Before your change journey takes off, make sure it’s ….. diverse?

Nov 16, 2020 | Designing change

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At the time of the article 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 along 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, but more importantly, it ensures that 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 may be 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 avoids 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 the ideation stage of the initiative 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 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 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 it’s driven from every direction.  Such is the power of diversity.  

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