Stakeholder is a very descriptive word that identifies those that have a stake in the outcome of our change initiative. I use this word frequently. There is a better descriptor though. I like the word constituent. This descriptor implies a responsibility on the part of the change leader. It’s necessary that we worry about our constituents – about how our change will affect them and what matters to them. So try the word constituent as a replacement for the word stakeholder, letting the descriptor serve as a reminder of our responsibilities.
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We usually separate a training plan from a communication plan in our change projects. That makes sense from a planning perspective but don’t lose sight of the fact that they support each other. Prior to any training activities heavy communication is necessary to prime the audience and reinforce the reasons for the changes. During training sessions, schedule Change Breakthrough Analysis sessions to help the students balance their feelings about the change. Training should be more than a deliverable. Remember we want to change behavior.Read More »
Communicating about your change initiative differently than we traditionally communicate sends a strong message that this change initiative is something special. Everyday communication is different from communication about a change initiative. Employees regularly face a number of changes, to the point where the changes become commonplace. It’s important that our communication approaches don’t become a routine.
Employees of one client recently reported that they had never in their careers experienced communication about a change effort like it was being done. This alone set the significance of the effort in their minds and elevated the attention spent on this project. Mix things up. Don’t just send a memo. Turn communication into a special event. Use different medium.Read More »
Analyzing your stakeholders, communicating well, and ensuring people are trained and ready are just common sense if you are responsible for implementing a project for your organization. Anyone should be able to do it. Why then is lack of change leadership pointed to so often as a reason for not reaching the return on investment for projects?
Change Leadership is a Discipline
We wouldn’t dream of not following a defined approach for workflow development, system design, technical architecture, or training. So why would we leave change leadership to chance? It’s natural to think of the change activities as basic leadership. And to a great extent, they are. How often though do people naturally exhibit great leadership skills? Especially in the high-stress environment of a large change initiative.
Another reason change leadership is not usually thought of formally is the misinterpretation that influencing scores of people to change their mind-set and behavior is somehow “soft” vs. the real work of the project.
What we inherently know though is that all the great technical work being done perfectly doesn’t ensure that the change will be implemented successfully. This brings us to the third reason change leadership isn’t an official activity: it’s hard to define and it’s hard work that must be done by busy people.
A big misconception is that change leadership is a “bolt on” component separate from project management activities. This leads to the conclusion that change leadership, since it involves people, is the domain of Human Resources. Calling in Human Resources folks, disconnected from the business and the project, has virtually no chance of success. It’s easy to delegate this important but time-consuming function but from our experience this just isn’t a viable alternative.
Change leadership activities must be tightly integrated with the other tasks of the project. Change activities take place as the more traditional work of the project is being done. And, this change activity is performed by those same project resources.
So, how do you integrate solid change leadership within your organization? First, education is necessary to identify the nuances of change leadership techniques and to begin to see the integration of these techniques within your project management methodology (see Change Leadership Focus). Second, it’s necessary to exercise these techniques in a practical way within existing projects.
Change leadership is truly an art. The real-life examples allow you to apply the learning in a practical way. When we provide this education and advisory service for our clients we find that virtually everyone associated with a project from senior leadership to project administrators are touched in some way with new and more effective approaches to their jobs. Contact our office to strategize how you can eliminate the risk of leaving change leadership to chance and make change leadership a discipline for your organization.
As a change leader, do you specifically focus on change leadership or does it just happen?Read More »
President Bush has recently been in coalition building mode with the UN Security Council members as well as other countries relating to the Iraq situation. Notice that some target coalition members such as the UK play a more public role while others are kept in the background. Determine how best to utilize your coalition members. Some may be helpful in attracting other coalition members while others benefit your change initiative logistically.Read More »
Trying to make a significant change in an organization without first building a compelling case for that change – a foundation for change – is about as effective as trying to move a mountain with a single shovel.
Chances are that no matter what change you’re proposing, some of your stakeholders and employees are going to balk. Others will dig in their heels. A few may covertly stage a mutiny. As frustrating as these behaviors can be, they’re predictable and understandable, especially if your employees’ jobs and daily lives are going to significantly change because of your initiative.
Instead of engaging in a battle of wills, put your energy into building a strong foundation for your change before you announce your plans and begin the change project. To garner the support that your change project will require to succeed, guide your change project team through the process of creating an airtight case for the change and a communications campaign to strategically educate and inform stakeholders and employees.
The four primary steps to building the foundation for change
- Create a compelling case for the change project
- Formulate an effective communications campaign
- Reinforce the need for and benefits of the change project
- Invite stakeholders to participate in the change process
Create a Compelling Case for Change
Your case for change is a persuasive argument that justifies the outcome of your change project. It provides the guiding force behind the change initiative and is also your primary reference for creating presentations, brochures, and other communication tools.
Make your case for change as clear, concise, and straightforward as possible, without leaving out important information or details. Ensure that the logic and reasoning you present is sound and founded on valid research. When you and your change project team are preparing the case, keep the values and concerns of your stakeholders uppermost in your mind.
You should be able to show that your change project is not just possible and desirable; it is a critical mission that calls for immediate action. Conclude your case with a powerful call to action, telling stakeholders and employees at all levels of the organization how they can be involved and what they can do to help.
Formulate an Effective Communications Campaign
An effective communications campaign is the best way to present your case to the stakeholders and employees. The communication campaign should include all of the communication you plan to do (both formal and informal) and all the important details associated with each piece of information.
Your communication campaign should paint a clear and engaging vision for the future. It should include face-to-face presentations, written materials such as flyers, brochures, newsletter articles, letters, and memos, and possibly an Internet site or phone line to continuously update stakeholders and respond to questions.
Reinforce the Need for Change
One of the most convincing ways to show stakeholders that changes need to be made is to compare your organization’s productivity, effectiveness, and profits with those of competing companies.
The key is showing that the way you plan to “do better” makes sense and is critical to the continued success of the company, satisfaction of customers, and ultimately – job security. Always address the “What’s in it for me?” question.
You have to show stakeholders what the change is and what it means by providing visual aids, and illustrating your points with success stories that they can readily relate to. And then, you need to go the extra mile.
Going the extra mile means painting a vivid and positive picture of how the organization will run once the change is implemented. Each part of painting this picture is going to involve your best creative thinking and that of your change team.
Invite Stakeholders to Participate
Invite stakeholders to participate in the change project and offer them specific options to be involved in planning and implementing the change. The more input they have in the decision-making process, the more they will buy into and champion the change. Giving stakeholders “hands-on” tasks increases their ownership and understanding of the project.
It is not necessary to know every detail of how every part of the change will work when you are just beginning. In fact, telling stakeholders and employees that some of the details have not been determined lets them know there is room for their input and suggestions. It allows you to sincerely question them and get their feedback so it can be weighed and considered.Read More »
If you change strategy you must change the way you think.
I recently attended a meeting of the management team for a new department. The new department was created as a result of a one-year change initiative. All attendees came to the new department from other areas of the organization, most working together previously. These weekly meetings are intended for the new team to deal with day-to-day issues arising in the new area. As with any organizational change there are procedural details that weren’t identified during the project and require a policy decision. This is where the rubber meets the road. Every decision this management team makes will either underscore the foundation for the change or undermine the change the organization implemented with great effort.
Think about the environment. Unfortunately, questions have to be responded to and decisions made in a highly charged, dynamic environment. We usually don’t have the luxury of quietly contemplating the direction to take.
In this meeting a crossroad was identified. A decision on approach had to be made, setting a policy. This situation provided an opportunity for developing one of the first policies to come from the new management team. The manager of the area responsible for the new policy participated in the entire change initiative and he was well steeped in the strategies and the reasons for the change. We’ll call the manager Bob. The executive in charge of the new department had less experience with the change project but fully bought in when she decided to take on this new role. We’ll call the executive Donna.
When the issue surfaced, the manager, Bob, laid out two options. Those of us living with the project for a long period of time knew exactly which option promoted the new way. Bob, the manager, knowing the right answer asked Donna, the executive, to render a decision. Donna, although very supportive of the change, to the point of making a risky career move, chose the answer that directly contradicted the strategy change. Making this choice would set a precedent that would tell all employees that the organization did not support the change they just implemented.
Shockingly, Bob responded by saying, “OK, what’s the next item on the agenda?” It was over in about three minutes. A whole year’s effort undermined. How did this happen?
After I stopped the proceedings I asked Donna for the basis of her decision. Her response was that she chose the option that was most consistent with the way people expected the organization to operate. In other words, she was saying that this is the way we’ve always done it.
What about Bob who knew better? Why did he so quickly accept an incorrect answer, even from a superior? Culture? The habit of always deferring to the boss? Not wanting to take responsibility?
Change leadership requires a great deal of courage. Many times the change leader needs to break the standard rules of the organization. Although it’s always nice to have the upper most levels of the organization fully engaged in the change approach this isn’t realistic. There isn’t a conscious effort to undermine the change but lack of knowledge can have that effect. The people leading the details of the change initiative are the most equipped to maintain the discipline required to nurture the change in its infancy.
How can we allow this nurturing to occur?
Advice to the top-level executive team – Be prepared to defer to those who are closer to the details. Ask these change leaders to challenge your way of thinking as decisions are contemplated. Obviously, work out an approach with the change leader that maintains your authority while providing a check on the “way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Advice to the change leader – Don’t let anything get in the way of the success of the change effort you have worked so hard to implement. Look for inconsistencies. Look for anything that appears to undermine the change approach. Work out a deal ahead of time with superiors determining how far you can go in maintaining the discipline necessary to keep on the path, even to the point of working out a signal for public situations.
Leading change shouldn’t stop on implementation day. Be sure the vulnerable change survives in the organization. A change in strategy requires a change in the way people think. The role of the change leader is to support this process until thinking shifts to be consistent with the change in strategy.Read More »
If the GPS system in your car gives you a route (careful planning) and you discover that a bridge is out on your path, do you continue driving anyway? By definition, a change project represents something new. It can’t be planned perfectly. If we’ve done our work up front, the change initiative makes sense strategically. Seldom do I see projects that should be shelved. The job then is to fit the change to the organization, molding both sides to properly fit together.
To integrate the change properly, we need to constantly test our change initiative against the reality of the environment. Then adjust course as necessary.
There is no greater win for the perception of our change initiative than to take feedback, and make an adjustment that improves the end result. Our constituents feel heard and appreciate the wisdom of the leadership team.
From a mind-set perspective, we should always be testing and validating the logic of our change initiative. Because, guess what? All of the front line staff who we are asking to change certainly will test the project’s logic.
It is not a sign of weakness to adjust the scope or rework a change initiative once it has started. This takes courage but this capability is a critical success factor for any change leadership philosophy.
Each of the components of Change Project Management – The Next Step are part of this testing and validation process.
Stakeholder Analysis – In each step of the stakeholder analysis process, we compare the proposed changes to how the stakeholder will interact with the changes. Not everyone may love each change but identifying ways to integrate the change for each stakeholder helps shape the change initiative for success. For example if the proposed change puts an unforeseen added burden on the marketing department, perhaps adjustments can be made early on as these needs are identified.
Change Planning/Monitoring Workshop – This portion of the change system approach provides a number of formal tests for our change project. We look at the complexity of the change, areas of resistance, strength of the team, and organizational impacts. Basically, all the barriers are identified allowing for adjustments to the change initiative.
The Foundation for Change – This important component of the communication campaign requires that we answer the all-important WHY question about the change initiative. Sometimes change initiatives start from a gut feel about the business. The Foundation for Change is where we prove the strategic tie-in to the business for the project.
Communication Campaign – A solid communication campaign provides a constant feedback loop from everyone involved with the project. These challenges from the field can help shape the project into something that can be seamlessly integrated. As the communication campaign helps make the project “real” for people the insights—and yes, sometimes complaints—are invaluable.
Change Breakthrough Analysis – There is no better way to elicit feedback and test your concept than frequent change breakthrough analysis sessions. In my experience, most in-project innovations stem from the information gathered during these sessions.
Change Readiness – This is where the rubber meets the road so to speak and you get to find out what it will really be like in the changed environment. Even at this late stage, tweaks are possible that can make a huge difference in acceptance and engagement.
Our constituents look to us for wisdom. They want us to be smart. There is usually a cautious optimism. They want us to lead them to a successful conclusion and will help if we ask them. Because large change projects occur over time, it is a sign of wisdom to adjust and adapt our projects as times change. The Change Project Management – The Next Step system puts the tests in place to constantly analyze and if necessary adjust course so that we meet the return on investment goals set at the beginning of our change.Read More »
Prerequisites – What has to change within the organization in order for your change project to be successful? Maybe the compensation system needs to change, or a department needs to reorganize. These tend to be the things that must run concurrent to your change but usually are complex and take a great deal of time. Whose responsibility? Well, since it’s a prerequisite to your success, yours.Read More »
With any project it is necessary for the project plan to be broken into easily definable phases. Everyone involved in the project should be fully aware of which phase they are currently in. In change projects of significant size these phases overlap and it can be very confusing. It is natural for project team members to temporarily shut down, especially if the previous phase was late and a final push for completion was necessary.
The goal of the change project manager is to use communication, leadership, and human resource management skills to avoid the normal downtime between project phases. Be careful not to become too much of a worker — get wrapped up in the tasks — and forget to prepare the team for the next project phase.Read More »