Managing change: The good, bad and ugly…5 key principles and solutions

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Courtesy of CEBOS Quality Management Software

Today, in any meeting that you attend ‘managing change’ seems to be the underlying agenda. Why so? Well, we believe that this has always been the case. Management is about either arresting an organization from sliding down, maintaining status quo, or improving how it’s managed. All three scenarios require managing the current for a better (or less painful) future. A key variable in managing this change is the scale of change.

Change could be improving a current process, deploying a quality management system, or changing the fortunes of a company. We are more concerned about the second category – managing change that has a medium scale but its outcome impacts the company’s fortunes. An example is implementing software to manage the company’s Quality Management System – something that is almost essential in today’s business.

So what are we trying to do when we manage change? First things first -

  • Change is about moving from one state of being to another that is better than the current
  • Our objective is to make this journey with minimal pain (some pain is natural).

Why is change accompanied by pain? This is almost a law of nature. Changing a state of being causes stress in the system and environment and some short term pain is essential to have longer term gain. Take an example of an amateur trying to lose weight (sounds familiar to most of us!). The method chosen is to run a mile every day. The first few days are straight out of a horror movie – each step hurts, body aches, and mind cries ‘please stop’. Those who overcome this pain soon run the mile and much more. And yes they attain their goals. Managing change is about achieving goals.

Five Key Practical Principles of Change Management

Just as our life and work are packed with change programs what is also true is that many of these programs fail. Why? We have studied change programs over the years and believe there are some key principles to keep an eye upon.

1. Management/Leadership Commitment Comes Later in the Journey

Anybody who can barely spell management or leadership wants their commitment before even beginning. We understand this requirement when the change in discussion is real big one. But, does completing Six Sigma projects on time, implementing a QMS software, accelerating a Kaizen initiative, need leadership commitment? Ask yourself – if leadership is going to commit their time and energy to everything we probably need several clones. We are increasingly convinced that waiting for management commitment on everything is only a delaying tactic – a blame shifting practice. If we wait for such commitment all the time we will never get anything done. Successful change managers tell us that management commitment always comes when they see quick and early wins. So stop waiting for this commitment to arrive. Get up and do something.

2. Most People Who Drive Change are not Open to Change Themselves

We meet change managers all the time. Most of them complain of everyone else being not open to change. On close scrutiny, it is evident that in many such cases these change managers are the ones who are not open to change. Ask a brutal question – is your change manager really the best guy you have?

3. Resistance is not Bad All the Time

Don’t resist resistance. Work with it. Take a hard look at all successful change programs. They all had resistance in the initial stages and then good managers worked on the program and improved it, revamped it, and re-launched it. And then there was less resistance. And when they communicated and celebrated small wins there was even lesser resistance. So, gulp it, resistance is not always bad. It helps us improve what we are launching. In absence of resistance there would be just too much change around us – and that will be chaos.

4. Communicate and Celebrate Small Successes

Way too often in change programs, managers keep waiting for that big bang news to appear. Human nature is such that while we yearn for small successes ourselves we want to carry news of only big successes. See the paradox. Do not wait for big bangs. Communicate and celebrate small wins. If implementing a software QMS, keep communicating as per plan – even achieving milestones on time is good news. Recently we saw a Kaizen initiative being implemented in a company’s two different divisions. One manager kept communicating small wins and celebrated early ideas even when they had not delivered huge benefits. The other manager who wanted to impress the management team with how significant his program was kept waiting for that Big Bang news. Sounds like the story of hare and tortoise? Well then you know who won.

5. Increase the stakes and involve more people in the journey

They say, when on a trek, never walk alone. Why? It’s more fun to walk with others and it’s safer too. Same applies to change programs. Involve more people and share credit regularly. Credit is quite funny in nature. The more you share the more it keeps coming back to you.

Also, if you want your program to be successful increase the stakes involved. Keep senior management team informed and make public commitments. One of the best methods of losing weight is to make a public commitment about it. There is no place to hide then. Get the hint?

Help is on the Way

So, do we have a solution? Well, we don’t really have a solution but can recommend a framework which could reduce your pain in managing change. This framework has been assembled after observing how successful programs become successful. However, this is still a work-in-progress. We need to conduct more research to validate this framework.

SCAN

Scanning the environment is a key first step of the SPPRS (pronounced Spur) Change Management framework. While speaking to change managers we realized that good change managers always try to define the end-state before they start. Think of it – don’t you want to know where you are going before you start?

The other smart thing these managers do is to assess the hand they have been dealt. This helps these change managers decide how aggressive they can be on the program. It’s not always possible to get the best and most suitable resources on the program – reality is that these resources are scarce and are sought by everyone. It is wise to adjust the change program based on what resources we get. The managers we observed also tried to understand power centers and influencers. Power centers and Influencers will help the Change Managers find a way when things get tough during the program. All this scanning is critical for the program.

In summay SCAN is comprised of:

  • Defining the end state
  • Assessing resources/team
  • Understanding power centers and power flow
  • Identifying influencers

PREPARE

In the next stage – Prepare – good change managers start with socializing the change program to seek ground level support. This is to cover-up for lack of management support. In early stages of a change program it is difficult to get a lot of management support. Management will wait and wants to see early results before committing. Socializing could include talking about the change program with influencers formally or informally. Successful change managers then move to identify quick win opportunities. These are the opportunities that will help them seek and secure management commitment. Finally a milestone plan should be developed. Please note that we recommend delaying this milestone plan after scanning and preparing for the program – unlike the traditional method of building a detailed plan right at the beginning of the journey.

In summary PREPARE is comprised of:

  • Socializing the change idea and seek ground level support
  • Identifying potential quick wins
  • Developing communication and reward mechanisms
  • Influencing the influencers
  • Developing the milestone level plan

PILOT

After scanning and preparing good change managers move to conducting a Pilot. We notice that whatever be the time compulsions, good change managers always conduct a Pilot. Pilot is a small scale more controlled rollout of the change. This allows managers to observe and soak in how the change will actually roll-out. A key step in Piloting is to communicate. Always remember to communicate with Influencers before you communicate with masses. People whose counsel was sought early in the program like being in the know-how before others get to know the results. The most important step of conducting a Pilot is to be open to killing the program if the pilot so suggests. Good change managers tell us that many a change program go wrong because they were not killed when the pilot rollout clearly told that it won’t work out!

In summary PILOT is comprised of:

  • Deploying changing in potential wins
  • Communicating with influencers
  • Creating a positive environment for change
  • Communicating results
  • Deciding on next steps (be open to consider killing the program!)

ROLLOUT

If you have come this far in the change journey the change roll-out should not be too difficult. But then there are always surprises. While you roll-out the change do remember to communicate success. Learning from the program is a key step that good change managers don’t forget to do. Even if the program is a huge success there will still be lessons to be learnt.

In summary ROLL-OUT is comprised of:

  • Communicating success of the pilot to influence influencers
  • Fine tuning the milestone plan
  • Deploying milestone plan
  • Communicating and celebrating
  • Learning from the roll-out and share lessons learned

SUSTAIN

Sustain is the stage where many programs fail. After having a good roll-out many change managers relax. The assumption is that the journey is over. But it is seldom so. A roll-out normally does not deliver results – it will be sustained implementation that will deliver results. That’s when your energy and drive as a change manager is tested. Can you continue to monitor and push on with the change? If yes, you could end up on a winning change program that delivered for your organization.

In summary SUSTAIN is comprised of:

  • Modifying the program, if required (remain open to change yourself)
  • Developing and publishing dashboards
  • Reviewing progress and the program periodically
  • Transferring to BAU and closing out!!!
  • Each stage of the change program must undergo a tollgate review to ensure that all key activities have been completed the way they should have been.

Conclusion

Don’t wait for management commitment and you will do well in your change program. Use the SPRRS or any other structured approach to managing change if want to plan your way to success. However, be ready and open to a lot of surprises. Work with Influencers and don’t forget to communicate and celebrate.

Use this framework and let us know your feedback. We would love to improve this framework further.

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