As the world continues to struggle with Covid we are starting to see the financial fallout with businesses closing doors and others undergoing significant cuts to stay afloat. Around us, we see the effects. The front page of New York Times has been showing what life is like with Covid around the world. Those who are still in lockdown and those getting used to wearing face masks as a requirement. For the change practitioner, we need to braces ourselves for the myriad of financial implications in this challenging environment.
As companies start to tighten their belt expenditures is the first to come under fire. Project and initiative investments are naturally reviewed, consolidated, and cut to try and save money. Large companies typically invest millions to billions to execute on their strategy, maintain competitiveness, and improve the business effectiveness. Typical cuts in the project world translate to cutting project funding which means that change practitioners like other project professionals may be in the firing line.
As companies start to focus on the critical operations of the business the frequent question that gets asked is “what is the value of change management?”. “Can we save cost by cutting change management?”. Managers would already have a preconception of the value of change management when making this decision.
The challenge then becomes what is ultimately the ‘proof’ to the value of implementing effective change? Many will argue that it is that employees are more engaged, managers are communicating the right messages, that employees have the right skills, and that they feel that they are ready for the change. However, ultimately, a project has a set of benefits it is targeted to achieve and the question then becomes what ‘proof’ is that the benefits have been achieved.
For a lot of the work that change practitioners are involved in the ‘proof’ is the change in the behaviours from A to B. For example, undertaking different conversations with the customer, operating a different system, selling a new product, reporting on incidents, following the required steps in completing a form, etc. Ultimately the change in the behaviour results in the targeted benefits being achieved whether it is improved customer experience, cost savings, efficiency in operating a system, or generating greater insights through new data.
What are some of the ways to demonstrate that we are setting the course for ultimate behaviour realisation?
Clear identification of core behaviours
To be able to implement behaviour change we need to know what behaviours we are focused on changing. The trick is not to try and come up with an exhaustive list of all the various types of behaviours that need to take place in the end state. Instead, focus on the core behaviours that will make the most differences in achieving the ultimate benefit.
For example, what are the core 2-3 behaviours that leaders need to display in the end state to ensure those insights are captured and utilised to make better business decisions? It could be being confident in interpreting the data and using any system prompts as required, highlighting the insight generated in planning meetings, and using the insight to make better decisions that result in a better outcome for the organisation.
Behaviours need to be measured and as we all know “what get’s measured get’s managed”. Behaviours may be measured based on a survey, observation, system reports, etc.
In order to successfully embed the new behaviour into business-as-usual ongoing tracking is required. Tracking ensures that the status of the behaviour change becomes visible and therefore becomes a goal to be focused on.
Tracking does not need to be cumbersome and overbearing. It could be as simple as incorporating the reporting into an existing weekly team meeting or a monthly planning meeting. It could also be a system-generated report that is sent to managers.
Our ultimate challenge as change practitioners in driving behaviour changes becomes even more crucial during these difficult financial times. We need to constantly demonstrate how our work directly links to benefit realisation. This may require stakeholder education. Are your stakeholders clear in terms of the importance of behaviours in reaching the benefits? Do they understand the design that has been in place to drive impacted groups toward the end state?
Most of us are still in lockdown or partial lockdown with Covid. At the same time, many countries are in the process of lifting restrictions and resuming normal business and social activities. In the US President Trump pushes to reopen the economy and phase out the coronavirus task force. In Italy the restriction have just been lifted. Here in Australia the government is planning a gradual return to business.
What is going to happen after we return to work? What would the new world look like post Covid or transitioning away from Covid?
As change practitioners we have a unique role to play in helping to support change and help the organization to adjust to the new norms. We are impacted like everyone else and yet we need to lead others to transition through the change. We are after all change leaders.
Here are some of the likely realities of the post-Covid world after we return to ‘the norm’ after the Covid lockdown:
1. Continued virtual working
It is likely that organizations will be cautious and phase the gradual ‘return to work’ process so as to avoid any potential of re-infection. Some are already in the 1 week in 1 week out arrangement to reduce the number of employee on the same floor. Others may selectively organise the return to work on a group by group or team by team manner, again to control the density level of employees per area.
Employees at Google and Facebook were told that they could continue to work from home until next year. For Amazon employees it is until October. There is also quite a number of large financial services firms that will continue virtual working.
As a result, the days of virtual working will not go away any time soon. As significant numbers of employees continue to work from home, so will the need to continually engage our stakeholders virtually. This includes engaging impacted stakeholders, designing effective leadership communication, sensing change readiness, and measuring change embedment. Do all of these virtually.
There is research to suggest that video conferencing over an extended period of time is cognitively very taxing for people. The attentiveness and focus required to go through a whole day of video conference meetings can add toll to the health and well-being of employees. Supporting employees to build effective virtual working habits is critical.
2. Employees who want to remain WFH
There are those who are stressed working from home and struggle with looking after kids and juggling meetings. They as a result cannot wait to return to the office when schools are closed.
However, there are also those who have enjoyed working virtually immensely.
Catherine lives in the mountains 2 hour away from the office. Every day that she works from home she is saving 4 hours per day in commuting time. She gets to spend more time with her husband and her cat and she can easily open the door onto her balcony, overlooking the forest during her virtual meetings. She gets to cook more and can move around the house as needed so that she is not disturbed by her husband, who is also working from home.
Mark is also quite reluctant to return back to the office. He is finding that he is significantly more productive as there is no one approaching him to chat about the weekend, and all the various chit chat that happens within an office environment. He gets to focus on his deliverables without the office noises. Between meetings Mark can fit in his workouts at the park or at home. He definitely feels that he has a much better work-life balance.
3. Cost cutting and Zero based budget
New articles abound that we are entering an unprecedented period of economic depression, the worst since the second world war for Europe and worse than the financial meltdown in 2008 for the US. What this means is that most business will be impacted in a major way. Many businesses have already closed shop whilst others are belt-tightening or planning to in order to manoeuvre the uncertain future that is post Covid.
There are those businesses that have had most of their revenue wiped out, including retail, entertainment and food & beverage industries. There are also ramifications for businesses that support other businesses that are impacted by Covid, such as manufacturing or aerospace.
Companies may resort to a zero-based budget approach of prioritising the basics of cost management in order to survive. According to Wikipedia zero-based budget (ZBB) “is a method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified and approved for each new period”. This is essentially a reset of cost to careful consider the most critical cost required to sustain the business. In this system, costs are grouped and measured against previous results and current expectations, enabling management to allocate funds by current need instead of by historical expenditures.
As change practitioners we need to prepare for rounds of cost containment or cutting of the initiatives that we are involved in. Expenditure will be tightly controlled. We need to consider ways in which we can continue to carry out change work with minimum additional expenditure.
4. Eventual reduction of commercial real estate utilisation
During Covid organizations have learnt that virtual working does work, even for those who have not experimented with this way of working. In order to save cost, companies will naturally plan to reduce any floor space requirement for those who are soon facing property rental lease renewal. Over time, we will start to see a reduction of commercial property requirement from businesses as organizations down size their office space footage and leverage more on virtual working.
So it looks like virtual working is likely here to stay. As change practitioners we need to continually develop and refine our change approaches in engaging our stakeholders virtually. There are various digital tools that can help fortunately. Some tools are designed to measure team engagement using machine learning. Others allow the expression of mood and responses without having to put this into verbal communication. Leverage these tools going forward (as cost permits) to engage effectively in a virtual world.
5. Disruption of initiatives/Re-planning
We need to be prepared for a series of disruptions whether it be ways of working, having to re-adjust change approaches, tightening expenditure, or having our change initiatives altered. Some initiatives will get pushed back, cancelled or moved forward. New initiatives or even restructuring exercises may emerge on top of existing initiatives. We may be asked to deliver more with less resources.
How do we manage our existing portfolio of change initiatives within this environment? We need to be agile and flexible to anticipate and work with various initiative changes. It could be that business capacity constantly shifts as a result of staff moving back to the office, or that teams become restructured therefore disrupting the initiative roll out.
Utilise visual management to analyse and foresee implications of shifting initiatives. The Change Compass has a scenario planning feature that allows you to visualise the picture of new scenarios when various initiative timelines are shifted. For more details please listen to our webinar on re-planning during Covid.
Key considerations when shifting initiatives include:
Subsequent implications on business capacity (will we create another peak change volume later in the year?)
Potential dependencies of projects in the sequence of the roll out
Overlap with any planned business black-out periods or periods of high work volumes (such as customer contact volumes)
Implications on benefit realisation in relation to business targets
Business readiness due to transition back to the office
Initiative resources and bandwidth available to carry out any shifts in implementation timeline
Communication implications of the shifted initiatives that will be delivered to the same stakeholder group
The world is now watching and experiencing an emerging
coronavirus pandemic. There is
widespread anticipation and fear in many parts of the world, especially those
with higher rates of infection. This poses an interesting scenario of testing
the capability of organisations in managing change during coronavirus. And in fact …. the virus itself is a change
that forces organisations to work and organise itself differently.
The change caused by coronavirus is vast. Travel bookings are cancelled and prohibited. Employees in highly infected areas are told
to work from home. Expatriates are sent
home and many face forced quarantine. In
Australia, Australian evacuees from Wuhan in China (where the virus was first
spread to humans) are placed in Christmas Island detention centres. In many parts of the world, cities have
become ghost towns. Soccer stadiums lay
empty. Some countries have even closed borders
to countries infected with high rates of the virus. In Hong Kong office staff are working from
home, along with their partners. And
often within close proximity of where their children are playing, which can be
No doubt about it – the coronavirus is one of the tests of
an organisation’s ability to undergo change.
Some are more prepared than others.
So how does an organisation manage the changes inflicted by
Most companies follow the usual approaches of sending out
notifications on company policies and any restrictions such as business travel
and working from home policies. However,
in this time of uncertainty leaders need to stand out and help navigate through
the various changes caused by the virus.
This means communicating early and frequently about what is
happening and relaying any useful information as needed such as travel and
technology needs. Leaders need to gage any
employee sentiments and concerns about what is happening around them. Promote discussions as needed to sense-check
any employee concerns and offer support.
Effective change leaders also need to proactive interpret what the changes mean to the team and assess the various impacts of the change. Does it make sense for all team members to work from home? Are there any connectivity issues? Does the team have the skills to work virtually? How are the team’s deliverables going to be impacted by the virus in terms of potential increases or decreases in workload? What other teams might benefit from the support of the team in the current environment?
Rules of engagement
With any significant changes in ways of working and
operating there needs to be clear rules of engagement set for employees.
To support virtual working what are the ground rules if any in terms of responsiveness and virtual engagement? Does there need to be regular individual checking throughout the meeting to ensure everyone has a chance to speak?
Are there meeting rules that are required to ensure the team remains cohesive and engaged? Does there need to be a separate minute taker, time keeper, etc.?
Do individual expectations need to be reset within a changed workplace? How does everyone show their work output within a virtual environment? And what is the expectation on virtual collaboration?
Are there rules of expectations for those who are sick or have a cold/flu in terms of not being in the workplace?
How is performance evaluated within a virtual working situation?
Agile organisations can easily bend and flex according to
changing industry pressures and customer requirements. If business volumes drop, what are the ways
in which the organisation can scale down as needed to stay afloat? This is more than just about business
continuity plans as it is about the flexibility of the operating model and ways
of working to undergo rapid change.
Using virtual tools for collaboration
When the previous epidemic SARS hit back in 2003 working
virtually was less prevalent. Now,
equipped with a range of technological tools, organizations can easily make
things work much more effectively in a virtual environment.
The trick is not to assume that one magical tool will meet
all of your needs. Instead, use
different tools for different purposes.
Here are some digital tools that may help:
Telecommunications: Google Hangout, Skype, Zoom
Project tracking: Basecamp, Trello, Jira
Online discussion boards: Microsoft Teams, Slack, Yammer
Virtual collaboration: Draw.io, Google Docs
Visual graphics: Canva
Working virtually can also mean that some of the body languages cannot be seen and therefore using visual aids is more critical in a virtual working environment more than in a face-to-face situation. Using visual aids helps to make communication even clearer and easier to follow for the audience.
Draw.io is worth mentioning as it is free and also super
easy to use. There is a range of
different templates that are ready to use.
A team can use this to start brainstorming ideas, work through a logic
tree, fill in a flow-chart, develop a project approach, define a timeline, etc.
Balancing planned initiatives
Most organisations are already balancing multiple changes at
any given time prior to the arrival of coronavirus. What this means to most organisations is that
the impact of coronavirus is one more change that piles on top of existing
Organisations need to carefully assess the planned set of
changes and ascertain to what extent existing changes may need to be tweaked as
a result of the virus. Do initiatives
need to be delayed or paused? Or will the
implementation approach need to be different as a result of the virtual nature
of work for more targeted employees?
Will communication mediums need to change as a result? What about learning mediums? What are the feasible learning platforms and
how effective are these for targeted employees?
Data visualisation tools for change such as The Change Compass can provide a visual way of understanding the volume and pace of change across the organisation. In particular, assessing the collective impacts of events such as the virus on the employees given other planned changes. This, in turn, can help with business decision making regarding the roll -out of the various changes to maximise business readiness and adoption.
Often change approaches are built not using a structured and
well-defined series of logics but often using a cookie-cutter, standard change
approach or change strategy template. In
some cases, a ‘gut-feel’ may also be used based on stakeholder wishes or
preferences. These are subject to
stakeholder criticism nor do not achieve the goals of the initiative.
The usual standard change approach for most initiatives often
entail the following.
Stakeholder engagement – setting up forums and
sending emails to stakeholders
Training – planning for and executing training
delivery to ensure users understand the new system/process
Pre-go live readiness – send reminder emails and
build intranet articles to raise awareness
How might we better derive change approach using sound logic and an evidence-backed approach?
One way to construct a logical, structured and well-thought-through change approach is by using a logic tree. A logic tree is a visualization that captures all the component parts of a problem, in order to make it easier to identify a hypothesis that can then be tested using data and analysis. Logic trees are great for making decisions by visually decomposing the various elements and reviewing these holistically.
In the following example, a family uses a logic tree to decide which new town to move to by narrowing almost 30 possible potential locations to just one. In the following diagram (from Bulletproof problem solving, Wiley 2019) you can see how this family started with the problem it is trying to solve, and then broke down the problem into its elements. Then within each branch a weighting is assigned to each branch, in terms of percentages. Then each sub-branch is also assigned weightings.
Then as a next step data can be collected to determine which town meets the various criteria as defined in the logic tree. By doing this, laying out the various components, and analysing its weightings, you can derive the best location.
This is how McKinsey consultants and other strategy consultants
solve large complex problems. The logic
tree forces you to structure your problem versus being lost in focusing on
certain approaches and neglecting others.
Any problem can be solved using this approach. Even the largest of problems can be broken
down into its smallest components.
Strategy consultants then go through every branch to analyse
them and collect data to prove or disprove each branch one by one. This means, that each branch or hypothesis is
tested and proven or disproven. In this
way, every option is considered and the chance of making a wrong decision is
So how might we build a logic tree that helps derive the
change approach for an initiative?
Start by defining the problem or question to be addressed. What is the goal of the initiative? Is it to implement a new system that is fully adopted by its users? Is it to increase cross-selling by sharing customer information across business units?
Think of the broader buckets of each branch. What are the core types of change approaches to address the problem? Think widely and carefully about all the types of buckets possible that would address the problem.
Expand the branches until you have covered all possibilities
Go through and assign a weighting in percentage terms to each branch and then use this to determine the focus and importance you may want to place on certain branches in terms of research and data collection
Go through each branch and systematically to reject any that do not apply based on data. For example, one branch could be to use video as a channel to communicate. However if the data shows that previous usage of video to communicate key messages did not result in raising awareness for this stakeholder group, then reject this option
Here is one partial example of deriving a change approach for a customer complaints project.
One important principle to note when building branches is to ensure that the branches are MECE. MECE stands for mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. Mutually exclusive means that you need to ensure that each branch is unique and does not overlap with any other branch. Collectively exhaustive means that every option or alternative has been considered and nothing is left off. In this way, the branches you have built are bulletproof from a logical structure perspective.
Building a change approach using a structured approach that is data-supported and logic tested will earn significant stride with the most critical of your stakeholders. You can even hold a workshop to work with your stakeholders to define the logic tree and assign weightings so that that the agreed approach is one that is clearly visible and logically sound.
Another important point to keep in mind is how each of the branches of the logic tree change approach will interface into the overall change environment. When planning on the execution of the overall change approach or each branch of the approach, one needs to be clear around the velocity and volume of change and what else is happening in the change landscape. Using data visualisation tools such as The Change Compass is one way to grasp and plan around the change environment.
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 whatsoever.
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 engagement • 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 motivation:
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 progression 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’.