10 signs that you’re a seasoned change manager

10 signs that you’re a seasoned change manager

You know the drill …. having been around the blocks and worked on many projects you’ve seen these many times over. Change managers often go through similar experiences as we progress through each phase of the project.

What has been your experiences across the various project that you’ve worked on? What are some of these typical ‘defining moments’ for change managers?

These are 10 signs that you’ve been around long enough to see as a change manager 🙂

1. The project brings you in after the project approach has already been set and you are supposed to ‘fix’ bad stakeholder engagement

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2. Your project team and/or stakeholders give you funny looks when you start talking about change activities other than comms and training

The Look Judging You GIF by MOODMAN

3. You constantly feel like you’re the go-between with the project and the difficult stakeholders

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4. You dread having to manually fill in rows and rows of xls data about who’s who in your stakeholder matrix and detailed change impact assessment

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5. Corporate comms persistently changes most of the messages you’ve written for project comms and you just want to tear your hair out because the content becomes incorrect

Bad Hair Day Snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

6. You sit in project update meetings where everyone goes through data points such as defects and performance updates, and you feel inadequate not using hard data all the time, or you get skipped entirely in the round-robin

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7. You feel that you’re often the ‘dumming down’ translator who needs to constantly translate project messages for 5-year-olds otherwise you get confused responses

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8. You find it a struggle to get time with your project sponsor, and he/she ends up delegating meeting attendance most of the time.  You wonder why they’re the sponsor in the first place

Rejected Come On GIF by TLC

9. You suddenly find out that there are other project changes that impact your stakeholders very late in the picture and it’s a scramble to ensure your project remains the key focus

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10. You have nightmares about dealing with a difficult stakeholder who is showing all the signs of resistance and is blocking everything you’ve planned

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Why change communications are often designed to fail

Why change communications are often designed to fail

Communication is an absolutely critical part of your change initiative.  In every part of the change initiative, communication is a must-have.  Too much and you may overwhelm your stakeholders.  Too little and you may not get traction or engagement.  Done in the wrong way and you may not get the right results.

So how would initiative change communication be designed to fail?

To understand this we need to analyse elements of what constitutes standard practice in corporate internal communications, of which change communication must adhere to in practice.

1. Maintain a positive or neutral tone.  You will notice that most of your internal communications usually have a positive or neutral tone.  It is almost never negative.  The goal is to maintain a positive mood as much as possible and hide any nuance of negativity.  A key rationale is to avoid imparting a negative mood to the target audience.

2. Impersonal corporate speak.  Typical corporate communications use a voice that is business and commercially focused.  One that is mostly formal.  This again may depend on how the communication is crafted, but often any emails or statements from leaders are often crafted in a way that is impersonal and void of personality.  

3. Focus on reason over feelings or emotions.  Communications are always carefully crafted to focus on logical reasoning over feelings or emotions.

I hear you nod.  So what is wrong with these practices if they have been the norm for decades and is adopted as common practice by most organisations?

OK let’s go through these one by one.

Maintaining purely a positive or neutral tone.  

Driving traction and motivation for change requires establishing ‘the why’.  Why are we doing this?  And what is wrong with the current status?  What do we have to gain by changing?  

One of the most important motives of communication at the commencement of a change initiative is to engage the organisation on the vision or end state of the change.  To do this effectively communications need to grab the attention of stakeholders and impart the rationale of the change.  In most situations, the change is not all rosey.  It needs to balance addressing the burning platform for change, what happens if change does not happen, and on top of this, outline the positive aspects of the change outcome.

Achieving this balance is not always easy in crafting messages.  However, ignoring any potentially ‘negative’ tone in favour of positive or neutral ones would only be perceived by the audience as ‘fake’.  Being candid is always preferable (as long as it doesn’t become overly negative and freak people out at the other extreme).

Perhaps this is why employees often read the communications and then ask their team members or managers about how to interpret the message and what it ‘really means’ to them?  Versus absorbing what they read as bible?

Impersonal or corporate speak

The corporate-style of communications is so pervasive in organisations that it is basically accepted as the norm. However, if you really ask your audience about this type of communication you will find that the tone is one of a level of pretense that it is not always easy for employees to relate to.

Especially with leader or manager communications, the content needs to match the person.  Think of the last time you listened to a manager who was talking about a change, but it came across so contrived that you know he/she was just delivering a message passed down from above.  It was not genuine or believable.  The message and tone of the communication need to match the person saying it, with all the personality and nuances that come with him/her.

On the other hand, the new economy startups and new tech organisations tend to communicate in more of a casual and relatable voice.  Even if you look at any email subscriptions that you might have, you will notice that what is emerging is more of a casual and personal tone.

Organisations are now evolving to be less hierarchical, less formal and more personal.  We also tend to wear less suits, have less hierarchy, and be less formal in addressing senior managers.  What about the way we craft communications messages in changes?  Have these evolved accordingly?  Or are they still done in the same way as 20 years ago?

Focus on reason over feelings or emotions.

This is a big one.  We know from research that people are much more likely to buy into the change if they can emotionally relate to the rationale for the change.  We also know that leaders who are more candid and share their emotions including vulnerabilities with teams are more likely to gain their trust and engagement.  Of course, we are not talking about emotional outbursts, but instead, ongoing open and candid conversations about their perspectives, i.e. speaking from the heart.

Gaining the trust and commitment for those impacted by the change requires appealing not just to the head but to the heart.  

When I was at Intel many years ago, there was a time when rival AMD was slowly gaining momentum in market share in the computer chipset market.  Leaders started very candidly and group-wide discussions about what this meant, the risks to the company, and really appealed to what this meant for Intel.  For the longest time, Intel was the unbeatable market leader.  Even the thought of being challenged by a smaller player was too much to bear.  

The overall rally across Intel was how might each team contribute in different ways to come up with ways to challenge AMD.  How might Intel continue to take the reign and be the global leader?  This emotive goal drove various teams across functions.  Technical teams challenged themselves to speed up their pipeline of delivering faster and better chipsets.  Marketing teams worked on strategies to target key accounts.  This led to huge success and in less than 2 years Intel had at the time squeezed AMD out of the limelight.

So, the challenge for change practitioners is to really question the effectiveness of your current change communication.  Look at the communication that you get from new and emerging companies as a reference.  How might you better engage and grab the heart of your audience?  

John Kotter in his new book ‘Change. How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times’ mentioned that in the ‘modern organisation’ a lot of the practices are really designed for many decades ago.  These practices have not moved with the times and to be truly agile many of these practices need to be questioned.  It’s time to take the challenge and pivot.

Change practices benchmarking report

Change practices benchmarking report

Click on the below to download the report.

Change Practices Benchmarking report 

5 ways to graduate from change heatmaps

5 ways to graduate from change heatmaps

So you’ve climbed the change management career ladder.   You’ve not only managed complex projects, but are starting to help the business manage the change landscape. Like most organisations, the business you are supporting is implementing various changes to stay competitive and relevant in this fast-changing world.

Like most others, you’ve produced manual change heatmaps to help them visualize how much change there is going on. They’re seeing which parts of the business has more change than others. They can now see the ‘hot spots’ where there could be too much change. Month in and month out you continue to produce the same reports for them. They start to get bored and ask … “Is there more to the change landscape than just looking at the question of ‘too much’ or ‘too little’?”

This is a very valid question indeed!

Across our change management industry, it seems that producing change heatmaps and being focused singularly on one question is the norm. We all know that change is complex. Change is evolving. Change is multi-dimensional. Change is more than just answering one question. Is there more?


Beyond just asking a singular, one-dimensional question of “is there too much change”. How do we graduate from this and progress to the next few stages of adding further value to the organization? Here are 5 ways to do this.

1. Focus on understanding what the change story is versus asking a singular question.

What is happening or going to happen to the business? Is the business focused in a disciplined way on a small set of changes that will create very large impacts? Are these due to significant operating model transformations that are necessary to take the business to the next level? Are these multi-year transformation programs? How do these translate to behavior, process and system impacts? Would we need to phase a series of changes to drive the behaviour changes?

Or is the business undergoing less transformational but a larger set of smaller changes to be more competitive in delivering better customer experiences, more efficient and effective operations at a lower cost? And therefore, are the people impacts more about connecting across the breadth of changes. Are the challenges on connecting the dots across a wide set of changes, versus a smaller core of large ones?

2.  Collect other data to tell the story. Data has more weighting than opinions and assertions in the business decision making table. Change data regarding impact, timing, types of changes, number of people impacted, etc., will go a long way to tell the story of what the business will be experiencing. Make the data visual. Visual storytelling using data is becoming the norm in digital businesses nowadays. To graduate from manual spreadsheets of change heatmap, focus on digital change storytelling with data.

3.  How is the change impacting various stakeholders such as customers, partners and subject-matter-experts?

A significant percentage of organisations state that they are focused on the customer. Does the business understand the nature of change impact on a particular type of customer at any given time? Without understanding this how could the customer experience be effectively managed? Producing data visualization of how the customer is impacted, at what time, and in what way, will go a long way to lead the business in understanding how best to manage the customer experience during change.

Similar data visualization can also be produced for other stakeholder groups such as partners, subject matter experts, and other groups.

This is an example of ‘Total Impact’ chart from The Change Compass where you can see the impact on stakeholders across time.

4. What is the pace of change?

Is the overall pace of the planned execution of the strategy going to meet the organisation’s targets? When we look at the lifecycle of the changes being planned including the time it takes to embed the changes to realize the benefits, is the pace fast enough? Alternatively, could it be that the business is over-zealous in driving change to the detriment of its people and customers? Is the question not that there is too much change, but that the pace is going too fast and we are not realistically factoring the time required to embed and land the benefits required?

One real example. A business has been focused on adopting agile ways of working. It has also been applying this to grow its business. As a result, the business has commenced a series of experiments to try and find ways to drive business growth. However, because there weren’t specifically defined targets from a planning perspective, the planned experiments kept getting delayed. As a result, the change pipeline became slow. Therefore, overall growth targets were not met.

This is an example of ‘Timeline Chart’ from The Change Compass where you can decipher the impacts of initiatives across time.

5. Focus on what the execution of the organisation’s strategy will look like and if it makes sense.

In planning the execution of the strategy, the strategy team rarely looks at the totality of change from an impact perspective. This is not due to a lack of trying but mainly due to lack of access to change data. Armed with change data, it is possible to understand to what extent different strategies are impacting different parts of the business, and whether these make logical sense or not.

Is there a diverse set of strategies that the company is implementing? Do these have wide-ranging impacts on various parts of the business or are certain businesses more impacted than others? How do we ensure that the ‘why’ of the change and how we are communicating initiatives are clearly linked to the same strategy across initiatives? From a prioritization perspective are there certain initiatives are that more core to the strategy? How do we ensure that these are given more ‘run-way’ to roll out the changes than others? And again how do we ensure that these are highlighted and clearly communicated to impacted stakeholder groups?

This is an example of a strategy implementation chart that visually illustrates the impact that each strategy has on the business and the various initiatives that are linked to the strategy.

Outlined here are just some of the ways in which you can ‘graduate’ from just focusing on change heatmaps as the only way to help the business visualize change. There are other ways in which change management can add value to the organization and we will continue to outline other ways in which this may be achieved. Stay tuned!