Whilst organisations plan return to office approach and the overall aftermath that is Covid on the business, here is an infographic on key project change planning considerations post-Covid.
Click here to download the infographic.
Whilst organisations plan return to office approach and the overall aftermath that is Covid on the business, here is an infographic on key project change planning considerations post-Covid.
Click here to download the infographic.
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:
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 challenging.
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 coronavirus?
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.
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:
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 change initiatives.
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.
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 greatly reduced.
So how might we build a logic tree that helps derive the change approach for an initiative?
Here is one partial example of deriving a change approach for a customer complaints project.
Click here to download this diagram.
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:
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
The need to feel belonging and connectedness to others.
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
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
• 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
• 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
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
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’.
Change management is a broad and diverse discipline with many facets. Just like other disciplines like Finance, Marketing, Human Resources or Management, there are many sub-components. In Finance there are sub-disciplines such as accounting, tax, budgeting, and investment. Likewise, in Human Resources there are sub-disciplines such as employee relations, remuneration, organisational development, business partnering and learning and development.
In change management there are also various sub-disciplines such as change leadership, learning and development, change impact assessment, organisational design, communications and change portfolio management. There are also multiple functions that all claim to have change management skills, for example Human Resources, Project Management, Strategy and Operations Management. To read more about this topic access our infographic ‘Why lots of functions think they are all experts in managing change’.
With so many components to grasp where does one start? And which component is more important? It’s easy to say that all components may be important depending on the nature and context of the change. However, to manage change, one needs to understand what is changing. To understand what is changing, one needs to be crystal clear on what is the change impact on various groups of stakeholders, internal or external to the organisation. It is only after a deep understanding of the impact that it is possible to plan how the change can be managed.
Too often, generic change approaches are used such as training and communications without a detailed understanding the nature of the change to the impacted stakeholder. The result is that the change interventions miss the mark, resulting in resistance and lack of support.
How do we understand change ‘impact’? There are many ways to do this.
How does the impacted stakeholder group perceive the impact of the change on him/her? If we are implementing a new system and most of the users are very comfortable and happy with the existing system, then the perception of the new system may be one of scepticism and negativity. This could especially the case if the ‘why’ is not established for needing to transition to a new system.
The perception of the change is about the mindsets, attitudes and expectations of people. These are not easily quantifiable and will require deep understanding of that particular stakeholder group and the history of how they have transitioned through different changes.
The perception of the change can also be positive or negative. Positive perceptions of change could be the result of a perception or expectation of benefit, for example the system may be easier to use, saves time or accomplishes significant tasks that are not possible with the existing system. Negative perception could result if the benefit case is not clear, or worse, perceived to be adding more time, more complex and providing less value.
Typical ways to understand the perception of stakeholders may involve surveys, interviews and focus groups.
Another way to assess and understand the impact of change is the severity of level of the change impact. Is the impact such that significant investment and resources are required to undergo the change? Such as a major restructuring exercise. Or is the impact small as it only involves a minor process tweak and only requires emails to notify those impacted?
The severity of the impact may be measured and quantified using a Likert scale. For example, 1 could be deemed as small impact, 3 being medium in impact, and 5 being very high in impact.
Note that if you are using a scale to rate change impact it is advisable to use a 5-point scale versus a 10-point or 3-point scale. 10-point scale is quite complex for the average person to understand and select from. For example, how would one select between 6/10 versus 7/10 and there may not be that much material difference between the two levels of impact across change initiatives.
Likewise, a 3-point scale is too few of a scale to be of any value. Most organisations have multiple changes going on, and all impacts of changes are forcibly categorised into one of 3 categories. The result is that the analysis becomes too general and not sufficiently detailed to differentiate the levels of impact in any meaningful way.
Another way to understand the impact of change is to assess to what extent the capacity of the stakeholder is affected in order to digest and transition through the change. For example, what effort and activities are involved for managers of a business unit to be sufficiently briefed about the new system so that they can then lead their teams through the process? What are the learning requirements and what support is required?
If a change is more complex and requires significant effort and involvement to go through the change process, then what are these activities and how do they impact the stakeholder group?
Typical change and transition activities that could impact the capacity of the stakeholder group include:
Another way to view capacity of the impacted stakeholder is to examine what else is going on during the time of the implementation of the change. Are there are other changes or key work tasks that are notable? For example, is the change happening during peak customer period or major annual peak work cycle such as end of financial year or audit? If so, the capacity of the stakeholder could be greater reduced.
In fact, for most large organisations there is usually at least a few change initiatives occurring at most times. The trick is then to work around the anticipated capacity and bandwidth challenges ahead of the game, and plan around them. To learn how to do this, read our suite of articles on change portfolio management to learn how to manage multiple changes.
Stakeholder capacity can also be measured and quantified using time. In fact, all aspects of change impact will have an element of time impact. This includes all facets of mindset changes, learning the new system, digesting and understanding emails and information packs, attending the various sessions and meetings, and practicing how to operate the new system.
In this way, by quantifying the various change impacts of a particular initiative on various stakeholder groups, it is possible to estimate the time ranges of impact. This becomes very valuable particularly for those teams that are highly time-sensitive. These could be call centre teams. They can also be Finance teams during month-end or year-end period where they are busy consolidating finances. Customer complaints and resolutions teams may also be busy during end of year periods where there could be high customer volumes.
Change impact assessment is the process of assessing and evaluating the nature of change impacts on various stakeholder groups. By leveraging the above ways in which to assess the impact of change, change impact assessment can result in a detailed set of information from which we can then set the change approach. It is only after we understand the ‘what’ of the change that we can then design ‘how’ we are going to transition stakeholder through the change.
The completed change impact assessment should also be socialised and verified with those impacted. Without this verification process, it could be that those who are impacted do not agree what the change impacts captured. Or that, there could be other impacts that are missed in the assessment.
At The Change Compass we provide a cloud-based tool in which organisations can input and visualise change impact information. By visualising the data, we can assess any risks and opportunities in terms of: