Disco, diversity and managing change

Disco, diversity and managing change

I recently went to a concert to see some of the super soul bands of the 70s and 80s including The Jacksons, Sister Sledge, The Village People and Pointer Sisters. In addition to funk and soul there was a big component of disco music as well. I started becoming more interested about the history of disco music and how it came about. According to Wikipedia, disco music emerged from the late 60s and 70s and started as a mixture of music from venues popular with African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, Italian Americans and the LGBT. “Disco can be seen as a reaction to both the dominance of rock music and the stigmatisation of dance music by the counterculture during this period”.

This led me to think more about dominance of one idealism or concept over others and how limiting it is to only be able to operate with one concept, whether it be dancing or a way of working. I often hear in organizations that we should aim for ‘one-way, same-way’ to simplify things for people. Do we really think that one way of approaching something is the best for developing that particular capability? And do we really believe that people can only ever handle one way of doing something? Yes, in the beginning, taking a step-by-step process and not introduce multiple concepts may make sense. But in the longer term would we not benefit from different concepts, different methodologies and different ways of working? (I.e. more diversity vs. no diversity).

Most large organizations are focused on ‘diversity’ within the organization. Diversity can be in the form of gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, age, etc. Having diversity in the organization is premised to provide a richer set of perspectives and points of view and therefore an important part of building talent. Diversity is also critical from a PR and public perception perspective as it paints an image of the type of organization and the types of people in it. For example, a company with low percentage of women in senior leadership roles or management roles could be seen as one where women may have equal opportunities. The same can also be said for other diversity areas such as age, sexual orientation and ethnic background.

Why do we need diversity in change management?

Change management, like other disciplines, such as IT management, or HR, or Project Management is an area that cannot be fully covered with one singular framework or perspective. Just as there are countless frameworks, concepts and methodologies in HR so is the case in change management. Models include Kubler-Ross, Lewin, ADKAR, Bridges, Kotter, etc. Different models may suit different types of changes. Please read our article ‘Diagnosing for change‘ on how different change management models may be better for certain types of changes.

By using just one singular model we could be restricting our organization’s change management capability. At university we study different theories and concepts with the goal that by understanding different approaches, we start to build our understanding of the whole discipline. This allows us to pick and chose one or a combination of different approaches based on the situation. The same applies to change management. It is by understanding different change management approaches that we start to be able to tailor our approaches given any change situation.

For leaders across an organization many would argue that it is best to provide only one framework or concept for all of change management. If it is really the case that all leaders have never been exposed to any change management frameworks at all (which is unlikely to be the case for large organizations) then starting with one framework may be a good idea.

However, business leader may need to understand:

  • leading people from an engagement and emotional connection perspective
  • How initiatives are implemented and their role in it to make it a success
  • How to coach others through the change process
  • How to track, measure, analyse and report on change and embedment progress
  • The art of how to communicate in a verbal and written way using the right words and tone

All of these could have different concepts and frameworks to provide the richness of building understanding and skills. Yes it is possible to simplify different frameworks and connect them. However, as leaders continue to grow, they will need to be exposed to different concepts and approaches. In the past, projects used a waterfall methodology where tasks were planned in detail and there was little room for plan changes. Now most organizations utilise some form of agile methodology for many of their projects. For some projects waterfall methodology may be more appropriate and for others agile. Having the diversity helps organizations achieve more successful initiative outcomes.

How do we achieve diversity in change management?

Here are some areas in which to build diversity of thinking and approaches to enrich your organization’s change management capability.

  1. Change management frameworks

As mentioned before, having several change management frameworks build a richness of understanding of different approaches

  1. Change analytics

Collecting a range of change management data is incredibly valuable. Data on the impact of change across the organization enables leaders to make effective planning, sequencing and prioritisation decisions on how initiatives should be rolled out. This includes impacts to stakeholder groups such as employees, third parties, partners and customers.  Other data such as change readiness levels for initiatives, initiative benefits and business performance indicators are critical to ensure initiatives will land effectively.

  1. Change leadership

Managing change is a part of leadership. Therefore, just as there is a big range of leadership frameworks so is the case in change leadership. For example, Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence, Situational Leadership, Kotter, etc.

  1. Change service offering

Providing a rich set of change services can also help build change capability. Change services may include such as:

  • Initiative change management
  • Portfolio change management
  • Change leadership capability development
  • Change analytics and decision making support
  • Change coaching for leaders
  • Business-as-usual initiative coaching/support
  • Change communications support
  1. Project delivery methodology

Change management should also be geared to support a range of project methodologies that the organization is using to implement its projects. The richness of being able to flex between different project methodologies mean greater value and overall Organizational capability in managing change. Different project methodologies could include:

  • Agile – Scrum
  • Agile – Kanban
  • Lean
  • Waterfall
  • Prince2
Designing quality change experiences

Designing quality change experiences

Successfully achieving business outcomes through change requires good people change experiences.  A good employee change experience means that he/she is more likely to be engaged and more able to deliver a great customer experience.

How does one go about designing and crafting this experience?  To achieve accolades in people experience one needs to think broadly about a range of experiences.  This could involve anything ranging from manager discussions, online discussions, avenues for peer conversations, senior leadership behavior and supporting collateral.

Designing a great change experience for employees working in an organization is no different than designing a great quality of life for dwellers living in a particular city.  A city needs to focus on having a vibrant economy, happening retail scene, good access to parks and nature, great transportation links, and developed sports and arts scenes.  All of these contribute to the quality of life of those who call the city home. In a similar way, in organizations we need to focus on designing a range of experiences so that employees are not only engaged but supportive where the organization would like to move to.

There are foundational ways of engaging with employees during change that apply for all organizations, such as manager-employee conversations, authenticity, and clarity of the message, and involvement in the change process.  On the other hand, progressive ways to engage with employees using technology can also contribute to making a great change experience.

Here we outline 7 ways to design great employee experiences.

  1. A dynamic change champion network supporting various change initiatives.

A well-organized change champion network provides great development opportunities for employees to get involved in change initiatives. This is a forum for grass-roots action to drive organizational change.  Employees come to share their ideas, work on preparing their respective teams for change, and help disseminate critical information.  Change champions are preachers who internalize the accountability to sell to their colleagues the end state of where the change is going.  They also see it their role to provide feedback from the frontline so that upper levels understand their concerns and input.  Change champions that support the business across a range of changes can mean that they have the ability to mature and grow in capability over time.

  1. Active social network channels to discuss, share and support one another during change.

Active social network channels such as Yammer is a great way to engage employees and encourage idea sharing.  Like any social network channel it needs to be monitored, however the benefits greatly outweigh any disadvantages.  Those who may not have the time to attend town halls or too shy to speak up can leverage digital channels to be heard.  There are some great examples of employees leveraging social network channels to come up with suggestions of how best to address customer needs, creating a hotbed of ideas for continuous improvement.  Employees can also share their experiences in using the new system and raise any questions they may need help with.

  1. Effective learning processes

Progressive organizations are realizing that effective learning outcomes can be achieved by providing different options for employees to learn in their own terms.  In standard face to face learning settings, there is always some employees who breeze through the content and do not require a lot of time to digest the learning. At the same time, there are always those who need a lot more clarification, support, and hands-on experience to feel confident.  Self-paced online learning is a good option to cater for varying speed of learning. Change champions can also be leveraged to provide any face to face support.  Sand-pits (or training environment) may also be made available so that employees may get their hands dirty and play with the new system, process or way of working prior to the release of the change.

  1. Effective air-traffic control of changes to manage change capacity

A great change experience requires careful planning and coordination.  Most employees experience multiple changes at any given time.  Careful thought needs to be given to how the organization coordinates the ‘air-traffic’ of change initiatives so that we don’t have multiple things landing at the same time.  There needs to be one-view of change impacts so that employee experiences may be carefully designed.  This involves having the right forum and routines to review the change impact data so that effective sequencing decisions can be made.  To read more about how to do this and how to manage multiple initiatives click here.

  1. Engaging manager behaviours throughout the change process

Manager behavior is probably the most critical part of an effective change experience.  A manager who is open, authentic and engages in open conversations with the employee about change has significant influence in the employee’s change experience.  We all know managers who are absent, who don’t have one-on-ones with the employee, not share information, and who do not gage for feedback or concerns regarding the change.  These managers contribute to a significantly negative experience for the employee.   Senior managers have a strong role to play as do formal sponsors of the change.  They are tasked with selling the change and ramping up support and momentum within the organization to transition to the new state.

  1. Engaging and interesting collateral about the change

Change marketing is a key success criterion for creating engaging employees experiences about the change.  To support the marketing process effective collateral needs to be designed to send the right messages to the right channels.  Visual imagery, quotes, infographic, and slogans through engaging mediums such as videos and posters can go a long way.  With so much information clouding the employee on a daily basis, the collateral needs to stand out.  The collateral needs to aim to simplify the message and clearly articulates what the employee needs to know, whether it is the ‘why’ of the change, or what the employee needs to do.

  1. Positive and fun events to generate buzz and excitement

In the corporate world, there is the standard show-case or meeting to talk about what the change is and demonstrate what the new changes are. After a while, these can become ho-hum and do not contribute to a positive and energetic employee experience. Think fun, loud and even un-conventional ways of designing events to generate buzz.  Examples could be costume characters aligned with the change theme, theme dress days, fun competitions or morning/afternoon tea events.


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What you can learn about change management from this famous Eames video

What you can learn about change management from this famous Eames video

“The Powers of Ten” are two short documentary movies made by Ray and Charles Eames who are most known to us as makers of fabulous mid-century furniture.  These include the Eames lounge chair and ottoman and the DCW (molded plywood chair).    The Powers of Ten is touted as the most famous movie made by Ray and Charles Eames, completed in 1977.  The work depicts the scale of the universe according to an order of magnitude.  The video starts with a couple having a picnic.  Then it zooms out into space and then zooms back in again, eventually zooming into molecular levels.  The link to the famous 9-min video can be found here.

Continuity and change

The Eames office states that “Powers of Ten illustrates the universe as an arena of both continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery”.  To what extent do you understand your organisation in terms of its continuity and change?  What are the activities that are constant and ongoing from a business-as-usual perspective and what are those that are being changed and altered?  What are peak customer periods where it’s all hands-on-deck for the frontline staff?  How are changes being planned having taken these busy periods into account?  Are there changes that are still being embedded that need to continue before new changes are rolled out?  What is the right balance of continuity and change for each part of the business?

Relative cultural environment

The work cultural environment of the employee is critical in how we understand change.  As the movie starts to zoom in or out we see a very different view of perspectives within almost every frame.  When we are sending communication messages during change from the above, how do these make sense to employees at different levels?  Do we understand their view as we craft these messages?  What is the employee’s particular cultural context and what lenses do they view things through?

As we implement a series of changes impacting employees across the organisation, do we have a clear view of what the relative impact is on the employee?  Often we see initiative owners who are very keen to market their initiative as the most significant and impactful change.  How does this compare to other initiatives relatively? Are there other initiatives that are more important and impactful at one level of the organisation compared to another level?  How do we support the clarity of the initiatives that are of higher priority for the organization?

Cross collaboration through context

To drive change success collaboration is required between the drivers of the change and the receivers of the change.  The drivers of the change need to supply the information, the intent, the energy, the leadership and resources for the change.  The receivers need to supply the feedback, support, understanding and behaviour change.  Collaboration happens when there is cross understanding of each other’s context. For example, why are we changing? How are we going to do it?  What does it require?  So understanding the cultural context of the receivers is also crucial for the change drivers.

Sense of curiosity

Adopting a sense of curiosity is also important for the change driver.  The film explores the boundaries of the universe and atomic levels of understanding.  In the same way, the change driver also needs to call out what are the boundaries of understanding across the organization.  Are there some parts of the organization better engaged and represented than other parts?  Are some more inundated with changes and will have less focus compared to another part? What does our data tell us about the context for each layer of the organization?  What are the fields where you have no data?  All of these are important considerations.

Ray and Charles Eames are icons of design in the current century.  Their exploration and play in creating the Powers of Ten has raised important implications for us in change management.  How do we learn from Ray and Charles Eames to be designers of change? How do we see the forest from the tree and the tree from the forest?  Food for thought …

Read about the 5 things Eames taught me about agile project delivery.


To understand more about how to be able to see and to zoom in and out of the change context and landscape of an organization please visit us on www.thechangecompass.com or contact us on admin@thechangecompass.com

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