Change Management is evolving 2

Four Approaches for thinking about Organisation Change

I recently attended a  Change Management meet up to discuss ‘Top down, bottom up, or middle out?’ change management approach’s and think about the different ways we can implement organisation change (thanks for the invite Jude). I had also recently been thinking about how change management has evolved since I started working in the space 20 years ago and what are some of the fundamental choices people need to make when going about change, which I have broadly summarised into the following approaches.

If your method for implementing change is ‘just tell them to do it’, or ‘we are going live on this date, make it happen’, then chances are you could be in the ‘Installed Change’ world of thinking. Installed Change is not necessarily devoid of any change management activities, however the chances are that the actions will be mainly limited to one way communications and possibly some just in time training (if it wasn’t forgotten about). Installed Change can occur when timelines are tight, budgets are lean and understanding of change management practices are low. It is often justified by the belief that people will follow the chain of command and that people will ‘just do it’ when they have to. What isn’t usually discussed is the resistance, the pain and the anxiety this sort of change can cause, with the fallout potentially damaging employee engagement and your customer experience (‘let me transfer you to someone who can do that in the system’). Another common outcome of this type of change is for people to ignore the change completely and wait for the next change to come along.

Managed Change represents how people usually think about change management today. Heavily influenced by John Kotter, it is the classic senior leader driven change. If you have heard about ‘burning platforms’ and ‘guiding leadership coalitions’, you have experienced some of Kotter’s core beliefs. This change is really about convincing people through rationale argument that they need to change and having people’s leaders as the key voice for reinforcing the change.  Managed Change usually generates lots of activities to help people understand the change. It typically includes tasks such as creating a compelling future state vision of what the changed world will look like, as well as determining the change impacts that will result from implementing that vision. Managed change differs from installed change in that it spends more time considering and engaging with the people that will be impacted by the change and looking at all the actions necessary to support people through that change. Actions such as building leader’s capability to lead the change, aligning the desired behaviours for the change to employee’s KPI’s and updating the mechanisms by which this change will be embedded in the future (e.g. updates to policy, procedures and induction training) are the types of tasks you typically see in this approach.

Change Management is evolving 2

Integrated Change comes about when we truly ‘begin with the end in mind’ and change is initiated with the people that will actually own the change in the end. Therefore change is instigated through a much better understanding of what actually needs to change in the first place in order for things to improve. This has the benefit of creating stronger trust and relationships between the people impacted by the change and those who will sponsor the change. Integrated Change is often planned through open approaches such as the World Café, utilising a co-creation approach for designing and embedding the change. Integrated Change does for organisation change, what social media and activist funding has done for charity fundraising, it is about empowering people to be advocates for your cause, then providing them with the tools to bring others along on that journey.

Evolving Systemic Change actually relies on very stable systems and processes in order to make changes that are a usually a tightly scripted set of actions, with planned hypothesis on what those actions will do and tight measures as to the impact of those actions on the system that is undergoing change. This is the world of continuous improvement, Lean, Kaizen / 6 Sigma and Systems Thinking whereby change is constructed with the people that will own the change and some there are some very clear boundaries to observe the change effort. This can be very powerful and robust change, but ultimate success relies on a stable environment within which to execute planned changes.

Deciding on the sort of organisation change approach you want to take can depend on many factors, but most important is to ensure that the people involved in implementing the change are implementing a method both they and your key stakeholders have confidence in delivering on the expected change benefits.


5 Tips for Rejecting Change

Organisations are often striving to be the ‘best place to work’ or have the ‘best customer’ experience and being the best really requires us to be in tune with our employees or customers.  In doing so, we may receive many suggestions for improvements or feedback which may not be actionable or aligned to the direction we are heading.

We may have some really valid reasons for not making those requested changes; such as the flow on impact the change has on other positive aspects of the business (‘that will slow our production run by half’), it may undermine the brand we are trying to create (‘we aren’t a ‘fries on the side’ sort of establishment’) or it may just be too large of investment for us to do something about that now (‘we know it would be great but it isn’t in the budget’).

So how do we deal with having to say ‘no’, but not disenfranchise the people that we were trying to get on side in the first place?  Following is an example from my daughters experience,  Esther (8 years old), whom completed a research project with her class about being more environmentally aware and using less paper. Having learnt the good message of ‘Wipe for Wildlife’ on one of our visits to the Healesville Sanctuary (nothing like an impressive bird show to drive home a good message), her follow up action was to write to the School Principal and find out if the school used recycled toilet paper (Exhibit A) and received a reply from the Principal (Exhibit B).

Which leads me to the 5 tips for rejecting your people’s change request

1. Provide timely feedback to the request

Unfortunately Esther waited 2 months for a letter that was written 3 weeks after the initial request made.  Timely feedback helps to manage expectations and reduce the potential for pent up emotional energy being channelled into a cause.  If it is not going to happen, nip it in the bud quickly with a respectful reason as to why not.

2. Be respectful of the original suggestion

“People think that recycled paper is always better.. But”. Reply’s that are condescending, or dare I say ‘poo poo’, the original request only serve to alienate the audience you are trying to keep onside. Try and walk in the requestors shoes and look to acknowledge the merits of the original request no matter how strange it may seem to you.

3. Know your audience

I’m not sure how many 8 year olds really care about “steam being used instead of water” in the paper making process (that is supplied from a geothermal source no less), but it sounds like a little too much vapour to me!  Pitching a high brow response for an audience that requires the straight up facts, only serves to disconnect you from your people or customers. Showing you are in tune with your audience may actually win you respect even though you are saying no to their request.

4. Keep your message simple

So we know you may be really into the brand of toilet paper you are trying to defend, but pitching to me the company is ‘committed to purchasing virgin fibre only from certified sources’ and I am 8 years old? Simple is always good. Making things simple is not always easy, but it’s definitely possible and it can prevent you from appearing to be hiding the truth.

5. Tell the truth

Regardless of this toilet roll supplier being ‘internationally recognised  standards for responsible forest management’, I suspect there is too much information here covering up what could be the real truth. If you have a locked in supply contract with another non recycled provider, well let them know the truth.  Sometimes the truth is not the easiest story to tell, but when you try and bend it, chances are your stakeholders BS meter are going to go off really quickly!

Key message

Change that has been initiated on the basis of your customers or people’s feedback can be very successful change, as the people we want to impact are bought into the idea from the very beginning. So it is really important that when we are not going to act on feedback provided we let people know why, so those people are still willing to still provide feedback in the future, which may just lead to that really powerful change we are hoping to achieve.


shifting your culture

Shifting your culture with one message

If you were to simplify your company’s reason for existence to one word or one short sentence, what would it be? You may be finding this difficult, as it isn’t always easy to pin things down to one word thing. But when doing so, try to distill all the key messages coming from your CEO, the most senior leaders, your mission, vision, strategy and values down to one word. What do you come up with?

If you had trouble distilling your company’s key message are you are not alone. A key message or elevator pitch if you like, is core to what your company is about. Unfortunately these key messages are often lost in the complex layers and volume of messages that are active in your company at any one time.

If you managed to distill your key message, try this experiment to determine the effect.  Next time you are in a meeting repeat your key message like a mantra over and over in your head, as if it was on the radio in the background, playing the tune of your company.  Let it permeate your thoughts, feelings and actions.  Let it help you guide the decisions and the actions you take. Then post your meeting consider what effect (positive or otherwise) it is having on what you are doing for your company.

Finding and knowing your company’s core message is paramount for you and the people, as it provides the true north for the actions you take. Often we find ourselves and our leaders waxing and waning from your companies stated purpose, saying things like ‘it is all about the customer’ but then focus on other actions (e.g. cost cutting) that are likely to be sending your people the message ‘it is all about shareholder’.  So what is the impact of this?

Well, see for yourself. Try the mantra exercise in two more meetings, but in one think about ‘customer’ (i.e. delivering a great customer experience) and in another think about ‘shareholder’ (i.e. more revenues and lower costs).  Two important forces in shaping decisions, but see what a difference it can make in your actions and decisions.  You may argue that ‘I am thinking about shareholders, but using the customer to get there’ – for the sake of this challenge keep your focus exclusively on each one and experience the difference.

A strong corporate culture is all about having your key message ringing in your peoples’ ears as they make decisions and take actions.  Those actions will quickly become the evidence points that enable your customers to understand what your brand is about and what you really stand for.

Let me know how you go finding your key message in the comments.