Leveraging a tool such as The Change Compass is not just about data entry and interpreting data. It is about building organisational capability in managing change. This means that business stakeholders needs to be engaged, coached and supported to be able to leverage change data to make operations decisions. This also means that other stakeholders such as the PMO (project management office) and senior managers are also to use change data for planning purposes.
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Yesterday Space X ‘Resilience’ (name of the shuttle) successfully took off into space with 4 astronauts. The astronauts wore super sleek white costumes that were tapered to the body and minimalist in design. They look quite different than the bulky spacesuits that we are all accustomed to in our heads from the 60s. What stood out for me was that this was a diverse team of astronauts. There was 1 female, 1 black and 1 Asian. This was definitely not the all-white Caucasian males we are used to seeing in the past. It made me ponder about diversity and the change journey that companies are driving.
We all know the drill with most change journeys. It ‘must’ start at the top. It needs to be driven by senior managers. Then the rest of the managers need to support it and convince their people about the change journey.
So what is wrong with this? Well, we also know that things often don’t go according to plan. Employees may ‘resist’ the change. They would then be labeled as ‘resistors’. The change manager on the project will then need to devise a plan to deal with these resistors to ensure the change goes smoothly despite them.
Having a diverse mindset and approach to designing the change journey means that it may be easier to anticipate potential challenges and obstacles in the way. So how can one incorporate more diversity in the change approach? And what does this mean?
In true agile form, gathering a large diverse group of stakeholders earlier in the change journey is critical. This not only engages impacted stakeholders early, more importantly, it ensures that the diverse inputs and thoughts are incorporated early in the change journey design. Having a diverse audience means that you will get a range of challenges and obstacles thrown at you. This is exactly what is needed. It is much more efficient and productive to lay these on the table earlier in the initiative planning stage than to discover them during implementation.
This maybe in the form of ‘PI planning’ or Program Increment planning. This is also a core part of scaled agile methodology. The PI planning process has a set agenda that includes a presentation of business context and vision, followed by team planning breakouts where teams create their iteration plans and objectives for the upcoming Program Increment. This means a key milestone where the project delivers a set of changes.
By having a diverse set of stakeholders in PI planning you’re able to interact early, brainstorm, and flesh out potential push-backs from ‘resistors’. This form of the diversity of ideas also contributes to having potential divergent forms of the solution that the project is proposing, and avoid a ‘tunnel vision’ where there is a narrow determination of the likely change journey.
The design firm Ideo (who came up with amongst lots of famous products, the mouse) proposes that during ideation stage of the initiative that one should go for quantity over quality. Get as many ideas out in the fewest minutes possible. It takes lots of ideating to get brilliant ideas. One of the most important rules is not to judge the ideas. Often the best ideas seem ridiculous. Think Airbnb where people stay at your house when this was not a concept that people were comfortable with.
The other aspect of designing the change journey with greater diversity is about involvement. The more different levels and types of stakeholders are involved the more successful it will become. Going back to our initial example of a typical project that is driven top-down. Now, imagine if the change is driven top-down, bottom-up, middle out, and across the organisation. This change can be seen as ‘viral’ since its driven from every direction. Such is the power of diversity.
As change practitioners we often feel that we create the success behind the scene. We design great change experiences, and if all goes well, then people won’t notice it. By this, I mean that if the impacted person has a smooth experience, and that there are no negative incidents or frustrations, then he/she won’t notice the change curve that had just occurred. I often hear this ‘gutfeel’ from change practitioners. However, there is more to this.
Designing and executing good change experiences is not just about how skillful the practitioner is. It is about understanding the system. Let’s explore this further.
An effective change approach is about assessing what the change needs to be and diagnosing key components of the overall system required to transition impacted stakeholders from current to future. What are these?
For example, you are implementing a new system and you are hearing that the last system implementation did not go smoothly. You conduct a series of interviews with key stakeholders to understand what happened. What you found that was there was insufficient drivership from leaders. There were adequate communication and training as a part of the rollout. However, the change was not sufficiently reinforced by middle managers and therefore after the first 2 months where there was good traction, things slowly faded away. Users started to not use the new system.
In your analysis of the overall system, elements included:
The extent of commitment and visible reinforcement from various leaders
The understanding of the why and how this was communicated
How effective learning interventions were
Effectiveness of launch visibility on the behaviours of impacted stakeholders
Influence of manager/leader levels on the behaviours of impacted stakeholders
Learning from the previous system implementation project, you then conducted stakeholder readiness assessments to understand where they are at. You then utilise what you have learned to tweak your initial change approach to address key levers in the system to ensure the project is successful and avoid previous mishaps.
What you are doing is problem-solving and preventing failures by looking at the whole system. You’ve broken down the system into its elements and assessed how critical these were in contributing to the success of the overall project.
You are what author Dan Heath calls the ‘Invisible Hero’ in his book ‘Upstream’. You’ve saved the day by ensuring the right elements were considered in the change approach and ensured a successful outcome. Most would not see the work you have put in and there is usually no direct attribution that you lead to the successful outcome. You’re not a visible hero. In fact, the Project Manager was probably the one credited with being a hero.
In Dan’s book some of the key concepts of how one can become an invisible hero by problem solving before the problem happens include:
Focus on changing the overall system, versus just one problem
Identify what has become normal and zoom in on this as a problem
Systems can be complicated, and therefore when you tweak elements of the system expect the unexpected
Design ongoing feedback to ensure ultimate success
Detect problems before they arise by addressing any early warning signs
Use key points of leverage to exert the greatest impact
By focusing on the overall system the change practitioner can start to become less reactive and more proactive. A reactive situation is one where you are constantly fighting fires, dealing with issues raised by stakeholders, and delays in implementation timelines. A proactive situation is one where you’ve incorporate key risks and challenges and addressed these early on prior to issues happening. You’ve anticipated stakeholder concerns, potential embedment issues, lack of sponsorship, and ineffective reinforcement of stakeholder behaviours. This is what Dan Heath means by ‘upstream’, that you deal with problems before they occur.
Looking at the system across the portfolio
Let’s take this one step further. Organisations are all implementing multiple initiatives. Stakeholders are not rats in the lab that only face one singular project. At any one time, they are usually facing multiple changes. Some large and some small. To truly look at the whole system we need to consider the system from the impacted person’s perspective.
Some examples of this includes:
Key targeted behaviours driven across multiple projects
Overall change capacity impacted by operational factors such as customer work volumes, seasonal work changes, and of course any Covid implications
The sizes of impacts of various projects, and the priority placed on each of them
The nature of impacts on different stakeholder groups and how impacts on one stakeholder group could, in turn, result in an impact on another group
Which stakeholders are most impacted by changes and what additional tactics are required to support them through the multiple changes
The content of training and communication collateral across different initiatives and whether there is synergy, duplication, or clash
The change maturity of the impacted groups and to what extent they need additional readiness support for the project you are rolling out
At The Change Compass we focus on providing data visualisation to show elements of the system, whether it’s the relative change capacity of stakeholder groups, to what extent change saturation is exceeded, identifying key behaviour changes targeted across initiatives, identifying hotspots for potential synergy across initiatives, or assess which initiatives are at most at risk due to level of impact versus stakeholder readiness levels.
Are you ready to be an invisible hero? To what extent are you already incorporating systems analysis and planning as a part of your change approach and implementation? With the right data, stakeholder feedback, and focus, examining the whole system does not need to be complicated, cumbersome or time-consuming. In the post-Covid agile world where things are constantly in flux, examining the system is even more critical. This is the ultimate test of the change practitioner in being the architect and tinker.