In the beginning, most users of The Change Compass think it’s about using data to inform business understanding and aid decision making. Whilst this is correct, it is much more than this.
A major global financial services provider has within 1 year achieved quite an extraordinary milestone in being able to exert significant influence to build the strategic change capability of the firm. What this means is that the change practice has been able to exert significant influence and enhanced the ability of leaders to make strategic change decisions. Business leaders also now have a much clearer view of their change complexity and the resulting impact on their business capacity and performance.
Think of it as a mini Oracle/SAP/Salesforce rollout. It’s not just about the system, it is about the changes in people, process, governance and capability that helps you achieve significant business performance uplift.
Specifically, there are 4 key areas that the firm has grown to reap the value of The Change Compass.
1. Optimise performance through change portfolio management
2. Powering change governance with change insights
On Google the 2nd most search term in change management is ‘change management process’. Users are keen to understand a standard formula that they can apply to manage any change. Most users are looking for something simple, clear and lay out a step-by-step process that describes what they need to do to manage change.
Managing change is no longer the arena for change practitioners. The field of change management has grown in such leap and bounds in the past 20 years that most leadership concepts now have a section of change management. Nearly all large 1st and 2nd tier consulting firm have a change management practice, even the likes of Mckinsey, BCG and Bain.
Around us we frequently see change management being mentioned. Change is even a visible tagline for the marketing campaign for lots of organisations. Accenture’s marketing tagline in 2021 is “Let there be change”. The Motto for The University of Technology Sydney is “Think. Change. Do”.
What are the common change management processes?
Prosci is one of the most known change processes, especially for those located in the United States. Change First has a ‘PCI’ (People Centred Implementation) model. Then there is John Kotter’s 8 steps for leading change. What all the models have in common is the initial engagement and planning, followed by change implementation, ending with a transition and sustaining phase.
Companies like having one change process to follow
Most organisations with a change management practice will have, as a part of their offering, one change management process for all practitioners/managers to follow.
Why is that?
1. Common language to talk about managing change so that different stakeholders can refer to the same language, especially those who are not change practitioners. Creating terms that are easily understand by stakeholders within the company makes sense
2. Ensure new change contractors adhere to “the way of doing things” in managing change within the organisation. This is often a big complaint, that a new contractor will bring with him/her new ways of doing things, many of which may not gel well within the particular organisation
3. Create a minimum level of expected quality in managing change, so that at least the ‘minimum’ is carried out and that there isn’t anything obvious which is left out. This is especially important for project teams who may not know what change managers do and what outputs they should be working on
So what is wrong with using a change management process?
Not one change process may be relevant for all cases
Change management processes and concepts are good as general references to guide the change practitioner in baselining and learning the key steps that are critical in establishing a good change outcome. No change management process can suit every company and every type of change. This is why it is a good idea to leverage a diverse range of change processes for change managers who are starting out in the industry. Different change processes may cover different areas, therefore provide a synergistic range of references.
For example, John Kotter’s 8 steps of leading change is great for all levels of leaders and team managers as the model is focused on managers leading groups of people through change. On the other hand, Prosci’s ADKAR model is more suitable for a project context where there are a series of activities over several project phases to lead impacted stakeholders through the change.
Also, some change processes may not be applicable for all change scenarios. For example, the famous ‘change curve’ or the Kubler-Ross model of grief and loss. For some reason, this model has been applied so much within a change context that a lot of business people expect that the ‘change curve’ will always occur.
This is absolutely false. In the change curve there is a prescribed process of shock, denial, frustration and depression. There are not many change scenarios in which large groups of people go through these emotions. Examples include large-scale restructuring involving retrenchments. However, for standard process changes, technology upgrades, or new product launches, it is very rare that you will see this process being applicable at all.
Blindly following the process
One of the biggest dangers and risks of following a change process is not to know when to deviate from the process. This may especially the case for less experienced change practitioners. The outcome of blindly following the process can mean that the change actually does not happen and the change dial is not moved at the end.
What I often see from change managers who blindly follow the process is a change plan that contains a series of generic activities such as stakeholder engagement, communication and then launch. Often in these cases there isnt’ a deep understanding of what the change involves from the perspectives of impacted employees. What it means to them may be more than just meeting informational needs. There could be subconscious attachments or preferences/habits that are hard to break.
An analysis of the perceptions and history of changes experienced by those impacted by change is critical. What you may uncover is potential anxieties,
expectations, habits and misunderstanding of what the change involves. This may be ignored by popular change processes.
Change process may not be linear
Experienced change practitioners have seen this. Often what is planned on paper does not actually pan out to be the case. Most change processes follow a scenario where everything goes well. But for complex changes there are often mishaps or obstacles.
1. For example, key stakeholder groups were not identified upfront and the delay in engaging with them causes overall project delay and stakeholder complications
2. Feedback from stakeholders is that initial messaging were not clear enough and did not reach all groups. Another round of communications and
engagement campaign is required to reset expectations
3. Learning content was too long did not sufficiently match employee expectations, thereby resulting in lower completion rates
4. At the conclusion of the project rollout, as soon as resources were pulled out of the project team after go-live, adoption rates took a dive, resulting in little benefits achieved
In a lot these cases described above, the change practitioner needs to repeat certain processes, go back to previous steps, or even split stakeholders with some progressing further in the change process than others.
Following a process may inhibit experimentation
One of the core aspects of agile ways of working in implementing change is experimentation. We see teams from development and marketing constantly experiment and learn to evolve into a solution that meets business objectives. In change management, there is little practice in experimentation, eventhough this is such a core part of agile.
One of the reasons could be that change practitioners are used to following a prescribed change process and not used to experimenting with their change approach. Instead, most rely on previous experience or what others have done in other change initiatives. Despite this, there are many good reasons for experimenting change approaches, especially for large/complex change initiatives.
Potential experiments can include:
– Communication positioning
– Leader storyline for the rationale of the change
– Training content
– Change measurement
– Impact assessment design
– Townhall design
– Behaviour reinforcement and incentives
Not sufficiently emphasising the importance of measurement
Measurement is one of the most important aspects of managing change. Without knowing exactly the outcome of each of the activities we are executing how do we know that we are in the right trajectory? Also, measuring our change intervention ensures that we have the exact gauge on how effective the interventions are, and also where the stakeholders are along the journey. If we’ve not had any complaints or ‘noise’ does not mean that all is well and that the change will take place.
How are you measuring your changes so that you understand where your stakeholders are transitioning to?
Ever since the epidemic began people have started to suffer mental health issues. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, recent studies have shown that 42% of employees globally have experienced a decline in mental health since the commencement of Covid. This is not a surprise given that governments have routinely locked-down populations to ensure safety and contain the spread of the virus. For change practitioners driving change initiatives within this context, it is hard to ignore these facts.
However, a lot of change practitioners are advised to steer clear of any mental health issues since they are not health practitioners and not qualified to deal with mental health issues. This may be true. However, just because change practitioners cannot advise on dealing with individuals with mental health issues, this does not mean that their approaches cannot take mental health into consideration. In fact, if a significant portion of the employee population have experienced reduced mental health, this needs to be taken into account and not ignored. Ignoring the facts can mean unsuccessful change outcomes.
So how can change practitioners take into account mental health issues affecting employees so that they are still able to drive successful initiatives?
Common mental health issues
Firstly, let’s look closer at common mental health issues impacting employees during the pandemic.
Anxiety and Depression
A recent report found that a quarter of 10-24-year-olds in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said that they had seriously considered suicide. Other surveys consistently show significant increases in anxiety and depressive disorders and correspond with pandemic trends.
Symptoms of anxiety can range from insomnia, panic attacks, feeling of apprehension, or impending doom, and breathlessness. Anxiety symptoms can also be less physically pronounced such as sweating, dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. Symptoms of depression can include difficulty finding joy and difficulty in engaging in normal activities, low energy, declined appetite, hopelessness, and that everything seems an effort.
For a section of the population, it may be that they are not feeling severe enough to be diagnosed as being depressed or anxious in a clinical sense. However, it does not mean that their mental health states are optimal. The New York Times labelled this ‘feeling blah’ as ‘languishing’ and that it could be the dominant emotion of 2021. Languishing is the in-between level of the optimal level of mental health and suffering from mental health illness.
People were not feeling burnt out of depressed per se. However, there’s less of the usual excitement, hope and joy in their usual daily lives. Recently I visited my medical practitioner and he commented that of his patients most are suffering various medical conditions and that there are definitely a lot more reports of mental health concerns. People who experience this may not even report it nor even notice it. First comes fewer social interactions, then comes increasing solitude and even isolation.
Incorporating mental health concerns in change delivery tactics
The first step to take in incorporating people’s mental health concerns in change delivery is to openly acknowledge this. A lot of corporate communications functions would much prefer to not touch anything that is even remotely negative. However, acknowledging what people are going through builds trust and connection. Ignoring the elephant in the room will not help to engage employees. It is not that this needs to be the front-and-centre of the communication messaging. However, mentioning that there may be employees suffering from mental health issues can be the first step in building improved connections and confront the stigma.
This is especially important if you are driving an initiative that will have a significant impact on employees. If you are requiring employees to undergo significant impact whilst they may be battling with mental health issues, then addressing it head-on is critical.
Role model and sharing of experiences
The initiative sponsor and various change champions can be leveraged to share their personal experiences in dealing with mental health concerns. This helps to de-stigmatize mental health in the workplace and open up the discussion of people’s challenges. During forums, town halls, or even in articles or newsletters, the sponsor can share his/her own experiences in dealing with mental health issues. The trick is to be candid and open. This helps to foster trust with the employees.
Picking up on cues when engaging with individual stakeholders
When working with various stakeholders it helps to establish routine of ‘checking-in’ to sense-check the mental status of everyone prior to starting the meeting. This helps to level-set everyone’s mental status prior to diving into work discussions and helps everyone to understand how others are doing, thereby creating connectivity and inclusiveness.
If you pick up particular cues that the stakeholder may be suffering from mental health issues check-in individually with them to see if they are doing ok. Then, connect them to any company resources available such as employee assistance programs.
Map out the initiatives that impact them – prioritise and sequence.
Mapping out the various initiatives that impact the stakeholder group is one of the most strategic tactics in this list. It means taking an end-user perspective and plotting out all the various initiatives and changes that impact them. Taking this end-user, and design thinking approach, we are not just concerned about the particular initiative that we are driving, but all the various initiatives that the person is/will be experiencing.
During times of change fatigue, it may be that proactive intervention may be required to better prioritise and sequence the change rollout to manage the capacity of the impacted stakeholders. To read up on how to do this refer to the following article:
Different employee groups may be experiencing different needs and challenges. Those with children and that are dealing with childcare challenges during the working day may be experiencing different mental health challenges than those who are singles. Singles may be more inclined to feel isolated and disconnected with limited social support.
By creating different segments, you can position communication messages to better target those audience groups. These are some ideas of potential change tactics for different employee groups:
Employees with children and/or dependents – Offering flexibility in selecting time slots for training sessions, or record any town hall sessions in case they were interrupted during the session
Fully remote workers – Scheduling engagement sessions that involve facilitated discussions on personal experiences in the broader sense beyond just the initiative itself
Non-remote workers – Organising virtual sessions for non-remote workers to connect with remote workers to foster greater connection
Managers – Organise engagement sessions with managers that include content on dealing with employees on mental health issues as a part of the overall manager engagement session content
As a part of the overall change tactic of successfully implementing the initiative, it makes sense to measure and track employee sentiments. A typical change readiness assessment survey may be supplemented by items on employee mental health. This will help to proactively assess the extent of the mental health challenge for employees and how they may impact the extent to which the initiative could be successful. Survey findings may be socialised with leaders to derive subsequent strategies to tackle the issues.
Surveys do not need to be long and exhaustive. A common digital practice for applications is short, and sharp pulse ratings that only have a few items. Having frequent pulse surveys also helps to assess the development of the issues at hand and to what extent employee sentiments are as anticipated.
You know the drill …. having been around the blocks and worked on many projects you’ve seen these many times over. Change managers often go through similar experiences as we progress through each phase of the project.
What has been your experiences across the various project that you’ve worked on? What are some of these typical ‘defining moments’ for change managers?
These are 10 signs that you’ve been around long enough to see as a change manager 🙂
1. The project brings you in after the project approach has already been set and you are supposed to ‘fix’ bad stakeholder engagement
2. Your project team and/or stakeholders give you funny looks when you start talking about change activities other than comms and training
3. You constantly feel like you’re the go-between with the project and the difficult stakeholders
4. You dread having to manually fill in rows and rows of xls data about who’s who in your stakeholder matrix and detailed change impact assessment
5. Corporate comms persistently changes most of the messages you’ve written for project comms and you just want to tear your hair out because the content becomes incorrect
6. You sit in project update meetings where everyone goes through data points such as defects and performance updates, and you feel inadequate not using hard data all the time, or you get skipped entirely in the round-robin
7. You feel that you’re often the ‘dumming down’ translator who needs to constantly translate project messages for 5-year-olds otherwise you get confused responses
8. You find it a struggle to get time with your project sponsor, and he/she ends up delegating meeting attendance most of the time. You wonder why they’re the sponsor in the first place
9. You suddenly find out that there are other project changes that impact your stakeholders very late in the picture and it’s a scramble to ensure your project remains the key focus
10. You have nightmares about dealing with a difficult stakeholder who is showing all the signs of resistance and is blocking everything you’ve planned