Most change practitioners follow a standard change approach. For the past 20 years popular change management content have focused mainly on one part of the discipline – change methodology. As a new-ish discipline there has been a big demand for the ‘how to’ in change management. These include how to follow a sequence of steps in executing a project, and step-by-step path to becoming a better change leader. Clear easy-to-follow steps with associated acronyms have dominated our discipline. A data-driven change approach has not been on the horizon for most organisations.
Is following a methodology bad? Well, not necessarily. A methodology helps to instil critical steps that may ensure that a minimum set of outcomes be achieved in implementing a change initiative. The assumption is that by following these steps, a set of basic work is done that it would be harder to fail. Especially for less experienced change practitioners, following a methodology is highly beneficial.
After while, many also tend to rely on their ‘experience’ and tend to apply similar approaches for most change initiatives. This may be OK if the stakeholders and change initiatives are all similar. However, as stakeholders evolve with changes and new changes take place that are more ‘transformational’ or require different attitudes and skills, then what has worked in the past may not work in the future.
We know that the most popular Google keyword searches in Change Management are mostly related to methodology. For example, some of the most popular keywords include change management process, prosci change management, adkar, etc.
However, the bigger question is should we continue to follow a methodology-driven approach in designing our change approach? In a nutshell, for more experienced change practitioners …. No. For the rest of the article let’s explore why this is the case.
What are the benefits of a data-driven change approach?
The design of the change approach is supported by data and therefore less biased by personal preferences and unsupported opinions, and as a result when you present the change approach you are less likely to face objections and disagreements
With the right data, you’re able to articulate the risk of not using a particular change approach
Ability to take a ‘whole picture’ view of the change landscape in making the right change implementation decisions
Match the right change approach to the sponsor and executive leadership styles so that the initiative is leveraging those leadership facets, with any supplemented tactics as needed
What is a data-driven change approach?
A data-driven change approach is a change approach that is informed by data. What does this look like?
With a data driven change approach, historical data of change and business performance informs the business case. Possible data that could be used for business case may include:
Historical data on business improvement performance results, especially targets vs actual results
Current operational indicator performance and any previous change and business improvement interventions
Change maturity of impacted business units including operational maturity in supporting change implementation
During initial scoping of the initiative, the following critical data elements may be taken into account:
Use historical change initiative outcomes to rate potential sizes of impact on business units
Use easily available data in the areas of people, business operations, and process/systems to assess spread of the impact
This is traditionally one of the most important parts of change approach design and the phase where all facets of the determined change approach is documented and agreed by stakeholders. Taking a data-driven approach means:
Using only demonstrable data and evidence to derive an fact-driven change approach
If there are elements of the change where there has not been previous data available, then early experiments may be designed to test the selected change approach
Stakeholder engagement approaches are determined based on what has worked in the past, e.g. survey responses from town hall sessions, leader feedback,
Communications channel and content design are designed based on previous demonstrable methods, e.g. communications hit rate, ‘like’ rate, article viewership, etc.
Project priority ratings across initiatives to ensure clear alignment for stakeholders
Portfolio level change impact information from other projects to assist in change release sequencing and capacity planning
BCG has come up with a simple 2 by 2 grid for determining change strategies. The 2 axes are ‘clarity of ends and ‘clarity of means’. Clarity of ends refers to what the end state looks like, and clarity of means refer to how clear the path is to getting to the end state.
Using this grid there are 5 major different types of change strategies:
Escaping the swamp
Souting and wandering
It is important to note that whilst this may be a good general reference in determining the change approach, leveraging evidence and data in other aspects of change can greatly determine the right change strategy to be adopted.
In fact if you’re driving a large multi-year transformation, it is likely that you may need to adopt different change approaches during different phases of the program. It also depends how your stakeholders are responding and what approach best suit the situation.
For example, a ‘hill climbing’ approach could be appropriate if it is clear from your stakeholder feedback that upcoming milestones are not super clear. On the other hand, the change is complex and requires persistence and unwielding push from the senior management to continue. Whereas, in the beginning of the transformation journey it maybe that a lot of exploration and discover is required to figure out what the change looks like. In this earlier phase, a ‘escape the swamp’ may be the change approach.
This is one of the most critical parts of initiative roll out as this is when the rubber hits the road and change starts to take place. Some of the data-driven aspects of the change approach involves:
Continuous pulsing and checking of stakeholder readiness
Regular surveys and dip-stick checks on adoption behaviours and change sentiments from impacted stakeholders
Monitor business operations performance related indicators that track movements in change adoption
Social media sentiment analysis of impacted stakeholder groups, and types and amount of questions asked at appointed communication channels, and other potential indicators on people capability in adopting the change
Training attendance rates, and participant test scores
Ascertaining what the change environment looks like for impacted stakeholders is a key linchpin for a data-driven change approach during the implementation phase. When the ‘rubber hits the road’ as execution starts to take place, you may find that things are not going exactly as planned. It could be that stakeholders completely did not understand the positioning or that change tactics in imparting the value of the initiative did not resonate.
On the other hand, it could be that there is a myriad of other initiatives that the impacted business units are experiencing. Therefore, it is difficult for employees to focus on one set of changes, when there are several types of changes happening concurrently. With lack of focus, coordination and clear priority set by leaders, it often happens that none of the changes land successfully due to saturation and lack of focus.
With the right portfolio level data, it is possible to identify these risks and avoid them altogether. Even if you don’t have easy access to portfolio level change impact data, at least have the conversation with your business stakeholders to understand what else is happening and how are things landing from an employee perspective.
Even after go-live it is important to keep tracking the change adoption to ensure that there is sufficient continual focus to reach full benefits. In fact this is one of the key reasons why a lot of projects fail. It is because the whole project has been wrapped up too quickly post release and there is not enough accountability and focus placed on continually achieving the benefits targeted.
What are some of the data points to focus on? This depends on the nature of the change. Typical metrics to focus on include:
What does a data-driven change environment look like?
In the previous section we focused on all the various data points that can be leveraged throughout a project to make data-driven change decisions to move the initiative forward toward the right trajectory.
In an organisation where data drives how change is designed, orchestrated and implemented … what would this look like?
Let’s approach this in 5 different themes in order to describe core practices that should take place to support an environment that thrives on data-driven change.
1. Democratisation of data/Openness to share data
Data democratisation has been an emerging them in the IT and analytics world. What it means is basically that everyone has access to a range of data and that there aren’t unnecessary gatekeepers that control the data and stopping the data being shared. The data can be used to run the business, understand what is happening, conduct rootcause analysis and overall make better business decisions.
The overall goal is to have as many people as possible access data with little barriers in accessing the data and knowing how to read and understand the data.
Imagine an organisation where employees and managers have access to change data and have the ability to understand what is happening, how each other are responding to change, their concerns and how this is supporting or impeding change. There is significant power in harnessing the greater understanding for the change that is being driven, to garner involvement, engagement and connection.
2. Investing in capturing and publishing data
An assumption in the previous theme is that the organisation has the focus on collecting and harvesting the data. This includes change data. Without the investment in gathering change data there will be nothing to work with.
There is no doubt that most progressive organisations understand the importance of investing in data collection and analysis. There are many ways to determine the value of the data. These include opportunity cost, regulatory fines or settlement value. In terms of the value of change data, the best way to understand it is in terms of opportunity cost, where without the right data there could be significant cost in making the wrong change tactic decisions.
Further more, there is significant benefit in monitizing the company’s historical change data. Some examples of this include the ability to use historical change data to determine seasonal workloads on particular stakeholder groups and roles. Change data may also be linked to other business performance data to track overall change adoption and benefit realisation. Let’s say one project is aiming for $2 million in benefits, and across the project portfolio the total benefits targeted is $15 million. Even if change data supports just 20% of the achievement of full benefits, this equates to $3 million just in terms of tangible financial benefits. There are also non-tangible benefits that can be tracked as well.
3. Incorporating data governance
Data governance is about defining who within the company has control over data assets and how these data assets might be used. This includes people, process, and technology required to manage and protect the data assets.
For IT, Marketing and HR departments the concept of data governance is part of the expected parts of managing the function. There are often dedicated roles, teams and committees in undertaking data governance processes and systems.
For change data, there is also a need to ensure that there is some level of data governance. This does not necessary mean building a complex function if there is no need for such. What it does mean is to have concerted focus and effort to ensure that the change data is managed in a way to ensure that the data is achieving the value that the organisation is looking for.
Some elements of data governance here may include:
Data storage and operations: Ensuring that the data is stored in a safe, and easily accessible location
Data security: Ensuring that the right privacy and access level is provided, however without so much control that user access is inhibited
Data integration and interoperability: The change data should be easily extracted, shared, replicated and utilised across systems if required
Documents and content: There are different types of change data, and the trick is to ensure all these different types of files and data are easily accessible
Data quality: Ensuring that the data is updated sufficiently and can be trusted is key. “Rubbish in, rubbish out” is a common phrase that is true nonetheless. Data that is not constantly refreshed is also one that will not deliver value to the organisation.
4. Leadership support
Like everything with managing change, leadership support is critical. Some go as far as saying that without leadership support no change will fly. This may not be true since there are lots of examples of grassroots-driven changes that are not initially driven by leaders. The same goes with driving a data-driven change environment.
Getting the blessings from your senior leaders will go a long way to driving a ‘data is king’ change environment. However, even if your leaders do not start out being your champions, there are ways to nourish and develop their support.
In business, leaders naturally look to data to make various decisions. Traditionally in change management tangible and visual data has not always been plentiful to support decision making. As a result, leaders may not know how to read, interpret and utilise change data. You will need to educate and support leaders to understand how to utilise change data and guide them through examples and scenarios.
5. Collaboration across initiatives
Teams are effective for various reasons. When you’re in a team you are able to form strong personal relationships and receive that support that you need. Through ongoing work with your team you can focus on a set of outcomes that you can contribute together with the team.
However, the nature of teams is that you will by design see other teams as ‘outsiders’ and have less intimate relationship with them. Those you are less familiar with you also develop less trust.
And as a result, project teams tend to stick within their own teams and focus on working with their particular set of stakeholders. However, to design a better employee or customer experience in planning for change, initiatives need to work together. There will be plenty of situations where changes in releases, planned activities will be better shifted to achieve a better employee outcome.
In situations where there is multiple releases impacting the same stakeholder group, most will leave it to the project management office to make the priority call. However, the process of escalating the issue for decisions to be made takes time and may sometimes create unnecessary anxiety across concerned project teams. A better way to approach this with the right change data is that project teams can proactively work together as a part of release and stakeholder readiness planning.
What is the overall opportunity in taking a data-driven vs. methodology driven change approach? Hopefully this article has convinced you some of the advantages and how to go about applying it. “Data is the new oil for the digital economy”. With Covid the reliance of business on data has been a wakeup call. This will continue to intensity in the years to come. For change practitioners we also need to adopt a data-centric approach in our work with the organisation. The alternative could be that we lose our influence, trust and relevance for the business in this digital world where data is embedded within all facets of our lives.
What will your next step be in taking a more data-driven change approach?
Leading change as we know it will no longer be the same. Our audience has changed. Our industries have changed. The way people work is changing. The way to engage people is changing. And change has to change as well. I recently spoke with a manager from a government department who said that their organisation has been thrusted into a digital workforce by a 10-year leap. What they had thought unimaginable has literally occurred overnight. Even against a culture and workforce that had resisted virtual ways of working for many years, this is suddenly the current reality. How shall change management keep up with the post-Covid world? How might we as change leaders lead differently?
In this guide we will be dissecting each section of what has changed around us and how change management approach needs to change going forward.
Theme 1: Increased speed of digitisation, automation and robotics
Given the challenges of social distancing and virtual ways of working, many companies are leveraging this opportunity to speed up the implementation of digitisation. Call centres workforce offshore has been constantly disrupted due to Covid. As a result, companies have implemented working from home for call centre consultants. Others have invested deeply in automation and robotics to better cope with oncoming customer call volumes.
Even today, there are already several AI-enabled robot call centre agents who are able to handle a range of common customer enquires and tasks. Many are designed to speak just like humans are are at times almost indistinguishable from a real human voice. We may not be there just yet in terms of dealing with more complex customer enquires. However, given the significant pace of technical development, we are not far from this.
Chinese companies have been fast-reacting in response to Covid given widespread business impacts on their operating models. For example, JD.com Is a Chinese e-commerce company that has been removing human touchpoints in its operation through process automation and robotics. JD.com has invested in high tech and AI delivery through drones and, autonomous technology and robots and has one of the largest drone delivery system capabilities in the world. During Covid they ramped up their network to supply household goods to those who are in lockdown.
What does this mean for change management? Change management also needs to catch up and gear-up for the digital organisation. Just as digital call centre agents become the workforce of the company, digital engagement and data centricity should be the focus for the change practice. Key focus areas for the change practice should be:
A) Automation and digitisation – A standard, repeatable and effective way of engaging with stakeholders must be a key focus area. This includes:
Surveying, pulsing and measuring stakeholder readiness in a way that is standardised, scale-able and repeatable with effective reporting. Examples could be Microsoft Forms, Survey Monkey or Google Forms that are setup to continuously track stakeholder readiness
Engagement tools to support co-design and involvement of employees. There is a myriad of digital tools already available such as Yammer, Trello, Microsoft 365 tools such as Teams, and Slack.
Change impact assessment and portfolio management. Leverage digital ways of capturing, sharing and reporting on change impacts of a range of stakeholders such as customers, partners and employees. With the speed of change iterations across initiatives and increasing numbers of changes emerging, this is a core capability for the future agile organisation. Tools such as The Change Compass may assist.
Use of robotics in engaging with a virtual workforce. Projects and initiatives drivers have still relied on traditional ways of engaging with stakeholders and employees such as emails and newsletters.
To be more engaging, dynamic, and scalable, it may also make sense for the larger and more complex initiatives to leverage bots in engaging with and addressing stakeholder concerns. With a range of providers available, bots may be designed with minimal effort required. Standard FAQs may be combined with prompting questions. Surveys may also be incorporated within bots as well.
The best part of all of these digital tools is that analytics and reporting are designed into the tool and therefore saving change leaders significant time and effort in using data to report on progress. In the digital and virtual organisation, data needs to be constantly nurtured, measured and updated. Opinions and assertions will no longer be tolerated. Agile teams base decisions on updated data and trends.
As change leaders we have the opportunity to measure and foresee changing perceptions, readiness and needs of stakeholders. In traditional organisations, leaders would walk the floor or physically approach staff to gauge concerns. The new organisation needs to be geared for constant, data-based sources of stakeholder sentiments, using not just lagging indicators (e.g. employee satisfaction, and readiness surveys) but leading indicators such as sentiment analysis.
Theme 2: Increasingly frequent business disruptions
With what seems to be increasingly frequent business disruptions such as natural disasters, epidemics, and business models, companies need to be agile, resilient and flexible. What would have been typical corporate practices of 3 or 5 year long-range planning can now be thrown out the door. It doesn’t mean that companies no longer need to do long-range planning, but that plans need to flexible enough to take into account constant disruptions and industry changes.
This also needs to be supported by an organisation that is capable of flexing up, down and across. This means, upsizing and downsizing as required to better cater for customer volumes. Flexing across to other supplementary or complementary products or services as required to discover and benefit from new revenue sources.
What does this mean for change leaders?
With Covid, most organisations have experienced the criticality of having an effective business continuity plan. To execute this, it requires the ability to suddenly change directions within a short period of time. Leaders need to be able to effectively engage with and establish trust with their teams during these tumultuous times.
Business disruptions can bring out the best or the worse in the existing capability of the organisation. Without existing trust between the leadership and employees, any changes in the course of the company may lead to confusion, greater distrust, stress and therefore significant dip in performance.
Some may argue that this seems natural since during the change process it is normal to expect a dip into the ‘valley of despair’ during the initial period of the change, prior to confidence being established. However, several McKinsey studies have disproved this and that companies do not necessarily need to go through a significant dip in performance in order to rise up to ‘normal’ performance levels.
Building change agility
To deal with constant and unexpected disruptions organisations must build agility. What is agility and how does one build it?
McKinsey (2015, Aghina & De Smet) proposed that agility is about driving speed with stability. This is the balance between stability (resilience, reliability and efficiency) as well dynamism (fast, nimble and adaptive). This means having a relatively stable set of design structures, governance arrangements and processes within a relatively unchanging set of core elements, or a fixed backbone. To match this, a set of loose, dynamic elements that can be adapted quickly to new challenges and opportunities.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) outlined that change agility is about increasing the likelihood that its strategies will be realised, through effective portfolio, program, project and change management. This includes:
Establishing a common understanding of sponsor behaviours and expectations
Modify reward systems to favour team collaboration over individual contributions
Establish decision authorities at the lowest possible level, eliminate layers of governance structures
So what should change leaders do?
Build transparency and trust through constant engagement and involvement. One-way talk is not going to cut it if the goal is to achieve a deeper level of organisational engagement. Employees need to be involved in understanding organisational challenges and have the opportunities to be involved in contributing to and shaping how the organisation is addressing business risks and challenges.
This requires discipline and ongoing commitment, starting with small micro-habits such as communications styles, leveraging the right communication mediums and instil ongoing assessment of these channels and employee sentiments toward engagement effectiveness.
Digitally, what this can look like is a leader who uses several mediums such as Yammer, intranet, email and regular town hall to engage in 2-way dialogue with employees. For organisations that do not yet have leadership trust, there may be initial reluctance to speak openly and candidly. Openness to share opinions and feeling safe to do so needs to be gradually cultivated and cannot be forced. Trust can only come with authenticity. The leader also needs to demonstrate that feedback, opinions and recommendations have been listened to.
How do change managers support change agility within initiatives?
Whilst most change managers are focused on supporting one particular initiative, there is a critical role that change managers can play to support change agility.
Designing change releases into smaller pockets of ongoing releases
By designing smaller, and more digestible releases into the organisation, the initiative is supporting the ongoing development of change capability for small, ongoing changes. Over time, the continuous experience of small changes will help to shape the organisation to get used to small changes are the new norm. Change becomes business as usual.
Small changes are also more likely to be successful as the quantum of change is much easier to adopt than larger changes. The perception of the difficulty to adopt the change is mitigated. The actual process of change is also a smaller step to take.
2. Setting the pace of change
Just as the design of change releases can shape the organisation, so can the pace of change. Change managers should work with their initiative(s) to design the speed of change so that it enhances organisational learning for greater speeds of change over time. Just like running, one starts training by doing shorter runs within shorter distances. Over time, distances and pace can be increased to build overall running speed.
Organisations that are experienced in concurrent and ongoing weekly changes are used to having to get ready for and adjust to changes as the norm. They know where to go for information and help. They are also confident that the support mechanisms are there so there is good trust in their leaders and in the support system for change (whether digital channels or particular initiative roles).
Previous experiences from a faster pace of change means that they are used to knowing what to go through in terms of change. They are familiar with what questions to ask, what support is required and even how to support one another.
3. Design effective engagement routines that support deep engagement
Most organisations have standard business as usual communication routines such as monthly newsletters, town halls, team meetings, etc. The usual practice is to leverage these channels to let impacted stakeholders group know about impending changes.
What’s the problem with this? The problem comes when there is lots of changes impacting the same stakeholder group and the existing communication routines don’t seem to have enough time to go through everything. For example, using team meetings to communicate changes to impacted customer facing staff could be a standard practice. If the team time becomes overwhelmed with various announcements of changes with limited time for other BAU activities such as development, general communications and engagement then there lies the problem.
How do we get around this? Build the expectation to leverage existing digital platforms and promote a ‘self help’ culture whereby teams regularly visit intranet pages, Yammer, read emails or newsletters to find out what is happening. If the only time an impacted customer facing staff finds out about the change is through a team meeting then this is not the most effective use of meeting time.
A more effective engagement mix might be a combination of multiple mediums, using emails, yammer, other digital channels such as intranet pages to communicate the message. If the expectation is set with customer facing staff and there is existing practice of proactive seeking of information, then this decreases the risk of reliance on one particular channel.
The act of proactively seeking information also by itself enhances the engagement of the impacted customer facing staff who would then seek information mediums that they are familiar with and are comfortable using. Any team meetings or town halls could then be used for Q&A and interactions versus information download.
4. Incorporate the emphasis on agility within learning interventions
Learning agility is the “propensity to continually learn, unlearn and relearn mental patterns and applications from various sources” (Mercer). Learning agility supports and promotes agility mindsets and behaviours.
An employee who is agile in learning is willing and able to learn new things fast, is open-minded, inquisitive and has the patience and drive to learn new areas. To achieve this, employees need supportive leaders who emphasise the importance of continuous learning and also role model this behaviour.
They also need a learning environment where there is time allocated to learn on the job. Leaders take into account failures as a part of learning and establish a culture that is safe to fail. Many organisations such as Google, Intel and Microsoft in fact celebrate failure when the right steps are taken as a part of the learning process.
When you are designing learning interventions as a part of your initiative, design interventions that support learning agility. For example, as a part of learning content, encourage learners to try practicing the new behaviours as exercises. Provide online feedback loops to support continuous learning. Leader learning should promote the above-mentioned behaviours of supporting employees to try different behaviours and any failures that may occur.
Initiative-based learning should also support broader organisational agility through emphasising on the role of innovation and implementing test-and-learn or experiments. For example, content exercise could include asking the learner to come up with ways of arriving at the desired outcome. If the outcome is to follow particular process steps, ask the employee to come up with ways to proactively support and champion this new process across the team.
5. Build an effective narrative around the need for agility
To build or support an agile organisation, communication is key. A compelling narrative or story must be built and implemented that tells the ‘why’ of agility. What is agility important for the organisation? Why not? What does this mean? How to achieve agility? These are common elements of a clear narrative.
A clear and compelling narrative should be developed and linked with various initiatives. Through this, multiple communications from different initiatives are supporting the same message. With each change, the impacted employees are receiving the message about the importance and need for having an agile mindset.
Each leader should also be encouraged to tell their own stories to support the narrative. Nothing is more powerful than an authentic story told by a leader. Ideally the story should be personal and reflects an experience that the leader has been through that shares the theme of agility. Stories loose their power and effectiveness if they are just read out and full of ‘corporate speak’.
Juggling a multitude of continuous agile changes
In the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world where things are constantly evolving and where agile practices are the norm, how change management is set up should also change.
Imagine you’re spinning 30 plates at the same time. Some plates are smaller some are bigger. Some are spinning at a faster rate than others. Some need to finish spinning earlier than others. There are new plates that need to be added to be spun. To add to the complexity, the plates are constantly evolving. Some are changing colours, others are changing sizes. As a result, how you spin each will need to change as well based on how they are evolving. This is what a lot of organisations are facing right now.
So how should one deal with this situation?
Change management vision and strategy
A clear and logical change management vision and strategy is required to support where the organisation is heading towards. With the various changes mentioned previously, the role of change management is to realise the strategy through a successfully delivered business plan, including various initiatives.
Understanding where the organisation is heading towards, the end state and the roadmap to get there, the change management function needs to identify key strategies to enable successful change. Is the strategy focused on driving agility through leadership and agile practices? Should change management focus primarily on initiative delivery, capability development or governance and reporting?
Is there a clear translation of how each change strategy or tactic will support the realisation of each part of the business plan?
To support the various initiatives as a change management function we need to look strategically at the skills required and the volume of work upcoming. What are the emerging change skills required to support the initiatives? Is there a large volume of regulatory changes? What about digital projects? Depending on the nature of projects emerging a strategic workforce planning exercise is required to plan forward. Develop scenarios of volume of projects and change support requirements to develop likely resourcing demands.
A mapping of various change skills should be carried out to flesh out key skills required to support upcoming initiatives. Learning and development skills, stakeholder engagement, sponsorship coaching, communications, organisational design, impact assessment, etc. may be common change skills to map out.
After the workforce planning exercise is completed there should also be a quick quarterly review process to assess to what extent the plan should still remain the same or that it needs to alter based on what has changed. In this way, the change function can regularly keep tab on any evolvement in resourcing needs.
3. Managing the portfolio of changes
With multiple constant changes that are being iterated constantly, a portfolio approach to managing changes is required. A portfolio approach to managing change requires a view of the change initiatives across the board. With a view of all initiatives, one can then better make decisions about prioritisation, change capacity, capability required, operational implications and change maturity required.
Data has become and will continue to become a critical enabler for change management, just like most other disciplines. With data, change professionals can make significant impact on business effectiveness and drive benefit realisation.
Real time data can help support fast and agile decision making and allow the business to move with speed
With sufficient historical data organisations can also make predictive analysis to understand what the future may hold using data
Audience data can allow change professionals to address specific stakeholder needs based on data such as preferences, readiness and engagement levels
Portfolio level impact and readiness data can help leaders zoom in on high risk initiatives
Drive data-based decision making versus stakeholder opinions and assertions
Digitisation of change data to manage the increasing complexity of measuring change across initiatives
To read more about developing change analytics maturity please visit the following article.
Instead of being structured around individual projects, to support evolving initiatives from a scale and effectiveness perspectives change practices need to re-think the best structural options.
Another popular way is for change practices to be structured around change functions such as learning and development and communications. However, to be more adaptable and flexible to support emerging initiatives it may make sense to adopt an ‘agile team’ structure where teams are organised around portfolios and impacted business units, rather than disciplines.
The advantage of these options will be that change will be better positions to scale up or down as required depending on resource requirements. Focus around business units will ensure a more business-centric approach to change that takes into account multiple initiatives that impact the same stakeholder group.
Theme 3: Evolving virtual ways of working post Covid
Post Covid organisations will examine their ways of working and re-assess what is possible to manage any residual Covid risks as well as leveraging virtual working capabilities developed during Covid. Organisations will leverage virtual working as much as possible as it reduces cost of operating, however, balancing this with face to face office time to maximise productivity and effectiveness.
Organisations also need to take virtual working to the next level by building greater organisational capability. For example, previously most brain storming sessions could only be done via face to face. Now companies need to buckle down and truly leverage various digital tools to enable team discussions, collaboration and idea sharing, 100% virtually. With some working in the office and others at home or other locations, this will be critical.
For change practitioners a key element of the new ways of working is engagement approaches. Truly engaging employees and stakeholders in the post Covid world will be challenging. We all know that face to face communication trumps other forms of communication in terms of impact. However, when this option is not available, clear practices need to be established to maximise engagement effectiveness.
Meeting practices. Organisations should establish clear meeting practices that are effective virtually, such as ‘round the grounds’ checking on how each participant is feeling or thinking, pausing for feedback, asking questions to check understanding, using video to show body language, etc.
Strengthen organisational culture of employees proactively using particular digital channels for communication. A significant effort needs to be placed on enabling employees to habitually check and participate in digital channels such as Yammer or Microsoft Teams to exchange ideas and keep up with changes. With the pace of change increasing, reliance on email and intranet pages is no longer sufficient and also because these are largely 1-way communication vehicles. With a culture where employees are proactively engaged in digital engagement channels, driving change will be more effective as an outcome
Diversity of audience. Organisations are now realising that if they are able to have most of their employees work virtually, this means they are not restricted to hiring talent from particular locations. This means the talent pool can be national or even international. With a greater diversity of physical locale of employees and even cultures, come challenges with engagement and communications. Particular cultural or regional references may need curbing to ensure there is an inclusive working environment. Strategies may also need to be developed when implementing change initiatives to this in multiple physical locations.
Performance management. Managing performance virtually will be more complex for managers who cannot ‘see’ the employee. A degree of trust and outcome based management needs to occur. For the change practitioner, the focus is on how to measure and track performance within a mixed working environment both physically and virtually. For digital changes it may be easier to measure change virtually, but for other changes there may be challenges in sensing behaviour change in a virtual environment.
Health and safety management. With more employees working from home there are risks such as ‘digital stress’ (from too many video meetings for example) and environmental risks such as children or other family disruptions. During Covid the working day seems to have expanded, by 2 hours in Britain, France and Spain and 3 hours longer in America (The Economist). Change practitioners need to be sensitive to this when there are multiple changes happening, likely leading to risks in health and safety of employees.
The post Covid world presents challenges for organisations and therefore the change practitioner. With challenge comes opportunities. The environment is ripe for the change discipline to take the bull by the horn and transform into a strategic and value adding service to the organisation. One that is critical to its ongoing transformation and one that is evolving with the times.
To read more about project planning post Covid click here.
In almost every change initiative there is an element of behaviour change. For some initiatives the behaviour change required is large and complex whilst for others it cane be as small as pressing different buttons and using a different user interface. Effective behaviour change is one of the most critical outcomes that the change practitioner can hope to achieve. With the achievement of desired behaviours come the ultimate benefit associated with an initiative. On the other hand, not achieving the behaviour change targeted means that the change has not succeeded.
Given the importance of behaviour change in every initiative this article aims to cover key aspects of how a change practitioner should approach and design the behaviour change. Yet, successfully designing and implementing behaviour change is one of the most challenging tasks for the change practitioner. It is common place that many change practitioners do not have the experience to know how to achieve successful behaviour change.
The definition of behaviour change
So what is behaviour change?
Behaviour change “refer(s) to any transformation or modification of human behaviour”.
This seems like a fairly general definition that is all-encompassing and can include anything ranging from behaviour change in a psychological context or in a social or workplace context.
However, a key part of behaviour change is to recognise that behaviour, by definition, must be observable in some Shape or form. A behaviour can be verbal, non-verbal or physical behaviour. However, a behaviour cannot be ‘perception’ or ‘thinking’ since these cannot be observed nor displayed necessarily.
Another feature in behaviour change is that the behaviour is to be changed from the current state to a future state. The quantum of the change determines the complexity of the change required and the extent to which a series of change interventions is required to achieve the desired future state. This means, if the behaviour change is easy from the impacted person’s perspective, then the change approach can be fairly light and does not need to be complex. However, if the quantum of the change is large, then a heavy design of change interventions is expected to achieve the outcome.
Some examples of behaviour change within a change initiative context includes:
Using a different computer program interface with different layout or keystroke steps in performing tasks
Different process steps required in disclosing financial details in business reporting
Proactive coaching employees through feedback to improve sales effectiveness
Reporting on risk incidents that are not compliant with company standards
Actively establishing rapport with the customer to demonstrate empathy by acknowledging their feelings and demonstrating effective listening
Speak up against bullying behaviours amongst colleagues
The importance of focusing on behaviour change
Inexperienced change practitioners will normally just followed the standard cookie-cutter approach of filling out the various change templates such as stakeholder matrix, change impact assessment, and a change plan. And then proceed to develop a communications plan or a learning plan before executing on implementation.
So what is wrong with this?
As called out previously, in almost every change initiative there is a set of desired behaviours required to achieve the end state of the change initiative. The job of the change practitioner is to figure this out and design a change program around the achievement of these behaviours. Just by filling in templates and carrying out standard change approaches will most likely not achieve the targeted behaviours.
For example, in transitioning users from an old ERP system to a new digital system with a new look and feel, it is critical to identify the core behaviours required in the new state. Is it that in using the new digital system the user has access to a lot more timely data and therefore the behaviour change needs to be around 1) proactively checking for data and derive insights and 2) use these insights and data to make better decisions.
This means that if you were to just focus on communicating the change and train employees on how to use the new digital system, the whole project may not be deemed to be successful. This is because it is simply a project of ‘installation’ of a new system. However, the benefits targeted by the new digital system is about employees gaining more insights through the ability to easily access a range of data previously not available. Employees may know how to use the new system but it does not mean that they will automatically exhibit these desired behaviours.
One of the tricky things about behaviours is the ‘knowing’ vs. ‘doing’ conundrum. Just because someone knows how to do something it does not mean they will necessarily do it. Just because there is a pedestrian path, it does not mean that everyone will always use it. In a similar way, just because someone knows that the company wants him/her to document sales activities, it does not equate that all sales people will document all sales activities. In fact, in practice, we know that spending time on ‘admin’ such as documenting and entering sales activities into a system is often the last thing sales people want to do.
In the next section we will cover how to drive behaviour change.
How to achieve behaviour change
BJ Fogg model
Dr BJ Fogg is a Stanford professor who founded the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. BJ Fogg also wrote the New York Times bestseller ‘Tiny Habits’. What I love about this is that the Fogg model is incredibly simple and practical. It is grounded and backed up by significant empirical research and not just an ‘opinion’.
The Fogg model highlights 3 key elements that must converge at the same time for a behaviour to occur.
1. Motivation – Different motivators have different impacts on behaviour
2. Ability – This refers to how easy it is to undertake a behaviour. Some characteristics include time, money, physical effort, brain cycles (or ease of understanding and processing the task at hand), social deviance (the extent to which a behaviour is out of the social norm), and non-routine (behaviour that disrupts an existing routine)
3. Prompt/Trigger – These are reminders of events that prompt a particular behaviour. It could be an alarm, an associated image/event/person/scent, etc that reminds the person of the behaviour.
The power of this model is in its simplicity. You can apply this to any change initiative and the model will guide your thinking on how to design effective behaviour change. When something feels easy to do (low ability), then it will not require a lot of motivation to do it. Alternatively, when something is perceived as very hard to do, then it will require very high motivation to understate the behaviour. The key is to aim above the line. So, either focusing on increasing ability or increasing motivation will result in above the curved line, which means the behaviour taking place.
Example of applying the Fogg model
Case: You are implementing a cost cutting exercise due to the impact of Covid on the organisation. As a result of this exercise, the impacted employees will need to pick up parts of the roles of others who have been let go. The behaviour change required is that impacted employees will need to cover a broader set of tasks and at times have a heavier workload as a result.
Motivation: The impacted employee’s motivation is currently impacted after seeing their fellow colleagues lose their jobs and hence feeling worried that their jobs may be impacted. This is despite reassurances from senior managers that no more jobs will be cut for the time being. The challenge will be to sufficiently motivate these employees by continuously reassure them of their job safety and work through the transition of having a broader role responsibility. Appealing to the focus on supporting customers and not letting them down maybe a theme to reinforce.
Ability: It is critical to assess to what extent impacted employees are able to carry out new tasks assigned from a skill perspective. Training or coaching may be required. The other area to address is workload concerns. The perception that heavy workload is required will hinder their likelihood of carrying out the additional responsibilities. Workload prioritisation and protocols are key topics to talk through to reassure employees how workload may eventuate during heavy periods.
Trigger: Different triggers may be designed to remind and reinforce the uptake of new accountabilities. These may include manager 1:1s, team reporting, open visual display of performance indicators, email reminders, colleague reinforcement/coaching, etc.
According to the Fogg model if the new accountabilities are significant it would be best to break these down into smaller behaviour increments vs a ‘big bang’ transition. It could be that there is a gradual transition whereby a period of continuous coaching is required after gradually introducing new sets of tasks for the employee to uptake and practice. After the transition period is completed, the employee then formally uptakes on the full accountabilities.
According to research findings, it is much easier to adopt the new behaviours if the discrete behaviours are broken down to small increment behaviours. Fogg has used lots of different example of this one of which is doing push-ups. He started by doing 10. Then he would add 1 more every day to the push-up exercise, eventually getting to 100 push-ups. Adding a trigger to the new behaviour is also critical. For example, Fogg gave the example of doing sit-ups first thing in the morning as soon as you get up or to do pushups after going to the toilet. The event of getting up or going to the toilet then becomes a trigger for the new behaviour.
Cognitive Behavioural approaches to behaviour change.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a widely established clinical approach to changing behaviours in patients suffering from various psychological conditions or disorders. Cognitive approaches are based on the fact that the way one thinks determines one’s reaction and therefore one’s behaviour. For example, self-talk is a mechanism to change one’s opinion or perception. By constantly reinforcing and verbalising positive statements about oneself may improve one’s own perception of oneself. Alternatively, constant negative self-talk leads to negative self-perception.
Behavioural approaches are based on research that started with Pavlov’s research on dogs where he associated bells as a trigger for food. After a period of time, every time the dogs heard the bell they would start salivating, with salivating being the behaviour. This process of associating a trigger with a behavioural reaction is also called ‘conditioning’. The process of conditioning is to ‘re-program’ the subject so that a new behaviour is introduced in reaction to a trigger.
There are many ways in which cognitive behavioural approaches may be applied to changing a person’s behaviour. For example, lets use the previous example of implementing a new system.
Creating or changing impression of the new system
A communications campaign may be devised to create or change existing impression of the new system. This would be similar to any marketing campaign that associated particular imagery or messages with a feeling or impression. Over a period of repetition, the employees will start to associate positive impressions and key messages with the new system. Any tag-lines that are reinforced by manager briefings or town hall sessions would also act the reinforce the same messages.
As a part of the training of the new system, it could be that other than learning the ins-and-outs of the operating the new system, that the employee needs to be more proactive to look at customer information so as to provide more value-add suggestions to the customer. Practices during the session, with subsequent reinforcements by the team leader or manager would act to build the behaviour change.
The trigger for new behaviours could be any acronyms, diagrams, tag lines or pictures created as a part of the campaign or training content. It is however important that there is a period of reinforcement or else the behaviour may not occur. The reinforcement may take form in terms of manager support, communication messages, prizes, competitions and reporting on behaviour progress.
This is why post-release embedment is so important as the embedment process focuses on constantly reinforcing the behaviour so that it becomes second-nature. Without this, the newly acquired behaviour will not be sustained. This is like exercise. Exercising a few times and your body starting to get the drift of what to do is just the start of the change. Without a period of constant exercising it will not become a habit.
The other important cognitive behavioural approach of embedding new behaviour is ensuring adequate and effective social support. Whilst some employees may be quite self-sufficient and are able to resolve any system issues themselves. Others may require a lot more hand-holding. This is why it is critical that there are change champions in place who can coach and support employees to support the right behaviours and resolve any obstacles in adopting the new system fully.
How to measure behaviours
Measuring behaviours is absolutely critical because without effective measurement it is difficult to ascertain to what extent the desired behaviours have been obtained and sustained. It is the old adage “what gets measured matters”.
So what are some of the ways in which to measure behaviours? These are some common examples.
Manager rating based on observation
Attendance (e.g. training)
System/digital reporting that tracks behaviour in a system
Employee-wide surveys specifically designed to focus on targeted behaviours
What categories in which to measure behaviours?
There are many considerations or dimensions in measuring behaviours. The following are some of these:
Time: How long would you want to measure the behaviours to ensure that they have fully embedded and incorporated into business-as-usual. Typical practice is several months after the ‘release’. Tracking reinforces behaviours. This means the longer the tracking mechanism continues – the more likelihood the behaviours will last longer
Level of behaviour change: Is the behaviour being measured black and white in its determination? I.e. is it easy to categories if the behaviour has occurred or not? Or are there different levels of behaviour achievement? E.g. If you are measuring if call centre staff has exhibited behaviour is reviewing customer data and offer suggestions, are there different levels of ‘value add’ behaviours based on customer data, in which case there could be a scale to rate this. Alternatively, it could also be a yes/no type of classification
Frequency: How frequent is the behaviour being displayed? Is it that the goal is to promote the frequency of the desired behaviour? Or are there certain limits expected? For example, if we would like call centre staff to offer value add calls with the customer, are there particular ‘ceilings’ or limited after which it may no longer be valuable for the customer?
Situational considerations: Ranking and classifying behaviours should also always consider situational factors. For example, it could be that the customer was not in the right emotional state to receive value-add suggestions and therefore the behaviour would not be appropriate for that situation. It could also be that the call centre consultant has been suffering from sickness or has been struggling with family difficulties and therefore for a period of time was not performing effectively. As a result, previously acquired behaviours could have dropped temporarily
How do we drive full embedment of behaviours?
These are some key call outs in ensuring that the behaviours you have set out to transition to not only are achieved but are sustained. Pretty much all aspects of change could determine the extent to which behaviours become adopted or not.
1. Executive sponsorship and drive. You will hear a lot of this in literature and articles that with executive sponsorship and drive it is much easier for behaviours to be sustained.
2. Employee community support and reinforcement. This point acts almost as the balancing point of the previous one. With sufficiency employee community support and reinforcement it is possible to drive continual behavioural reinforcement even without strong executive sponsorship.
3. Measurement and reporting. With the right measurement and reporting, employees receive feedback on what the performance has been and this constant feedback act as a strong reinforcement. This is especially the case if everyone can see others’ behavioural performance. It could be by business unit or individual, but ‘naming and shaming’ can work if that is consistent with the organisational cultural values.
4. Early and continuous engagement. This is a change management 101 point. With early and continuous engagement impacted stakeholders will feel much more engaged with the change. As a result, they will want to exhibit the desired behaviours to make it a success because they feel that they are the ones driving the changes. Alternatively, if the change is perceived as designed and implemented by another party without consultation with the impacted group, there could be resistance or lack of embedment.
5. Focus on continuous improvement. A culture of continuous improvement can also support continual and full embedment of behaviours. If there is a strong culture of analysing the current performance, working on root cause analysis and team work on actions to improve performance, then behaviours will be adopted. In this situation, any situational or personal factors or not exhibiting behaviours may be called out and addressed to achieve the targeted outcome.
Complexity of embedding multiple behaviours across multiple initiatives
Most organisations are implementing multiple initiatives at the same time. This is the norm as organisations stay competitive, stay relevant and in business. When there are multiple projects going on all driving seemingly different behaviours.
How do we embed multiple behaviours?
1. Understand the different behaviours across initiatives. Rather than focusing on every single behaviour driven by every initiative, the key is to capture and record the top few behaviours targeted by each initiative. For large organisations with lots of initiatives, this may seem like an impossible feat. It could be organising 1-2 workshops to capture these behaviours. Do note that different initiatives may be at different stages of the product life cycle and therefore it may not be possible to capture all behaviours at a particular point in time. Having a regular change portfolio meeting where this could be discussed and captured iteratively would be ideal.
The Change Compass has just released a feature to aid the collection of core behaviours across initiatives so that these may be analysed, understood and linked to aid better implementation alignment. You can tag key target behaviours to each initiative or project. For example, customer centricity or efficiency. Then you can look through those initiatives impacting one part of the business and the core behaviours being driven across multiple initiatives.
2. Analyse and group the captured behaviours. After compiling the behaviours across initiatives the next step is to group and understand them.
Are there behaviours that are part of the same theme? For example, what are initiatives that are promoting a closer focus on the customer by promoting better listening and empathy skills?
Are there any behaviours that are ‘contradictory’ to other behaviours? Here is a real example. For a bank, one initiative was tasked to retire and close off a particular credit card due to a lack of profitability. However, at the same time, the same team was asked to try and sell more by their business unit head to meet their sales target.
3. Examine behaviours that are grouped into the same theme and think of ways to better align and join the dots to improve execution and behaviour embedment. This step is the most crucial step and involves running workshops across initiatives to better align approaches and plan for synergistic implementation of change across initiatives. Key discussion points or opportunities may include:
Aligning key messages and positioning for common behavioural themes. For example, if 2 initiatives are focused on improving customer-centric its, how might these better align their communication activities, look and feel of communications collateral, wording and positioning of behaviours.
Align, cross leverage and cross reference learning content. If multiple initiatives are all driving common behaviours, can content be cross-reinforced across multiple initiatives to drive a consistent and aligned user experience. This also ensures that there are no duplication of efforts in covering the same content
Align the sequencing and implementation of change activities. If 2 initiatives are both driving similar behaviours, can the various change activities be better sequenced and aligned to drive a better outcome than 2 separate siloed approaches. For example, can the executive sponsor speak to both initiatives in their town hall address, and can change champions be cross leveraged to talk about both initiatives to help impacted teams join dots around the common behaviours?
Successful and fully embedded behavioural change is the epitome of successful change and transformation initiatives. Achieving this is not always easy but having the right focus and adopting a structured approach to design behaviour change will ensure initiative success. Don’t be afraid of experimenting to test different ways in which to drive behaviour change. Keep iterating with different approaches to drive the full adoption of behaviours, which in turn will then ensure the full achievement of initiative benefits.
Disruptions are all around us. First, the various disruptions with Covid on all aspects of people’s lives around the globe. Now we have the riots across the US as well as other countries about racial inequality. With these, we have the backdrop of constant technology changes that constantly challenge how we run our lives. What next you may ask?
Disruptions to how change initiatives are managed seem to never cease. You think you’ve been through the worst with Covid impacting the budget expenditure on projects and the implementation timeline thrown up in the air due to lack of business capacity. The racial riots are disruption normal business operations and it is back to business continuity plans for some organisations. How might we continue to manage our various change initiatives amongst these constant disruptions?
In being able to effectively respond to constant business disruptions on initiatives a set of routines and practices need to take place prior to the individual disruptions.
Use the three horizons of growth as a framework to focus effort on initiatives
McKinsey’s three horizons of growth describe 3 horizons of which initiatives should be clustered. Each horizon forms a critical set of initiatives from which the organisation may continue to develop and grow. If all focus was placed on horizon 1 that are focused on the here and now shorter-term initiatives, then the organisation is not placed to deal with emerging challenges addressed under horizons 2 and 3. Vice versa if all the effort is placed on horizon 3 and not 1.
With business disruptions, the effort and expenditure placed on initiatives can be evaluated in light of which horizon they are in. For example, if the Covid disruption is so significant on the business that it’s a matter of survival, then all efforts should focus on horizon 1 initiatives that contribute to organisational survival in terms of revenue and cost management. If the disruption is significant but not debilitating then it may be wise to spend half of the effort on horizon 1 with the rest on horizons 2 and 3.
Adopt a portfolio approach to manage changes
When initiatives are treated in isolation it is very difficult to flex and adjust to changes compared to a portfolio approach to manage change initiatives. Individual initiatives have limited resource capacity and project activities will have limited impact compared to multiple initiatives.
Having a portfolio approach to manage changes means having established the following:
Data-based approach to manage change impacts with a view of change impacts across initiatives
Ability to visualize and plan the change impacts from a business-unit-centric and stakeholder group centric perspective
Ability to manage resourcing across initiatives so that as required resources may be flexed up or down across the overall portfolio based on prioritisation
Ability to guide and prepare each business for multiple changes across initiatives
Key stakeholder messages may be synchronised and packaged across initiatives versus an initiative by initiative approach
Improved ability to map out clearly the various skills and capabilities being implemented across initiatives to avoid duplication and improve synergies
What can change practitioners contribute in planning for disruptions?
Derive different change scenarios
Scenario planning as a technique is rarely used in a project planning context. However, it is especially critical and relevant within an agile environment. Agile project practices mean that changes keep iterating and therefore it may be hard to anticipate what the end solution or changes will look like. It may also be hard to anticipate how the business will respond to the changes being proposed if we don’t know what the changes will look like.
To allow adequate time to plan for changes it is very helpful to derive at least 2 scenarios. In an agile environment, change practitioners need to adopt a hypothesis-based approach to deriving change approaches. Let’s take an example of a standard system implementation project. In rolling out a new system these could be 2 likely scenarios based on the hypothesis being posed.
Hypothesis: The system being implemented is easy and intuitive for users and therefore the change approach will be sufficient with awareness raising and a 1 hour training session
Scenario 1: The hypothesis is true and all users have found it easy and intuitive to use and therefore the change approach proposed is sufficient to prepare the users for this change.
Scenario 2: The hypothesis is only partially true and there are some user groups who struggled to understand all features of the system and need additional help and guidance. Additional training sessions with coaches are proposed
A different way of contrasting different scenarios will be to derive different project expenditures and funding requirements and resulting change delivery work. For example, under the system implementation project, a ‘Toyota’ approach of delivery could involve minimum training and stakeholder awareness generation. For a ‘Rolls Royce’ approach of delivery which will cost significantly more could include tailored coaching sessions for each stakeholder group, 1:1 coaching for senior leaders, a long awareness campaign, and an extensive measurement system. This helps stakeholders understand the cost of delivery and will help them to select an appropriate delivery model.
The usefulness of planning ahead to anticipate for different scenarios mean that steps may be taken to be ready for either of the scenarios and so the project team will not be caught off guard in case the hypothesis proposed is proved false.
To be able to visualize different scenarios it is important to show the different impacts of the scenarios. This includes the impact of time, sequencing, and impact levels on stakeholder groups. With a different rollout approach will stakeholder groups have better bandwidth and ability to adopt the change or will the bandwidth be more limited?
Here is an example of a scenario planning visual where the user can simply drag the impact bars to different times and be able to save this as a scenario. After saving the scenario the next activity will be to analyse the scenario to make sense of the potential impacts of this scenario on the business and impacted stakeholders. Are there project dependencies that need to be taken into consideration? What is the overall change impact across initiatives as a result of the changes in this scenario? How does this impact the customer versus internal stakeholder groups?
For scenarios to be used in a practical way it is important to be able to list any ‘proof points’ that outline how we can tell that the scenario is becoming true or not. These proof points can include anything ranging from stakeholder reactions, the timing of the implementation, the complexity of the features or solution, cost, and other tangible measurements such as system response time, time taken to perform the process, etc.
Agree on decision making principle with stakeholder
Prior to any disruptions, it is important to agree with stakeholders key decision-making principles. Having clear, agreed decision-making principles means that key decisions can be made without subjecting to personal opinions or preferences. During any times of disruption Decision-making principles can be organised as ‘trade-off’ principles with a prioritised order of importance. Below are some examples:
People resource bandwidth
Stakeholder readiness and acceptance
External media implications
Factor in critical path in project planning
The critical path method is a way in which a project’s key interdependencies are linked and mapped out in a linear way so as to understand the key logical points along the project. From this any potential disruptions, slippages or delays in project deliverables and how they impact the remaining deliverables can be clearly understood and planned for.
A clear understanding of the critical path within a project means that with any disruptions to activities the impacts of this on the rest of the deliverables can easily be articulated. To deal with the disruptions to the project a longer implementation may need to be negotiated with the impacted businesses, or depending on the nature of the disruption, a different project approach with different deliverables may need to be derived.
In this article, we discussed multiple ways in which the change practitioner can help the organisation get ready for various disruptions to change initiatives. During periods of disruptive change, it is even more critical for change practitioners to demonstrate their value to lead and maneuver around and plan for uncertainty. Agile organisations are well placed to deal with disruptions, however, an effective set of routines, practices, preparations, and capabilities are all critical to building overall organisational readiness.
During Covid organisations are re-planning their initiatives to better cater for the various impacts on people and business capacity.
We have summarised key steps in change re-planning during Covid using The Change Compass in this 1-pager infographic. Follow the step by step guide to support your organisation during any re-planning exercises.
“When disaster strikes, it tears the curtain away from the festering problems that we have beneath them,”
Most of the world is now shrouded in a thick cloud that is the coronavirus. It is shaping a lot of our daily lives, from shopping, travelling, visiting friends, work, economy and not the least health. Some businesses are going under whilst others struck with sudden increased demand. Chaos and panic abound. There will certainly be significant levels of economic and therefore industry impacts resulting from the virus. As a result of the sudden shifts in business decisions, what is the role of the change practitioner? With the right tools, data and approach, the change practitioner can be the lynch-pin to enable the organisation to plan effectively through the impacts of the virus.
Let’s outline some of the current landscape and what a lot of businesses are undergoing.
Offshore staffing changes
Many companies are impacted by quarantine decisions. In certain countries such as the Philippines there is a significant presence of offshore operations. To rapidly contain the spread of the virus the Philippines government on Monday has ordered community quarantines covering half of the population leading to business shutdowns. What this means is that many companies have suddenly found themselves in the position of having to rapidly ramp up their onshore operations to deal with customer call volumes.
Even those who have other offshore operations not in the
Philippines will be wise to review their business continuity planning in the
event that their business partners are impacted.
Work from home
To protect employees from the spread of the virus a significant
number of companies have asked all of their employees to work from home where
possible. This also leads to a
significant shift in the ways of working for these organisations, especially if
the core skills of leading and managing workforce virtually are new skill
sets. To read more about how to deal
with the impacts of the virus go to our article Managing
Change During the Cornoavirus.
Most companies have also implemented restrictions on
travel. Some countries have even
implemented international travel quarantines, essentially reducing the majority
of inflows of visitors.
For those companies who need to ramp up onshore operations, this presents challenges in terms of the speed of resource ramp-up to meet customer demands. Challenges include the availability of technical equipment such as headsets and laptops, as well as finding the talent pool when there is restricted travelling.
Other companies are significantly benefiting from the current
situation, for example, digital retailers such as Amazon, Ebay or medical
equipment providers and suppliers.
Resource ramp down and cost containment
A lot of retailers are hard hit by the sudden slow-down of retail
foot traffic. Airlines have drastically
cut flights and travel agencies are hit by the lack of travel bookings. Some have started to lay off staff in anticipation
of continuing downturn in customer numbers.
Even for those who have not yet laid off staff, there is focus on cost
containment amidst cost challenges from declining revenue.
Business continuity plans
Most of the businesses negatively impacted by the virus in a
significant way are resorting to their business continuity plan. This means that the chain of command may be
different from business-as-usual and decision making may be faster or slower
depending on the nature of the decision.
This also means that any business plans in place may change. Focus and resources may be shifted leading to significant
change for employees.
Business replanning implications
Given significant disturbances to business-as-usual activities, what are the options in terms of existing change initiatives? Most organizations will be in the middle of reviewing or re-planning existing focus areas including change initiatives. The following are some of the likely scenarios.
Prioritise or re-prioritise existing initiatives
Defer existing initiatives as needed
Resource planning: Subject matter expert or
business representative availability given any business continuity challenges,
project resources (increased or decreased demand)
Scenario planning: Some companies are modelling
various scenarios of the impact of the virus on the business in order to make
arrangements from a risk and mitigation perspective
The role of the change practitioner
Impacts of changing plans
Given most large organizations are already undergoing various
change initiatives to stay competitive, the changes caused by the coronavirus
adds to the volume and pace of existing planned set of changes. The project management office, as well as
other planning teams will benefit significantly from access to change impact
information and data to make balanced decisions on any business replanning activities.
Some of these include:
Initiatives and impacts from a business unit
Geographic differences in planned initiative
Planned customer impacts
Visualisation of any existing black-out periods
and other periods of high customer volumes or high employee workload periods
(e.g. quarter-ends for Finance and peak customer policy renewal/purchasing
Stakeholder group impact, e.g. customer-facing
vs. non-customer facing staff
Hot spot analysis of team capacity impacts on
top of existing planned initiatives
Impacts on customer segments
Impacts on partners and suppliers
Model likely scenarios of moving initiatives
The other area in which the change practitioner may add
significant value in the business replanning exercise is in helping to
articulate and visualise the impact of moving initiatives. As outlined previously, these could be the
result of re-sequencing, re-prioritisation or scenario planning to better
manage risk exposure for the organisation.
In modelling the impacts of various scenarios, key call outs
Resourcing and capacity challenges
Change volume hotspots
Change velocity against existing business change
Feasibility of allowing embedment of change between
Advantages or disadvantages of any change release
Plan restructuring exercises
Often restructuring exercises are lead by senior managers with the guidance of human resource partners from a people and HR policy perspective. However, the value of the change practitioner is in designing the restructuring as a project, containing scoped phases and planned according to a sequence of logical steps based on sound change principles. After all, restructuring exerts the highest impact on individuals more than other changes.
Restructuring is no different than other change
initiatives. There needs to be clear
articulation of the reasons or the ‘why’ behind the restructuring, logical articulation
of how decisions are made, clear detailing of impacts to the organisations and
people overall, and a series of planned steps in which to engage impacted
stakeholders to support them through the change.
Adjusting change approaches to fit in with virtual working
With the sudden switch to working from home or virtual
working, some employees may not be familiar or comfortable with this way of
working. Existing change initiatives may
have been designed with face-to-face sessions such as town halls, training sessions
etc. With the virtual working
environment change practitioners need to readjust the change approach and think
through ways of driving effective change virtually.
These include such as:
Effective virtual facilitation
Ability to use technology to aid engagement
More frequent communications than previously planned
Allowing more implementation time due to the challenges
of virtual working
Continuous engagement of employees during this change
In order to proactively engage the employee during this time
of change, follow core change principles.
For example, engage early and continuous to outline the direction of the
organisation, and check-in continuously to gage employee sentiments to assess
their change journey. Adjust and pivot
as needed to provide any additional support.
Share any wins such as examples of effective virtual working tips and
employee profiles. Share stories of how effective
teams have overcome the potential challenges of social isolation and still deliver
solid business outcomes.