aspects of change impact will have an element of time impact.  This includes all facets of mindset changes, learning the new system, digesting and understanding emails and information packs, attending the various sessions and meetings, and practicing how to operate the new system.

In this way, by quantifying the various change impacts of a particular initiative on various stakeholder groups, it is possible to estimate the time ranges of impact.  This becomes very valuable particularly for those teams that are highly time-sensitive.  These could be call centre teams.  They can also be Finance teams during month-end or year-end period where they are busy consolidating finances.  Customer complaints and resolutions teams may also be busy during end of year periods where there could be high customer volumes.


How do we put these into use?

Change impact assessment is the process of assessing and evaluating the nature of change impacts on various stakeholder groups.  By leveraging the above ways in which to assess the impact of change, change impact assessment can result in a detailed set of information from which we can then set the change approach.  It is only after we understand the ‘what’ of the change that we can then design ‘how’ we are going to transition stakeholder through the change.

The completed change impact assessment should also be socialised and verified with those impacted.  Without this verification process, it could be that those who are impacted do not agree what the change impacts captured.  Or that, there could be other impacts that are missed in the assessment.

At The Change Compass we provide a cloud-based tool in which organisations can input and visualise change impact information.  By visualising the data, we can assess any risks and opportunities in terms of:


  • Groups that may need additional support due to the complexity, volume or complexity of the change
  • Comparing different stakeholder groups to assess which ones are the most critical to the success the initiative and to what extent their capacity is impacted, in terms of time
  • Plot the change saturation points for different parts of the business and assess to what extent changes exceed these points. From this assessment, determine any risk mitigation strategies, such as re-prioritisation, providing additional resources, or change implementation timeline
  • Assess to what extent impacts (across initiatives) on different parts of the business are aligned to the strategic goals. Are the largest impacts on parts of the business as expected according to the strategy?  Is the organisation’s implementation impacts more on operational efficiency versus growth?  And does this match the strategic intent?