Thursday 19 March 2015

Three Essential Ingredients for Lasting Change

We are regularly told on LinkedIn that change is difficult because “people do not like change”, but if that’s true why do people clamour to change their mobile phone even before the current contract is up? Why are shops always full of people looking for new clothes? Why are hair salons busy with people wanting a fresh hairstyle, and why do we sit on the train in the morning, quietly admiring our new shoes? (OK, maybe that last one is just me then, but you get my drift.)

I think what is probably more accurate to say is that people do not like imposed change. Successful, lasting change in the workplace needs to be handled carefully, and people need to be involved. These are the three essential ingredients for successful change I have come to understand over many years of involvement in structural and business change:

It’s far better to say to people “Let’s move over there because it’s better” than it is to say “Come over here – my place is better.” When I introduce change I use a mechanism that involves people so that they contribute to the nature of the change and so feel part of it and buy into the change.

Here’s how it works; I produce a brief proposal document. There are certain guidelines for it: no more than five or six pages; writing should be both precise and concise. I consider the audience and cut out unnecessary words – often adjectives – and no “weasel words” such as “fairly”, “comparatively” and so on. When writing about things that have been measured I always include numbers and evidence.

I also try after every sentence to determine what the reader might ask. If I anticipate questions I should answer them in the following sentences and – I know this makes me sound ancient – grammar and punctuation matter!

In addition to the handful of pages I always include two appendices, one for FAQs for questions I anticipate might be asked of the overall proposal and one to list reviewers and contributors as the document is socialised. I might also include other appendices if I need to add further evidence or examples to help people reach a conclusion.

I then circulate it to a group of people who will have knowledge around the proposed area for change, and who are most likely to be affected by any change. Once they have added comments, asked questions and/or proposed amendments we get together as a group and discuss the proposal. The outcome of that meeting should be a revised document that has the broad agreement of everyone at the meeting. Their names are added to the appendix I mentioned above before the document is given a wider audience. I then collect comments and concerns from the wider audience and again, the document can be amended – usually at this stage the alterations are minor and a new, hopefully final, version can be distributed.

By working in this way people feel part of the change. They have had a say in it and we all have a better understanding of each other’s view and have achieved at least close to a consensus. The added benefit is that the change has been discussed over a period of time and so people are already making that emotional shift to the new status quo.

Look, I know, and you know, that the bright idea you had in the shower this morning is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and will revolutionise your implementation processes overnight. You will no doubt receive a substantial pay increase, lavish praise from the CEO and a job title to impress people at dinner parties.

However, not everyone will see your wisdom instantly.  Hard to believe, I know, but there could be things about their job or the processes around it that you haven’t fully understood or even addressed.

They will need time to consider, and the opportunity to contribute, to feel they have been heard. All this takes time and all you will achieve without patience is a badly thought through change that will not endure because it was “your” idea, not “our” idea.  Which segues neatly into my third essential:

An open mind

Whenever I draft a proposal document, it is exactly that – a draft. It often undergoes substantial changes by the time the final version becomes an agreed change, and those changes come from other people, not me. I don’t have all the answers, or sometimes even all the facts. More importantly, I can never fully understand other people’s emotional responses, their values and their motivations.

The collaboration process feeds those things into the mix and the end result is better for it. When I am mentoring new managers who find delegation difficult I always tell them “Just because it has been done differently to the way you would do it doesn’t make it wrong, it might even make it better.” The same applies to introducing change; listen to and incorporate input from others. It will probably make your proposal better, and it will certainly make it enduring.

If you would like a template for the proposal document I use, including the principles and some guidance, message me with your email address and I’ll be pleased to send it to you.

Steve Syder is a Registered Project Professional, a Fellow of the APM and an RPP Assessor. He has in his time implemented Programme and Project Management practices for organisations as diverse as the UK Hydrographic Office, EDS and Orange amongst others. Until recently he was Director of Programme & Project Management at OpenBet, and he has now turned his attention to the structure and governance of the BI function at Tyche Consulting.

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