10 ways you can easily gamify your change interventions and get immediate results

10 ways you can easily gamify your change interventions and get immediate results

Gamification is the application of game elements to non-game activities.  Whilst gamification has been around for a long time, it is only recently that it has been formalised as a structured method to achieve specific outcomes.

We see the application of gamification all around us.  Yes most of the apps we use on our phones have game design elements.  However, more broadly, we can see this all around us.  Through gamification design, we can make significant behaviour changes.

Two of my favourite examples are:

  1.  Improving aim and decreasing spillage in urinals.

Amsterdam airport wanted to keep the urinals clean and reduce spillage.  They pinpointed the aimed spot within the urinal design where the least spillage happens.  What happened was that men would aim for the fly as a fun activity (or even aiming subconsciously), and thereby reducing spillage.

The fly acts as a target

2. Encouraging physical activity by taking steps vs. the escalator

In Sweden, they did an experiment to see if they could encourage people to take steps over the escalator by making it fun to use steps.  This was at Odenplan (where I used to frequent regularly on my way to bars in my younger days), a major subway stop in central Stockholm.  They turned the steps into a piano where stepping on a step would the be same as hitting a piano keyboard.  The result was that 66% of people chose the steps over the escalator.  Here is a video that shows the behaviour of people as they use the stairs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7frzYFcbqjc

You will notice that these elements are not necessarily about playing a ‘game’ per se.  Instead, they’ve borrowed elements of game design to engage people and make it more fun.  However, ultimately there is a very clear goal and clear behaviours to be achieved.

6-D model of gamification

The 6-D model of gamification is a very practical step-by-step framework to help you design an effective change intervention using gamification.  The value of this framework is that it ensures that there are clear objectives and focus before jumping into utilising one of the many gamification tactics.

These are the 6 steps to follow:

  1. Define Business Objectives – Define the goal you are aiming for.  Is it increasing stakeholder engagement scores?  Is it increasing the viewership of articles?  Or is it getting users to follow the new process?

  2. Delineate target behaviour – Define the target behaviours you are aiming to achieve.  Note that behaviours need to be discrete and concrete.  Then, decide how you are going to measure them.  For example, let’s say you want to get users to follow the new additional process steps.  What actions do you need users to perform?  How do we know if these processes have been performed?  Can the outcome of performing these steps be traced or observed?  Are these documented?  Are they easy to report on?

  3. Describe your players – How well do you know your target audience/users?  In this step, you need to clearly articulate and define exactly what they are like.  For example, what are their demographics?  How do they tend to behave?  Do they have a history of behaving in certain ways in certain situations?  If you need them to add more steps in a new process will they tend to ignore it?

  4. Devise activity loops – In this step, we are identifying the key motivations involved to sustain the desired behaviour.  Are there particular reinforcements required to sustain this behaviour?  Do we need to design feedback loops?  For example, if you need to ensure that the user performs 3 additional process steps, what triggers or reinforcements are required?  What notifications need to be in place to remind the user and motivate him/her to perform these steps?  And how do we reward those behaviours?

  5. Don’t forget the fun – This step may seem quite generic but nevertheless an important part of the design process.  People prefer to perform tasks that are more fun.  However, it is not always easy to determine what is considered fun.  It is about incorporating the element of interest and fun where possible to increase engagement.  For example, can the messaging or graphic design incorporate an element of fun?  Or can the notification or reward elements be designed to incorporate fun?

  6. Deploy appropriate tools – This is the action step.  It is about choosing the right gamification tactic to deploy your change.  There is a very long list of various gamification tactics to be leveraged.  Here, we will review 10 different tactics and demonstrate examples from The Change Compass.

Now that we understand the theory and steps required. Let’s put these into practice.

10 example of gamification elements and how The Change Compass has applied this

1.Onboarding tutorials 

The classic approach for change practitioners in implementing changes has tended to rely on training.  However, depending on the change being introduced there are more engaging ways to socialise the change.

For example, with a new system there are tools to create context-specific walk-throughs and detailed explanations that are more engaging.  These are not necessarily part of the tool design itself.  There are digital tools such as Stonly, Help Hero, as well as a myriad of others that may be leveraged to easily design context-specific onboarding.

Here are some examples how we use context-specific onboarding walk-throughs and information.

This is the context-specific guide to help users navigate the features

The Help button on the right is context-specific to provide detailed guides

The Help button expands providing detailed guidance to the user

2. Theme

At The Change Compass we love using the airport analogy because it explains the various components within the system that needs to hum for holistic portfolio change management.  Each plane is an initiative and how the airport is run is portfolio management.  The available runway is the business change capacity.  Stakeholders understand this because it’s a tangible analogy that they have experienced first-hand.  

We’ve embedded the airport theme in different parts of the application to create a sense of fun and visually more interesting.  For example, here are some examples of how we have done this.

The user experiencing the airport analogy when creating an initiative

Another example of using graphics/language to be on theme

3. Random rewards

This tactic is about creating excitement and unexpected reward to surprise users in a positive way.  Ideally, it would bring a smile to users since they were not expecting this pop-up or another form of reward.

For example, we have created various automation features to make it significantly faster for users to enter data.  And when the task is completed we surprise users with a pop-up that celebrates this task completion.


Here a pop-up animation provides a pleasant surprise/reward

4. Status/points/leaderboard

The leaderboard concept is quite a common tactic to generate engagement and in this case competition.  The idea is that those that have the highest points feel a sense of achievement and recognition.  Please note that it depends on the motivation of users and may not work in all contexts.

We have created a user community to promote sharing of practices.  In our platform there is a leaderboard that shows who has made the most comments.

5. Customisation

Customisation gives users the ability to tailor and customise their experience.  The more users spend time and effort to ‘create their space’ the more wedded and engaged they become.  Most people are familiar with the concept of using avatars as an expression of themselves.  This is another way of expressing who they are digitally.

In our application we allow users to upload their own avatars.  In keeping with the overall airport analogy, we have ready-made avatars of different airline characters for them to choose from.  Again, injection a bit of fun into the experience.

6. Challenges/quests

Challenges or quests keep users engaged and interested.  It could arouse their curiosity and through this increase their likelihood of undertaking a particular task.  It could be a question or a notification to let them know of a new feature.  It could also be quizzes or Q&A to challenge users and thereby increasing their knowledge.

7. Sharing knowledge

Building features to allow users to share knowledge and support one another can be a motivating feature for some users.  Helping others and building credibility can be intrinsic motivation for some.  After all, helping others makes one feel good.

Our Change Tribe community has been a great platform for users to exchange tips and experiences.  Different channels are setup to address different types of sharing.  For example, ‘Feedback and features’, ‘Sharing practices’, ‘What’s new’, ‘Community tips’.

There are various platforms available for you to build community for users.  It can be using your corporate Yammer platform, or others such as Slack or Tribe.

8. Voting/voice

Giving users the ability to have a voice and share their feedback can be powerful and engaging. However, depending on the platform you are using you may need to manage the types of feedback that are openly shared.  Giving users the ability to vote can also be quite powerful.

For example, at The Change Compass our features backlog is primarily determined by users and their feedback.  This ensures that users feel that they determine how the application is designed and therefore feel more invested.

9. Meaning/purpose

Having a clear and strong of meaning and purpose may seem like a no-brainer for change practitioners.  Yet this is a very important one for game design.  The most engaging games that instill a strong sense of purpose for the user, where the user feels emersed into executing on the purpose.

In the same way, designing meaning and purpose into all facets of the change intervention is critical.  Ideally, with every step of the change journey, the user can feel ingrained into carrying out steps towards the purpose of the change.

For example, in The Change Compass we have an Action Planning module where the application steps the user through the analysis of the data, key observations, patterns, and what actions to take to potentially package or re-sequence the change rollout.  This helps to directly address the overall purpose for the user in using the platform.

An excerpt from the Action Planning module to help walk users through analyses and recommendations

10. Social discovery

Social discovery is about enabling the support of users to find one another so that they can connect.  This helps to support those with shared interests or connections.  People are social creatures and we like to find others with whom we have shared interests.  Think about designing your change intervention in a way that supports social discovery and networking.

For example, The Change Compass is about sharing initiatives across the organisation and the impacts they have on different parts of the company.  Initiative drivers can discover other initiatives and how they may potentially impact the same stakeholders.  This leads to better alignment and shared understanding and therefore makes it easier to collaborate for a better business outcome.

Now it’s your turn! What are some of the gamification tactics that you will deploy to improve stakeholder engagement and ensure your change initiative is designed with a view to creating a deeply involving experience for users?

To read more articles about agile practices within change management please click here. Or, to read more about different change approaches click here.

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.

The forest fungi and the secret power of change networks

The forest fungi and the secret power of change networks

This is a picture that I took when I was doing a 5-day hike in the south west of Tasmania called the Western Arthurs region.  This was a hike that I did 4 years ago prior to some of the worst bushfires of Tasmania where significant portions of beautiful Tasmanian nature has been wiped out.  The south west was renowned for endless days of rain with very little sunshine.  Yet, when we were there we were blessed with several days of consecutive sun.  It was one of the best hikes I’ve done globally.  It competes head-to-head in terms of beauty with other trails I’ve done around in the Italian Dolomites, the Himalayas and the Canadian Rockies.

Doing a 5-day hike in the south west of Tasmania means carrying all your food.  It means drinking water from the rivers.  And it means sleeping in your tent.  There are no huts and no running water.  There are not many other hikers.  Most of the time its just you and mother nature.

As a child I was taught at school that in mother nature it is a matter of survival of the fittest.  It’s every tree for themselves, whether its fighting to get sunlight, to absorb nutrients or growing fast enough to take over the land.  So, wherever I looked, I was constantly faced with trees battling with one another to survive.

However, this is not so!  Suzanne Simard is a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia and has been spending over 20 years studying forests. She has found that the ecology of forests is not just about individual trees fighting for survival.  More importantly, what makes a forest is actually attributed to what happens underground.  You see, she discovered that trees and fungi form a partnership, known as mycorrhizas.  Mycorrhizas is a thread-like fungi that fuses with tree roots.  They help trees to extract water and nutrients in exchange for carbon—rich sugars that the tree makes through photosynthesis.

Mycorrhizas is what connects plants to one another within the forest.  Even trees of different species are connected through their extensive web-like presence all over forests.  This means the forest is more than just a collection of trees.  If a tree is on the brink of death it sometimes shares a substantial portion of its carbon to its neighbours.  So, as you can see, there is greater emphasis on cooperation over self-interest.  In any forest, yes there is survival and competition, but there is also negotiation, reciprocity, and even selflessness.

The most amazing part of this is that it describes perfectly the role of change networks!  Change network has the power to connect to every single person in the company.  As a network it is not confined into one business unit, or one hierarchy level, and instead cuts across various organisational boundaries.  Well, at least well designed and effective change networks can.

Let’s dive deeper into what a strong and effective change network looks like….

1) Project-agnostic

One of the most common ways of designing a change network is to have project specific change networks that only support one project.  In this design, each project is charged with sourcing, developing and supporting change champions.  Change champions support one project, and then at the conclusion of the project they are disbanded.

The problem with this design is that there is significant waste created in the system.  It takes significant effort and resources to find, train, develop, and support an effective change champion network.  A lot of projects never achieve what they set out to achieve within the life span of the project since the time required to develop a fully-fledged change champion network can take over a year.

On the other hand, change champions that support multiple projects are able to help join dots across different organisational initiatives and sense-make what this means to the impacted teams around the organisation.  They can also easily cut through and pick up any potential collaboration and synergy opportunities across projects.

Mycorrhizas can take significant time to grow and strengthen to build a healthy and strong forest.  In a similar vein, change champions are the same.  With each project they are involved in, the sharpen their change capability and delivery know-how.  Effective change champions are keen to experiment and try different ways to support end-user engagement and involvement.

I’ve seen change champions dressed up in outfits matched to project themes, delivering cupcakes to impacted teams with core messages attached.  Others create smart reminder ‘cheat tip’ stickers that can sit on the corner of the computer monitor.  Leaders are dressed in space uniforms (aligned with project theme) to drive change awareness.  The options are endless.

2) Cuts across layers

A lot of change champion networks are designed at the mid layer of the organisation.  These are middle managers who can influence the outcome of the change more than frontline staff members, but are not so senior that they are too busy to participate.  Whilst this may seem logical, simply relying on a group of change champion at the mid layer of the organisation may not be sufficient.  

Here’s why:

  • Middle managers are often not the ‘end users’ of systems or processes and therefore are not able to get down to the details required to feedback to the project regarding the suitability of the change, the sentiments of the end users and any tweaks or adjustments required in the change solution.  E.g. any system feature design details or opportunities for user interface changes are not best captured by middle managers if they are not the end users themselves
  • Depending on the organisation there may be 1-3 layers between the middle manager and the end user of the change.  This means the thoughts, emotions and feedback from the lowest layers of the organisation may not be fed up in an effective way.  This can be called ‘signal loss’.  
  • Middle managers are also usually not the ones involved in system or process testing and therefore are not able to provide input to shape the change.  Their input is usually higher level and more about how to engage the impacted teams.  Whilst this is valuable, it may not be sufficient.

To build a strong, vibrant and extensive change champion network, the network needs to reach different layers of the organisation.  This means, not just middle layers but also lower layers of the organisation.  The top layers of the organisation may be engaged and involved through various committees.  Middle and lower layers need to be engaged through change champions at these layers.

What this means is that change champion network needs to branch not just across different parts of the business, but also different layers of the organisation.  In practice, not every change project requires involvement with every change champion since not every layer or every part of the business is impacted.  However, having a capable and extensive change champion network means that at any one-time change champions will be involved in a number of initiatives (since most businesses are undergoing some kind of change at any one time). 

Just like mycorrhizas, the stronger and more extensive the network, the more capable the group is to influence and drive change vertically and horizontally across the company.  This means smaller business groups are not neglected and deprioritised.  

3) Routine interfaces

In the forest, mycorrhizas provide essential sustenance in the form of supplying critical nitrogen, water and other nutrients to plants.  Change champions are no different.  Armed with knowledge and understanding of the change and the latest updates of change impacts, they are able to interpret the messages in a way that is relevant to those impacted, using their language.  This is what a program-level communication is not able to do since each team has their own history, priorities and language that may differ from other teams.

Just like in the forest, it is not a one-way interaction.  The change champion interacts with impacted employees and in this process proactively assesses and ascertains where they are in the change journey.  There is clear understanding of the particular communication, learning or leadership support needs of impacted teams.  They understand their motivations and what de-motivates them.  This is a powerful set of messages that may be fed back to the project mothership.

High performing change champions not only communicate and collect feedback, they proactively sense-check and ‘walk the floor’ (more virtually nowadays) to feel the pulse of the employees.  Often change champions are also impacted themselves, so it is easy for them to empathise with others also impacted.  In this sense, just like mycorrhizas there is a balance of self-interest as well as selflessness to help others in need.

4) Cross network collaboration

The nature of having an extensive change network means that by design there will be different sub teams of change champion networks.  This could be grouped by business unit or by grade levels.  Being able to share and connect to peers is easier than with those who could be considered ‘managers’.

Routines need to be designed so that there is frequent sharing and collaboration across different change champion teams.  In the forest, we know that chemical alarm signals could be generated by one tree to prepare other nearby trees for danger.  A group from one business unit may have sensed potential risk for change failure as a result of something they have experienced that they could share with other teams who have yet to undergo the change.  

On the other hand, it could also be that an experiment has worked wonders in one part of the business that could easily be proliferated in other parts of the organisation.  At a large insurance company, a change champion network wanted to be able to chat freely to teams impacted by the change and be able to respond immediately to their questions.  Impacted teams are frontline staff working virtually and therefore it is not easy for each staff to raise a question, and for a change champion to answer this.  

They came up with a great idea of a chat channel which was approved by IT.  This is now migrated under Microsoft Teams.  In this chat channel any of the frontline team can feel free to ask any questions about how to use the system, short cuts, outages, addressing customer concerns, etc.  In the beginning there were few questions – but slowly, after any raised questions were quickly answered, others jumped in.  This is now one of the most active Teams chat channel in the company.  Naturally, other businesses soon followed.

5) Nurturing the network

Change champion networks do not happen by themselves.  Like any community they need constant nurturing, engagement, support and leadership. 

Typical nurturing activities include:

  • Onboarding and expectation setting for newbies where information is shared regarding the work of the network, core principles, time required, etc.  
  • Change capability sessions on a range of topics including conducting impact assessment, change communication, providing feedback during testing, engaging impacted stakeholder groups, etc.
  • Leader support – It may be valuable for senior leaders to attend certain sessions to show support and visibility to the work of the group
  • Cross business unit change champion networking – a structured agenda could be set up to cross-pollinate and share ideas of how changes are implemented across business units
  • Routine forums where project specific topics may be discussed
  • Formal acknowledgements and prizes for key milestones and achievements
  • Data on change impact, change readiness and change roadmaps 

Change champions can greatly benefit from access to change data.  Change impact data can be powerful to form a clear understanding of exactly what changes are coming and how their stakeholders will be impacted.  

Like any other living network, change champion networks require ongoing reinforcement, support and even challenges.  Membership needs to be regularly reviewed.  Some may not meet expectations and may need to be replaced by others. Turnover is to be expected.

6) Supporting multiple initiatives

Since each business unit will likely be undergoing a number of changes at any one time, change champions would need to support multiple initiatives.  In this case, having a single view of the multiple changes that the business unit will undergo will be powerful.  The change champion is key in connecting the dots across different initiatives in a way that forms a useful narrative and story for the impacted audience.  They need to understand when the crunch periods will be for the business unit and when there could be risks to negatively impact business operations.

Change Outcome
Example of single view of change from The Change Compass

Recent research suggests that mycorrhizal networks link not just within each ecosystem, but that they also link prairies, grasslands, chaparral and arctic tundra – pretty much everywhere there is life on land.  The challenge for organisations is to not only to invest and develop their change champion networks within the organisation, but also to link these networks to those outside the company.  When change champion networks from different companies link up, the amount of learning and collaboration that can occur can be tremendous – blossoming of reciprocity, negotiation, and even selflessness.

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

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

Yesterday Space X ‘Resilience’ (name of the shuttle) successfully took off into space with 4 astronauts.  The astronauts wore super sleek white costumes that were tapered to the body and minimalist in design.  They look quite different than the bulky spacesuits that we are all accustomed to in our heads from the 60s.  What stood out for me was that this was a diverse team of astronauts.  There was 1 female, 1 black and 1 Asian.  This was definitely not the all-white Caucasian males we are used to seeing in the past.  It made me ponder about diversity and the change journey that companies are driving.

We all know the drill with most change journeys.  It ‘must’ start at the top.  It needs to be driven by senior managers.  Then the rest of the managers need to support it and convince their people about the change journey.

So what is wrong with this?  Well, we also know that things often don’t go according to plan.  Employees may ‘resist’ the change. They would then be labeled as ‘resistors’.  The change manager on the project will then need to devise a plan to deal with these resistors to ensure the change goes smoothly despite them.

Having a diverse mindset and approach to designing the change journey means that it may be easier to anticipate potential challenges and obstacles in the way.  So how can one incorporate more diversity in the change approach? And what does this mean?

In true agile form, gathering a large diverse group of stakeholders earlier in the change journey is critical.  This not only engages impacted stakeholders early, more importantly, it ensures that the diverse inputs and thoughts are incorporated early in the change journey design.  Having a diverse audience means that you will get a range of challenges and obstacles thrown at you.  This is exactly what is needed.  It is much more efficient and productive to lay these on the table earlier in the initiative planning stage than to discover them during implementation.

This maybe in the form of ‘PI planning’ or Program Increment planning.  This is also a core part of scaled agile methodology.  The PI planning process has a set agenda that includes a presentation of business context and vision, followed by team planning breakouts where teams create their iteration plans and objectives for the upcoming Program Increment.  This means a key milestone where the project delivers a set of changes.  

By having a diverse set of stakeholders in PI planning you’re able to interact early, brainstorm, and flesh out potential push-backs from ‘resistors’.  This form of the diversity of ideas also contributes to having potential divergent forms of the solution that the project is proposing, and avoid a ‘tunnel vision’ where there is a narrow determination of the likely change journey.

The design firm Ideo (who came up with amongst lots of famous products, the mouse) proposes that during ideation stage of the initiative that one should go for quantity over quality.  Get as many ideas out in the fewest minutes possible.  It takes lots of ideating to get brilliant ideas.  One of the most important rules is not to judge the ideas.  Often the best ideas seem ridiculous.  Think Airbnb where people stay at your house when this was not a concept that people were comfortable with.

The other aspect of designing the change journey with greater diversity is about involvement.  The more different levels and types of stakeholders are involved the more successful it will become.  Going back to our initial example of a typical project that is driven top-down.  Now, imagine if the change is driven top-down, bottom-up, middle out, and across the organisation.  This change can be seen as ‘viral’ since its driven from every direction.  Such is the power of diversity.  

How good change practitioners can become invisible heroes

How good change practitioners can become invisible heroes

As change practitioners we often feel that we create the success behind the scene.  We design great change experiences, and if all goes well, then people won’t notice it.  By this, I mean that if the impacted person has a smooth experience, and that there are no negative incidents or frustrations, then he/she won’t notice the change curve that had just occurred.  I often hear this ‘gutfeel’ from change practitioners.  However, there is more to this.

Designing and executing good change experiences is not just about how skillful the practitioner is.  It is about understanding the system.  Let’s explore this further.

An effective change approach is about assessing what the change needs to be and diagnosing key components of the overall system required to transition impacted stakeholders from current to future.  What are these?

For example, you are implementing a new system and you are hearing that the last system implementation did not go smoothly.  You conduct a series of interviews with key stakeholders to understand what happened.  What you found that was there was insufficient drivership from leaders.  There were adequate communication and training as a part of the rollout.  However, the change was not sufficiently reinforced by middle managers and therefore after the first 2 months where there was good traction, things slowly faded away.  Users started to not use the new system.

In your analysis of the overall system, elements included:

  • The extent of commitment and visible reinforcement from various leaders
  • The understanding of the why and how this was communicated
  • How effective learning interventions were
  • Effectiveness of launch visibility on the behaviours of impacted stakeholders
  • Influence of manager/leader levels on the behaviours of impacted stakeholders

Learning from the previous system implementation project, you then conducted stakeholder readiness assessments to understand where they are at.  You then utilise what you have learned to tweak your initial change approach to address key levers in the system to ensure the project is successful and avoid previous mishaps.

What you are doing is problem-solving and preventing failures by looking at the whole system.  You’ve broken down the system into its elements and assessed how critical these were in contributing to the success of the overall project. 

You are what author Dan Heath calls the ‘Invisible Hero’ in his book ‘Upstream’.  You’ve saved the day by ensuring the right elements were considered in the change approach and ensured a successful outcome.  Most would not see the work you have put in and there is usually no direct attribution that you lead to the successful outcome.  You’re not a visible hero.  In fact, the Project Manager was probably the one credited with being a hero.

In Dan’s book some of the key concepts of how one can become an invisible hero by problem solving before the problem happens include:

  • Focus on changing the overall system, versus just one problem
  • Identify what has become normal and zoom in on this as a problem
  • Systems can be complicated, and therefore when you tweak elements of the system expect the unexpected
  • Design ongoing feedback to ensure ultimate success
  • Detect problems before they arise by addressing any early warning signs
  • Use key points of leverage to exert the greatest impact

By focusing on the overall system the change practitioner can start to become less reactive and more proactive.  A reactive situation is one where you are constantly fighting fires, dealing with issues raised by stakeholders, and delays in implementation timelines.  A proactive situation is one where you’ve incorporate key risks and challenges and addressed these early on prior to issues happening.  You’ve anticipated stakeholder concerns, potential embedment issues, lack of sponsorship, and ineffective reinforcement of stakeholder behaviours.  This is what Dan Heath means by ‘upstream’, that you deal with problems before they occur.

Looking at the system across the portfolio

Let’s take this one step further.  Organisations are all implementing multiple initiatives.  Stakeholders are not rats in the lab that only face one singular project.  At any one time, they are usually facing multiple changes.  Some large and some small.  To truly look at the whole system we need to consider the system from the impacted person’s perspective.

Some examples of this includes:

  • Key targeted behaviours driven across multiple projects
  • Overall change capacity impacted by operational factors such as customer work volumes, seasonal work changes, and of course any Covid implications
  • The sizes of impacts of various projects, and the priority placed on each of them
  • The nature of impacts on different stakeholder groups and how impacts on one stakeholder group could, in turn, result in an impact on another group
  • Which stakeholders are most impacted by changes and what additional tactics are required to support them through the multiple changes
  • The content of training and communication collateral across different initiatives and whether there is synergy, duplication, or clash
  • The change maturity of the impacted groups and to what extent they need additional readiness support for the project you are rolling out

At The Change Compass we focus on providing data visualisation to show elements of the system, whether it’s the relative change capacity of stakeholder groups, to what extent change saturation is exceeded, identifying key behaviour changes targeted across initiatives, identifying hotspots for potential synergy across initiatives, or assess which initiatives are at most at risk due to level of impact versus stakeholder readiness levels.

Are you ready to be an invisible hero?  To what extent are you already incorporating systems analysis and planning as a part of your change approach and implementation? With the right data, stakeholder feedback, and focus, examining the whole system does not need to be complicated, cumbersome or time-consuming.  In the post-Covid agile world where things are constantly in flux, examining the system is even more critical.  This is the ultimate test of the change practitioner in being the architect and tinker.

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