The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling with Change Management Data

The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling with Change Management Data

From the beginning of civilizations, storytelling is a way to help us understand what is happening.  In caveman paintings, the pictures reveal a lot about the significance of the pictorial story and the message being conveyed.  Cave art is considered to have symbolic or religious purposes.  Even oral stories can be passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years.  The bible is an example of how stories can be passed down and documented.  Children’s fairy tales are also examples of powerful stories.

Stories are easily remembered and inspire understanding and belief.  This is why the industry of influencers is such a large market.  We connect to influencers because we associate with them, find them interesting, or aspire to be them.  Influencers share their everyday stories with us and through this, we grow increasingly connected and engaged with the messages they are conveying.

Here is an example of powerful storytelling.  The Australian Broadcast Corporation which is a public TV channel aired a show called ‘War on Waste’.  The purpose was to inspire the public to change personal habits to reduce waste.  The show was hugely powerful.  

A report by the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures found that the show triggered 452 high-impact waste reduction initiatives.  These include supermarkets and hospitality businesses deciding to remove plastic straws from their stores in Australia and New Zealand, and states banning single-use plastic bags.  Almost half of the 280 organisations surveyed in the report based their waste reduction ideas from the show.  These were all just 6 months after the show had aired.

Imagine using the power of storytelling with change management data?

Yes, we’ve all been there.  Remember the last time that you were at a meeting where there were lots of figures and data thrown around.  With each PowerPoint slide, the presenter aimed to cover as much information as possible.  An hour later, what did you remember from all the various data points shared?  Probably not much beyond one or two points at the most.  

This illustrates the power of storytelling.  Rather than flashing lots of data at the audience, telling stories is a much more powerful way of conveying messages.  In this guide, we will cover various facets of how to convey powerful messages through storytelling with change management data.

1. Types of change management data

Collecting and sharing change management data is critical throughout the implementation of the change process.  It tells the impacted stakeholders where the change is taking them and is also essential to help stakeholders understand whether things are on track or not.  

In this guide, we will not cover in-depth the various types of change management data.  However, the key types of change management include:

  1. Change readiness surveys
  2. Training assessments & evaluation surveys
  3. Communications metrics
  4. Employee sentiments/culture survey
  5. Change adoption tracking
  6. Change leadership assessment
  7. Change maturity assessment
  8. Change management heatmap
  9. Other capability assessments (e.g. sponsor, change champion)
  10. Various change impact charts

For a comprehensive article on change management data visit The Ultimate Guide to Measuring Change.

2. How to tell change-data-based stories

1) Providing solid context

A. History

In any business meeting context is critical.  Whether you are in a meeting to make a key decision, to brainstorm ideas, to critique an idea, or to track team progress, the context of the meeting is critical.  Without a strong and clear context, participants will not understand what the meeting is about nor why they are there.

When I was at Intel, in every meeting room there is a poster listing key meeting effectiveness etiquette points.  One of the most important points listed is having a clear meeting agenda prior to the meeting starting.  Even before you walk into the meeting, ensure that you have already communicated to participants what the context of the meeting is and what you will be discussing.  This could be as simple as listing this clearly in the meeting invite agenda or sending a clear email to participants prior to the meeting.  

If the subject matter is particularly complex it may be helpful to send an email of any ‘pre-read’ materials so that audience has time to digest various content prior to the meeting.  This is particularly important if the subject area is complex and requires a lot of information context-setting prior to the meeting.

When you first enter the meeting it is also important to once again establish the context of the meeting in case your participants did not read the agenda or are not clear.

B. Crafting the story

Crafting a meaningful and compelling story that resonates with your audiences is not difficult. However, it follows a logical flow.  The challenge is to craft the story in a way that achieves the balance of painting the storyline that gives the user sufficient ‘colour’ of the plot, without having too much detail and overwhelming the audience.  On the other hand, storylines that have too few details are may not be compelling or impactful.

Here is a useful structure to follow – The story structure ring by Tomas Puego.

This structure can be applied to any story and is particularly suited to business settings.

If you are making a presentation to managers to senior managers who are often impatient and have little time you will need to tweak your storyline and flow accordingly.  Whilst the bulk of the storyline structure ring can still apply, it is better to add to this an initial step on the key takeaway right at the beginning of the presentation.

  1. Initial situation.  This is when we show what the situation was like when everything was normal and prior to the problem occurring.  This is an important part before it reminds the audience what the situation was like before the problem started.
  2. Problem.  Here we explore what the problem is and what happened.  Go into what this means for various characters and their lives.  What’s the result of the problem and what pains did it cause?  What has the characters tried to do to resolve the problem?  What has or has not worked?
  3. Midpoint insight.  This is a key reflection of the story when there is a particular revelation or insight that changes the storyline.  With the new insight characters realise something they did not previously.  
  4. Explore the insight.  Explore what lead to the insight, and what the insight meant to the characters.  How do the characters see the problem in the new light?  Did the characters approach the problem incorrectly and now with the new insight they are able to see what was wrong?
  5. Solution.  The character(s) finally realise how to apply the solution using the insight.  It could be a series of struggles of trial and error.  It could be using data-based insights.  
  6. Aftermath.  After implementing the solution the characters are able to address the problem and resolve the pain.  If you are making recommendations in a business context, this may not have happened yet.  Instead, you can use this step to outline what will be the aftermath after applying the solution.

3. Presenting to managers or within limited time

This is proposed by the Barbara Minto Pyramid model whereby there is a pyramid of information that is recommended using a top-down presentation structure.  It starts with the end or the conclusion first to satisfy the informational needs of those impatient managers and also to create curiosity from which to engage the audience and present through the rest of the storyline.

In this way, the audience does not get flooded with a myriad of information, data, and arguments and is able to clearly understand where the story is going from the outset.  

The other highlight of using the model is to summarize key points at a high level first before going into the details of each point.  This way you’ve already provided a structure of the storyline of what the top-level points are before you start diving into each point.  This is critical because without the structure it is easy for your audience to get lost in the details.

The Minto model is very useful for those who rely on PowerPoint or document-based presentations where they walk the audience through the materials.  This is common practice and it may be easier from a preparation perspective since the content prompts the presenter on what to say.  A better way of storytelling is always to rely on verbal storytelling at least in the beginning to engage the audience and fully connect with them before launching a series of slides.

If you are only relying on slides to make your points there is a big risk that your audience is spending more attention looking at the words and details of what you have shown in the slides and this may conflict with what you are talking about.  If what you are saying is not what the audience is reading into on the slide content this may create confusion.  Slides are good at the right time with the right content to complement what you are saying, not the other way around.  

In presenting to managers you also need to be very summarised in your overall presentation.  Err on the side of talking at a high level with some illustrations of details.  Prepare more detailed data and information as needed so that if asked to elaborate you’re able to dive into the details.  However, the flow of the presentation should be fairly succinct and to the point.  Often, your presentation may be shortened due to other agendas running longer than expected.  It pays to be focused and summarised in your presentation.

4. Storyboarding

Storyboarding is a way to graphically show the flow of the story.  Whilst it is a common technique in product development or learning content development, it originated from film/play development.

For screenplays, storyboarding is about physically drawing out each key scene to outline the overall story.  Stick figures are sufficient and the drawings do not need to be artworks.  They are simple depictions of what key scenes would visually look like.  

Think about the angle of each scene, what the main characters are, what happens, and where it happens.  Then for each scene, write brief short bullet points describing what happens in each scene.  Use quotes as needed to portray what characters are saying.  

In business, a lot of people don’t visually depict the storyboard, instead, reply on comments for each scene.  More visually explicit stories will be more powerful, so it is better to practice to visually draw out scenes along with written notes.  It helps you to picture clearly and visually the characters you are centering on, how they are behaving, and what situations or environments they are in.

You also don’t necessarily need to make the story a long and drawn-out one.  A storyboard can be as simple as 3 scenes.  A more rich story outlining the setting and context can be longer.  Try to stick to no more than 6 scenes when you work on your storyboard.  This will enable you to have ample content to outline the development of the story, the climax, and the outcome of the story.

To learn more about crafting different change stories read our article on How to tell stories of change.

2. Visualisation

A.Simplicity with visuals

After you’ve crafted a story, it’s time to work on what data visualisation to show in your presentation or discussion.  

Principle 1: Visual charts

The first principle to remember is to always error on showing charts versus raw numbers.  Charts are inherently more memorable and in general more impactful for most people.  Of course this depends on exactly the point you are trying to make.  Even if you are comparing the data across two areas of the business it’s still a better idea to show a simple bar chart with the 2 data points, versus just quoting the raw numbers.  The simple bar chart will visually show the difference between the 2 numbers visually, and you can still show the actual numbers in addition.

Principle 2: Less is more

There is a tendency for business people to show lots of charts in meetings.  The thinking is that the more information that is shown, there will be greater clarity and fewer questions.  In fact, the reverse is true.  The more data you show, often this leads to confusion and lack of clarity.  It is harder to stick to a simple storyline when the audience is overwhelmed by lots of data.  

The charts are only there to illustrate and support your storyline.  The immediate reading of the chart should relate directly to the point you are making.  If the chart is conveying lots of other information, be careful.  This can launch other questions and discussions and therefore lead the flow of the story away from what you had intended.

Where possible, stick to 2 or 3 charts for your presentation.  You can always have a few backup charts if your audience wants to dive into further details.  Again, the key focus is on you telling the story and the key medium of communication.  The charts are a supporting medium to make things visual, and easier to understand and remember.

Principle 3: Avoid visual distractions

This principle is about the chart is focused on the message being delivered and avoiding any visual distractions that could create ‘noise’ and distraction for the audience.  These include any graphic design, use of colour, lines, sizing, etc.

Below is an example of a typical change heatmap table chart used to depict the level of change impact across different projects.  Let’s take a closer look.

3. Using different charts

A. Focusing attention on the right part of the chart

To help the user zoom in on the point that you are making, your data visualisation should also draw attention to the point that you are making.  Use colour highlighting to draw your audience’ attention to the data point you are focused on.

For example, to draw attention to the particular week that you wanted to highlight to the audience, use a darker shade of the same colour to the rest of the charts to draw the focus.  But be aware that using too many different colours may end up confusing the audience instead.  This is preferrable than using a circle to highlight the same data point, since this may also be another source of visual ‘noise’ in distracting the user.

B. Using pie charts

Pie charts are very popular with business users.  They are useful and effective in comparing different data points.  However, when there are too many data points, it becomes quite hard for the user to read and compare the different data points.  For this reason, be very careful in using pie charts.  When you are using more than three to four data points in the same pie chart, it may be better to use other charts such as bars charts or line charts.  This is particularly when the data points in the chart are similar in value.

Have a look at the below 2 charts.  One created using a pie chart and the other using a line chart.  Both are exactly the same data.  You can see that with the pie chart it is almost impossible for the audience to tell which Project has more impact hours than the others.  Comparing the data points within the pie chart is extremely difficult.  On the other hand, looking at the line chart it is significantly easier to decipher the data difference across the projects.

C.Treemap charts

Treemap charts are a great way to show, in a neat and tidy way, the relative data value across a number of data set.  Ideally, the data set is not so great that it becomes too complicated to read (i.e. over 20 data points).  This chart is a great visual when you want the user to see and compare the size differences of data points.

Now have a look at the below chart.  Once again this is using the same data.  If you would like your audience to compare the different hours of impact across each project it is very difficult for them to decipher which one has more impact than others.  What this chart may be good at is when there is a big range of differences in data points and you want to be able to show the range of the different hours.  However, when the range in differences are not great, which is the case here, it is better not to use this chart.

Now have a look at the below chart.  You’ll see that it is much easier to see the data size differences because the sizes are quite significantly different.  For example, if you want your audience to visually just how much the impact difference is, then this is a good chart.  If you want to, you can always show the numerical values, if you would like your audience to see the numerical differences as well.

D. Using bar charts

Bar charts are one of the most common forms of data charts.  There is a very good reason for this.  Humans are very good at comparing lengths when they are aligned neatly next to each other.  We can naturally see the beginning and end of each bar chart and be able to easily decipher the comparative differences across the bars.

There are many different types of bar charts including:

  • Vertical bar chart
  • Horzontal bar chart
  • Clustered bars
  • Stacked bars
  • 100% stacked bars
  • Waterfall chart

Some of the tips in using bar charts effectively include: 

  • Avoid using too many colours since the audience may be overwhelmed and focus on the colours instead what the chart is trying to show in terms of comparative differences
  • Ensure labels are clear and easy to read
  • Use a zero-baseline so that the audience only focuses on the difference at the other end of each bars

E. Using bubble charts

The bubble chart is a very visual chart and easy for people to compare across data points.  The bubble chart is a good chart to use when there is a number of data points, but no more than 20.  If there is over 20 data bubbles it starts to get too overwhelming for the audience. There are many different types of bubble charts

  • Standard bubble chart where there are no axes, with each bubble representing the different sizes (e.g. impact size, completion rate, etc.)
  • Scatterplot with 2 axes and changing bubble size.  This chart shows 2 dimensions of data, i.e. the 2 axes and the bubble size.  For example, bubble size could represent number of people impacted, with impact size and change readiness rating on the 2 axes
  • Scatterplot with 2 axes and no changing bubble size.  This type of chart is useful to show the differences along the axes.  The ‘bubbles’ or dots are simply representations of different data points since they do not have bubble size differences.  For example, the horizontal axis can show time, and the vertical axis can show change readiness, with each dot showing a different project.

4. Colour blindness

Approximately 8% of men have colour blindness.  The percentage is less for women.  So, it is important to note that you will likely come across audience members who may not be able to see certain colours.  Most business people do not make a point of designing charts that take into account colour blindness.  However, you do not want to risk making a blunder with critical stakeholders who may not be able to see what you are referencing.

To check that you are using colours that are not going to disadvantage colour-blind audience, use ColorBrewer and select the colour-blindness safe box to come up with the right colours. 

Colour-blindess tool ColorBrewer

5. Examples of story flows

What are some of the examples in which change practitioners can use data-based storytelling to influence stakeholders?  In this section, we look at a few examples.

A key ingredient in all of these story flows is that they all contain a logical sequence of stories.  A good way to add ‘colour’ and bring the story to life is to add quotes, and observations to support the data.  This balance of quantitative and qualitative data can be very powerful and persuasive.  

The other call out is that in each of the 5 steps, data may be used to support the story flow.  The use of data does not need to only be injected in the steps of ‘Problem’ and ‘Insight’.  It can be every or any single step of the story flow.  In this way, the story becomes even more powerful and convincing.  However, note again that having too much data may overwhelm the audience and create confusion.  So, achieving a balance is key.

6. Making recommendations

Essentially, data-based storytelling is not just about informing the business of what is going on or what is going to happen.  The value comes when you use it to make recommendations.  Recommendations are hard to dispute when the story sequence is backed by data.  When you make a sequence of logical deductions backed by data, the audience is naturally convinced by the recommendation proposed.

It is also a good idea to come up with options when recommending a solution.  Ideally, create two scenarios for your stakeholders to select from, or a maximum of three scenarios or choices.  Describe clearly what each scenario could look like and supplement the recommendation with the advantages and disadvantages of each scenario option.  

Below is an example of a chart from The Change Compass where an alternative delivery sequence is proposed.  It illustrates what the alternative change impact looks like for impacted business stakeholders across projects.  The star indicates planned go-lives.

Telling compelling and persuasive stories using change data takes practice. Through regular practice, you will discover what your stakeholders resonate with and what they find challenging to understand. Tweak your presentation accordingly. Note any individual stakeholder differences. Also, note any commonalities of preferences across your stakeholder groups.

Don’t forget to visit The Ultimate Guide to Measuring Change for more detailed practical information about using change data.

For a range of articles on change data and change analytics visit our Knowledge Article Page.

The Ultimate Guide to Data (vs. methodology) Driven Change Approach

The Ultimate Guide to Data (vs. methodology) Driven Change Approach

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.

The most popular Google searches on change management are mostly do with change methodology

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?

Business case 

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

Examples of portfolio-level change data visualization from The Change Compass

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:

  1. River crossing
  2. Escaping the swamp
  3. Souting and wandering
  4. Planned itinerary
  5. Hill climbing

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.

Post release

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:

  • System usage rates
  • Cost reduction
  • Revenue increase
  • Transaction speed
  • Process efficiency
  • Speed of decision making
  • Customer satisfaction rate
  • Employee productivity rate
  • Incidents of process violation

For a comprehensive article on how to measure change visit The Ultimate Guide to Measuring Change.

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?

To learn more about building change analytics capability click here.

The Ultimate Guide to Managing Change Post Covid

The Ultimate Guide to Managing Change Post Covid

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.

This is an AI call centre agent from ‘Amelia’

Chinese companies have been fast-reacting in response to Covid given widespread business impacts on their operating models. For example, Is a Chinese e-commerce company that has been removing human touchpoints in its operation through process automation and robotics. 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

A sample report from The Change Compass

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.

This well known ‘Change Curve’ has been proven to be false in a lot of situations

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.

  1. 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.

Leverage the power of digital engagement channels

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.

Managing multiple changes can be like spinning lots of plates

So how should one deal with this situation?

  1. 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?

2. Resourcing

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.

To read more about managing a portfolio of changes visit The Ultimate Guide to Change Portfolio Management.

4. Data and change management

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.

Turn change data into actionable insights.

5. Structure of change management

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.

Leveraging the right engagement channels with new ways of working can be challenging

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.

The ultimate guide to behaviour change

The ultimate guide to behaviour change

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.

behaviour change

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 Therapy (CBT) approach to behavioural change

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
  • Video recording
  • Phone/call listening
  • Attendance (e.g. training)
  • Test 
  • 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.

Read More: A New Guide For Improving Change Management Maturity

A practical guide for managing disruptions in change

A practical guide for managing disruptions in change

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?

Strategic approaches

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

three horizons - Engage//Innovate
A brief description of the Mckinsey 3 horizons model

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.

So how does one adopt a portfolio approach to manage changes?  Read The Ultimate Guide to Change Portfolio Management or 7 change portfolio management best practices.

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?

A scenario planning example from The Change Compass

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:

  • Cost
  • Time
  • People resource bandwidth
  • Benefit realisation
  • 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.

Critical Path Method: A Project Management Essential
An example of critical path planning

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.

Guide for change re-planning – infographic

Guide for change re-planning – infographic

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.

To download click HERE.