How to manage change saturation during COVID19

How to manage change saturation during COVID19

What is change saturation?

Change Saturation is a concept that describes our capacity for change as limited … like a cup.  We have a limited amount of capacity for change.  When there is too much change going on the cup spills over and there is ‘change saturation’.  When this happens with too much change then there is stress in the impacted stakeholder groups.  

It could be that there is intense increase in workload or work complexity.  Performance could drop as a result.  When frontline staff experience change saturation it could be that they don’t have the capacity to support all the customer enquires leading to longer customer wait times.  Customer satisfaction levels could be impacted.  Employee satisfaction could also be impacted.        

What causes it?

There are 3 causes for change saturation

1. There are too many initiatives going on at the same time.  The totality of changes across multiple initiatives leads to the cup being overfilled.  This is the reality of corporate life.  There aren’t many organizations that are only executing one initiative at any one time.  However, it also depends on the level of impact within each initiative and not just the number of initiatives in total.  If every initiative has very little impact it could be smaller in total than a very large complex change initiative with very high impact.  It will take a lot of peanuts to fill up a jar, versus a few large biscuits.  

2. The change initiatives are occurring too fast.  We have all been through highly agile initiatives that have short sprints, that pivot quickly and implement the change quickly as well.  Often due to discoveries and learnings along the way there are project delays as the project figures out how to get itself on track.  However, the original go-live date has not been changed so as to meet senior stakeholder expectations and to manage project cost.  What this means is that the impacted business suddenly has much less time to get ready for the change compared to the original timeline.  This condensed timeline to go through and embed the changes leads to increased change saturation.

3. Business circumstances have lead to the cup being overfilled.  In the case of COVID19, most businesses are going through challenging times.  Some are struggling to cope with increased customer volumes, whilst others have lost significant business and can no longer operate.  During these times businesses revert to survival mode, or their business continuity plan.  The top focus remains to delivery its core services with all other priorities to take a back seat.  The very nature of this environment means that a large part of the organisation is under immense pressure to perform.  The cup is saturated even before any additional planned initiatives.  To read more about Planning for change during COVID19 click here.

How to measure it

Every part of the organization may have a different level of change saturation.  This is because different teams play different functional roles by definition.  As a result one department may be impacted by the same change differently compared to another.  

Therefore it is important to be able to measure the change saturation point for a part of the business if we are aiming to manage it. Change saturation should not just be a point of discussion just based on feelings and perceptions.  

How do we measure the change saturation point for one part of the business?  Measuring change saturation is not purely a science but more of an art.  

Take for example, you have been working closely with the call centre team and have monitored their business performance across different initiatives over the past few months.  Last month you noticed that they had reached a point where there were more initiatives being implemented than previously.  

On top of this you noticed that some of their performance metrics that may be linked to change saturation were negatively affected.  These included increased call waiting time, decreased customer satisfaction, increased staff turnover, and challenges for planners to schedule sufficient resources to cover shifts and undergo allocated initiative activities such as training.  Team leaders also provided feedback that there was too much change going on and managing workload was challenging.

You can then calculate this change saturation by assigning a weighting to each change initiative in terms of its change impacts on the business.  Then adding the various change impacts for last month will give you a total factor of change saturation.  Last month your assessment, together with the call centre business, is that there was definite change saturation.  So, if you see this level of change approaching in your planning coming up, then this would be a red signal for you to start to work with your stakeholders on managing this upcoming Change saturation.

Here is an example of measuring change saturation with The Change Compass.

The green line depicts change saturation for this department

It is important to note that some businesses may be calling out that they have change saturation simply to lower the expectation bar.  By lowering the bar expected to undergo change volume, it is then easier for them to meet their performance targets.  This is why it is important to measure change saturation.  Anyone can claim that their cup is overflowing with change without data to support.

How to manage it

There are 2 main ways to manage change saturation.  Either you reduce the change saturation level or you increase the change capacity (increasing the size of the cup).

Short term – Reduce change saturation

1. Stop all change initiative roll out during COVID19.  If your organization is undergoing significant challenges and it was deemed that the cup is already overflowing in terms of capacity, then work with your business to determine how long of a period would there need to be a hold of any change implementation.  This decision may be reviewed on a monthly basis or fortnightly basis to enable careful monitoring of the development COVID19 impact on the organisation.

2. Delay the roll-out of change initiatives to reduce change saturation.  Work with your stakeholders to re-prioritise certain initiatives and push out others to better manage the change saturation.  During COVID19 your organization may have a significantly reduced level of change tolerance, whether its because everyone is adjusting to working from home or its ‘all hands on deck’ in serving the customer.  Work with your stakeholders to understand what initiatives are critical in order to meet any shorter or medium-term business objectives or deemed a priority by senior managers.  Then determine the roadmap of implementation taking into account business change capacity.

3. Use a scenario approach to model the period in which COVID19 may be impacting your organisation and therefore model the recommended change implementation sequences. This approach requires that you have a good awareness of the existing planned initiatives across the business. You may need to adopt a logic-based approach to assess the change saturation points if you have not collected historical data. Here is an example of a scenario planning feature from The Change Compass where you can visually model likely scenarios of change roll-out sequences.

Initiatives may be dragged around to model different change scenarios

Long term – Build change capacity and resilience

1. Hire more people.  For some parts of the organisation where there the change saturation is on frontline consultants servicing the customer.  It may be possible to increase change capacity to some extent by hiring more staff to serve the customer.  However, this depends how effective the organization is in quickly hire and onboard frontline consultants to reach ‘time to performance’.  For other parts of the organisation where the subject matter experts may be in short demand because of COVID19, leveraging potential business substitutes where available may be an option.  This approach may be used in conjunction with other recommendations to reduce change saturation.

2. Improve the change capability of leaders.  One of the most important levers in building change capacity and resilience is the effectiveness of leaders.  We have all seen how some leaders who are engaging, open, actively make way for the change, and address any obstacles, have led teams to undergo significant change journeys.  Other leaders may be undergoing the same change journey but somehow have not had the same success.  Instead, they could be plagued with change resistance and stagnation due to the ability of its leader.  Change leadership development of leaders is a long term play and not a quick win by any means.

3. Work on change maturity.  Organisations that have higher change maturity have more capacity for change and are more resilient to constant changes.  Change maturity measures such as change leadership capability, business change readiness and project change implementation maturity.  This is also a long term play, requiring significant focus and time investment. 

Here are some articles you may be interested

A guide to planning during COVID19 the role of change practitioners

A new guide for improving change management maturity

The ultimate guide to measuring change

5 ways to graduate from change heatmaps

Top 7 challenges faced by change practioners in generating insights from change data

Top 7 challenges faced by change practioners in generating insights from change data

We surveyed senior change practitioners on their key challenges in using change data to generate insights, and here is what we found …

Change practitioners seem to face quite a lot of challenges across the board in measuring change and demonstrating the value of managing change.  For many, there appears to be a level of angst and frustration in not being able to break through and demonstrate insight through change data in a clear and simple way.

Why did we survey this topic?  In the new economy, our world is increasingly dominated by technology and data.  More than ever data is all around us and our ability to access a range of data is becoming more prevalent.  At our fingertips, we can access our phone to see how many steps we have taken today, work email and even workplace chat platforms.

In the business world, the same applies even more so.  All facets of how business is being will increasingly be dominated by data.  The availability of data.  The insight that can be generated by data to make decisions.  Data is king and a competitive advantage.

However, in change management, our ability to use data has mainly been restricted to ‘soft’ qualitative data.  Of course, all types of data are useful both hard and soft data.  However, most of our stakeholders who make decisions on project execution, funding, and prioritisation are focused on hard metrics.  We really cannot blame them because hard metrics tell a direct compelling picture, whereas soft, qualitative data requires a level of interpretation and maybe less direct in the implication.

We surveyed a sample of senior change practitioners and received 30+ responses.  After sorting through the feedback and responses we grouped them into the following 7 themes.  We also directly address each of the challenges posed.

1.  Getting buy-in from stakeholders on data input

Some mention the importance of stakeholder support and buy-in in collecting change data.  This can be quite challenging if your stakeholder does not see the value of the change data that you are collecting.  Since the bulk of change data is derived from each of the impacted businesses and those involved in the initiative, it is critical that the impacted stakeholders are supportive to ensure that data may be collected and response is sufficient.

A key element in ensuring that your stakeholder buy-in to your change data plans is to come up with a ‘sales pitch’ for them personally.  Each stakeholder is concerned about their own priorities and challenges.  If the change data can be positioned to address one of their pain points, then it will be hard to imagine any stakeholder who will not be interested.

2.  How to measure cultural & behavioural change

This is probably the biggest challenge called out across respondents.  Most change practitioners work on embedding some form of behaviour change.  As a result, being able to measure the behaviour change is critical to demonstrate the value of having a change manager onboard and the value of change tactics. 

And since most initiatives are not end-to-end transformations of everything within the organization, there is usually a limited set of behaviours that the initiative aims to change.  Working on measuring a small set of behaviours can be challenging because it is not that we are measuring the whole culture of the organisation, which can be measured by culture inventories such as Organization Culture Inventory (OCI).

One way to do this is to start by defining the actual behaviours you are trying to measure in very specific detail, in a way that is behavioural and observable.  For example, customer service representatives will be able to resolve customer complaints in the first contact without escalating to their team leader.  This can easily be measured using the data from the CRM system that the representative uses. 

Then we can break this down into more discrete ‘micro-behaviours’ that will contribute to the overall behavioural outcome.  For example, in this example, it could be 1) Establish rapport within the first 3-5 minutes of the conversation and 2) ability to identify a customer complaint 3) Apply structured complaint resolution strategies as per training content 4) Regular supervisor coaching and guidance on complaint resolution performance.  These behaviours can be recorded using call listening audits, self-ratings, and/or supervisor ratings.

3.  Data requires time, resources and effort to collect. 

Change practitioners told us that the amount of work involved in collecting, sorting through, and analysing data is very resource-intensive.  Because of this many try and avoid this as they do not have sufficient time or resources to collect data.

A lot of the work required is also very manual.  Many mentioned automation as something they are looking forward to.  Change data that can be automated to save time and energy to follow up, collect, followed by data analysis is one that everyone looks forward to.

The solution is to leverage various digital tools to better automate the capturing, analysis and visualization of data.  For example, Change Tracking is a tool now owned by Accenture that measures change readiness and generated reports.  For various task management and collaboration features, most use such as Trello or Jira/Confluence.  To measure change impact and change capacity, try The Change Compass.

4.  Change capacity

The capacity for the impacted business stakeholder to undergo and embed the change is often the first that comes to mind when it comes to change data and reporting.  Most respondents mention manually developing a change heatmap to try and depict the potential change capacity.

However, what the change heatmap actually depicts is the amount of change impact the various initiatives have added up together.  This shows how much change impact there is and not the actual capacity that the impacted stakeholder groups have.  It could be that certain parts of the organization are agile, mature and have great leaders. Therefore, they are able to have a much greater capacity to undergo larger volumes of change than another part of the organization.  To read more about change heatmaps go to The death of the change heat map.

To resolve this it is important to map out the level of change capacity.  How does one do this?  By using historical data and comparing the level of change against business feedback such as performance indicators, and employee and leader feedback.  To automate this process whereby you’re able to visualize the impacts of change against the plotted change capacity levels of each part of the business leverage The Change Compass.

5. Change prioritisation

Respondents call out the fact that often prioritisation of initiatives is made based on typical project manager data points such as cost, timeline, funding and business results.  The gap is that change data should also be taken into account.  Data such as the velocity of the change, the volume of the change, change capacity, risk of impact on business performance, business readiness, all should be valid data points to consider in making prioritisation decisions.

With the ability to access a range of data points, the organisation is better able to make balanced decisions to maximise benefits and minimise risk.  The fact is that with the various challenges listed here in not being able to access a range of change data, decision-makers simply make decisions based on whatever they can get their hands on. 

6. Data recency and validity

The usefulness of data is only as good as its recency and validity.  Outdated data cannot be used to make decisions.  What respondents call out is that it is difficult to ensure that data is constantly updated and valid.  Once again, keeping data recent takes significant time and effort.  However, various digital tools can again be leveraged to support data recency.  At The Change Compass we build in a feature to remind users to update information and data recency is also depicted in reports to reinforce the update of data.

To read more about change data to go The ultimate guide to measuring change.

7.  Change governance

Change governance is critical to be able to support and govern the change data collected and reported.  Change governance does not need to be a separate body created just for the purpose of governance change data.  It could be a business unit planning meeting or a part of a PMO agenda for example.  The purpose of the governance body here is to reinforce the importance of data, review any generated insights, and make decisions on how to apply insights to business decisions.

To read more about change governance, how to set it up and various roles and responsibilities, refer to our Ultimate guide to change portfolio management.

As a change community, our challenge ahead remains how we adopt and embrace the new world of data and insights.  The more we are able to leverage data and not shy away from it.  The more we are able to move the discipline forward to that which is seen as directly driving business value and has a critical seat at the table in decision making.

Use these 5 tips to grab the attention of your senior leaders through change data

Use these 5 tips to grab the attention of your senior leaders through change data

We’ve all read that in our digital world where we are constantly bombarded by various advertising, social media, and other messages that our attention span has been decreasing.  Marketers tell us that the average person’s attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to less than 8 seconds today – which is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.

When we present data to senior managers we also need to realise that they are not exempt from this.  The typical work life of a senior manager consists of constant meetings covering a wide range of topic areas.  They also live in our digital world full of social media channels and digital messages throughout the day.

Securing a meeting with a senior manager is not easy and within a short period of time we need to make significant impact, ensuring that the messages that we are bringing are memorable and at the centre of attention.  How do we do this?

1. Use data visualization

People remember visual imagery.  Visual data is more memorable than a list of facts.  If time permits, work on an infographic, a colourful diagram, or chart to convey the information.  The key is to keep the information simple and easy to understand.  An overwhelming collection of all types of data makes it hard for the audience to focus and may lead to confusion.  We’ve all worked with senior managers who start diving into nitty-gritty details when they are confused.  Not a good scenario to be in.

Here’s an example of a bubble diagram that shows the extent of the impact of each initiative.

Bubble

2.  Avoiding psychological bias

One of the critical aspects of getting cut-through in presenting data is being aware of any psychological biases.  For example, most projects use traffic light colours as indication of project status.  Red indicates warning, amber indicates caution, and green represents all’s good.  As a result, if we are presenting change heatmaps using the same colour schemes we are subjecting the user to the same psychological interpretation.  This means the user will most likely interpret red as ‘bad’ subconsciously.   However, red in a heatmap may not always mean ‘bad’ since it simply indicates there is a lot of change.  Perhaps there is a lot of good change?  Or that the volume of change is needed to achieve the business goals?  Removing this type of psychological bias in choosing effective colour schemes is critical.

Here is an example of a change heat map from The Change Compass, using different shades of blue instead of traffic light colours.

3. Tailoring the level of detail to the audience

Knowing what level of information to present is another critical ingredient to a high impact outcome when presenting to senior managers.  If in doubt, focus on no more than 3 key messages per meeting.  This means the data you are presenting needs to be quite targeted and focused, structured around supporting the messages you would like to convey.  If you are presenting slides, aim for no more than a few slides to keep the message focused and crisp.  Ideally, aim to generate discussion during the meeting versus just a series of facts.

4.  Story telling using data

The data you are presenting should tell a story of the changes that are happening.  Your change story needs to be backed up by data versus just hunches when working with senior leaders.

Key stories you may want to formulate and call out could be:

  • The pace of change is becoming faster
  • The volume change is increasing/decreasing
  • Capacity risks in certain parts of the business are emerging
  • The scheduled changes in the plan are aligned/not aligned with the overall strategy
  • The same customer segment is impacted by multiple initiatives within a set period of time
  • We have exceeded the change saturation point for one part of the business thereby impacting business performance

 

5.  Use eye catching visuals to increase memorability

In most corporate settings people tend to use the same ways of presenting data.  Pie charts, bar charts, scatter plots, etc.  To make your message stand out, try something different.  For example, use different colour schemes, different types of charts, or different lay out to gain attention and memorability.

Here is an example of a chart that shows the extent to which each company strategy impacts different divisions, and the various initiatives in concern.