GUEST BLOG: By Brandee Abel, Principal Consultant, TiER1 Performance Solutions
Any minute now, any minute, the season will change and spring will truly be here. With the blooming of trees and chirping of birds will come renewed energy. And, as windows are flung open and coats banished to hibernation, another perennial will emerge in the business landscape.
Change is and will be everywhere, and the pace of change continues to accelerate as organizations innovate and adapt to stay relevant. Mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures happen more frequently than ever and it’s not unusual for an employee to work under three different corporate names during their tenure.
There’s no question that leaders need to actively drive change through all levels of their organization to meet strategic objectives. In fact, the ability to champion it is one of the most important leadership competencies, yet is one that often gets the least attention. But that’s a topic for another day.
I’ve been a change management consultant for more than 15 years and I still think the very title is a funny way to term what it really addresses. To me, that name implies that change is just out there running rampant, and we need to get control of it! In reality, its best managed with a mix of structure and flexibility. This very human process needs to be driven and it takes patience, leadership, hard work and perseverance to see it through.
So what’s a leader to do? Many organizations tackle this challenge by simplifying the solution. I often hear change management equated to communication and training. “If I just have a solid communication and training plan,” they think, “and execute those well, I can check the change management box.” The truth is that isn’t the case.
Early in my career, I worked on a project where the internal team (and perhaps I) approached change management this way. Each week I’d show up, interview project team members, and then write various communications to run up the chain for approvals. Next, I’d find myself in meetings where the C-level executive sponsoring the project would tell us all the reasons why the communication was wrong. Then we’d leave the meeting and start over. We’d repeat this process until some form of it was approved for distribution.
If communication really did equal change management, this would have been effective. But it wasn’t. So much more work needs to go into defining what’s changing. Getting the right stakeholders on board before the formal communication goes out is crucial. And that’s just the beginning.
There are many components to tackling any change initiative. Here are 8 to think about:
1. Leadership Engagement and Alignment
- Ensure that project and business leadership are aligned as to why they are undertaking the initiative and how success will be defined and measured. Aligned leaders lead to clearer key messaging. This helps foster an open line of communication that creates opportunities for leaders to ask questions, raise concerns and expedite agreement.
2. Project Governance and Structure
- Establish up front how decisions are made and how information gets shared and be sure to include business leaders who aren’t on the project team. Setting regular meeting cadences around how often will the entire project team will meet, identifying team leads, stream teams and steering committees will also support how people be will be held accountable.
3. Stakeholder Identification and Engagement
- Identify the stakeholders who your project will be impacting, as well as influential leaders in relevant functions. Document their support (or lack thereof) for the project throughout the lifecycle. Play an active role in the process of planning how you’ll leverage their support and address their concerns.
4. Audience Analysis
- Connect the scope of the project to those who will be impacted, including customers and vendors. Do this early on, so that your documentation (which will evolve over time) lists their perceptions of the current state and desired future state. Interview select representatives and find out their thoughts. Document the ways they receive information today, including what they like and don’t like about those methods.
5. Change Impact Identification
- Create an iterative approach to define what’s changing for which audiences and hold the entire project team and business leaders accountable. Only the project team knows exactly what the future state can or will be. Only the business understands how they do things today – you must work together to document what’s changing. Keep track of change impacts. It’s a laborious task, but will ultimately be invaluable. (At TiER1, we use a time-saving tool called xMap to document change impacts.) Also, assume that this work of defining is not done until the project is done.
6. Adoption Measurement
- Measure progress along the way. How are you defining success? What are some interim steps such as people’s awareness of the change, do they support the change, do they understand specifically how they will be impacted, and measure against your defined criteria. Adjust your strategy and plans based on the data. Share your findings across all stakeholders, especially those who provided feedback – let them know you’re listening.
7. Finally! Communication
- Based on the audience analysis, create a draft communication plan. Be sure to include regular project updates. It’s very easy when you’re embedded in a project team to see small, incremental progress day-to-day, but forget to let the rest of the organization know. Remember to define approvers and senders when you build your communication plan. You’ll find the need to update your strategy frequently as you learn more along the way, and discover communication needs that you didn’t know existed.
- Create a role-based training plan that integrates all aspects of the change (process, system, culture, structure, etc.) Doing so provides the end users the “how” and the “why.” Of course, connect the communication plan to the training plan, so that one flows seamlessly into the other. Make sure to time your training appropriately. If you train too early, people forget. If you train too late, people don’t have time to practice and get comfortable.
Change management is not a simple task. If it was, everyone would do it well. It’s exceptionally challenging to drive change, and it’s all too easy to focus only on business process or a technical solution, and ignore the people aspect.
So remember, like the seasons, change is always happening. But unlike nature, it isn’t out there running rampant. You have to skillfully drive change management every step of the way.
Need to talk about change management or challenges you’re facing in your organization? Feel free to contact Brandee Abel firstname.lastname@example.org. TiER1 Performance Solutions occasionally partners with BusinessForward to provide customers a range of consulting services.