Why we still can’t get Change Management Programs to run correctly
How many of us have ever gone out to purchase a used car and drove it off the lot right away? It's most likely we drove the car initially but then raised the hood to check if there was anything out of order. At that point, we had to decide if work was required, how it would be done. But we knew that ignoring it was not an option. Even if the car drove well initially, anything missing under the hood, our cruising would run into challenges.
Somehow, this philosophy doesn’t get carried over to how we handle business transformation or Change Management Programs. Change Management, Journey Management, Workforce Transformation, a few of the new terms we are starting to use these days to describe the same activity. Despite the terminology we decide to use, we seem to still have challenges figuring out how to execute them with success consistently.
The concept of managing change or helping the workforce transition from the current to a future state is not new. Indeed, we change its character, dress it up, put on new fancy terms, but nothing really changes under the hood on how the programs are executed. Consequently, so many Change Management initiatives still fall short of expectations.
Perhaps it’s because we are trying to make something complex that is simple. How often have we seen Change Management approached as merely a process by which we follow a standard Project Plan and produce the same deliverables. During the last ten years, most of the business world has changed its approach or operations, yet we still have the same Change Management deliverables. Communications Plan, Stakeholder Strategy, Training Plan, Training materials – you get my point.
I believe this view is the problem of why Change Management programs keep coming up short and missing the mark for our clients. Most Change Management programs are very narrow in approach and thinking. I have heard it said, “It's a soft skill, and it's just about the people and delivering training and communications." Right? No, wrong!
For example, I joined a Change Management program for a global ERP implementation after it had been launched for several months. By the time I entered the scene, the client was on the brink of frustration and angry at how things were going. Evidently, a majority of their staff had been scheduled for training, but no one bothered discussing with the managers about the team’s availability to attend this mandatory training session. The employees worked multiple shifts covering a 24-hour period, no overtime could be incurred, and each group was required to have proper coverage for safety reasons. Which meant, the appropriate scheduling of these mandatory training sessions was essential. However, no one on the Change Management team had bothered taking these variables into full consideration when planning out the training schedules for participants. Nor did anyone bother considering all the other business priorities that were impacting this particular site during the same time period. The team just entered with their standard Change Management Project Plan and focused on meeting the go-live for the ERP global implementation. We all understand the challenges that arise when a team enters a project wearing blinders.
One point often overlooked and helpful to understand; organizations do not make money by implementing an ERP system, outsourcing their transactions, or changing their business processes. These events are simply something that must be done to support or enhance the core business. Which means it’s an interruption to everyone trying to run the core business and keep the lights on. So, when a Project/Program team hits the ground with a single focus and doesn’t consider everything impacting the client's priorities nor the ecosystem of their business, challenges are sure to arise.
I took a step back to take a closer look at what was happening within the organization. I began connecting with leaders at the various levels of the organization to understand their needs and partner to plan out the strategies for their teams. When users attended the training sessions, I listened to side conversations to understand how the organization was operating. This insight provided a better understanding of the challenges hitting all levels of the organization (a skill I learned as a Pharma Rep hanging out in Physician offices and hospitals waiting to speak with the doctors). This led to a partnership with these leaders to understand their business and problems, then design and execute strategies that resolved their issues while meeting my project objectives. As a result of these actions, I made adjustments where they could be made, brought the Change Management program back on track. Plus, I was now viewed as a valued resource to the client, and managers were able to achieve their respective business goals.
Nothing in business is ever one-sided. It's all connected; the entire ecosystem of business is interconnected and getting more connected every day. A decision made in one area/department almost immediately affects one or more departments across the organization. The business processes and the people involved are all connected and dependent on one another. Therefore, it’s imperative to have at least a high-level understanding of an organization's business process and priorities, no matter your role or responsibilities, including leading the Change Management program.
It seems simple enough on paper, and most of us would probably agree this makes good sense. But something falls through the cracks or off the table when we begin to execute the Program as it relates to Change Management. We get narrow-focused and forget there is more going on beyond the margins of our Change Management Project Plans that are essential to the overall success for the users – the people. We have to learn to understand how organizations are interconnected and how it impacts the execution of the Change Management Program.
Ironically, my most successful projects did not include any deliverables, which probably throws off a few of you. Then how did the client and leadership rate the success of the Change Management Program? Glad you asked. By the impact on the people and how they felt once they got to the other side of the business change (future state). When is the last time you had several people tell you they could not have gotten through a particular business transformation if it were not for you being there and all the things you did to help them through the change? When have you seen the business operations improve because you were able to identify the threatening challenges and put actions in place to address them? In the situation I mentioned above, I simply raised the hood of the organization, noticed what was out of order, or required adjustments and fixed it.
When you implement your Change Management program, check under the hood and ensure all the right components are adequately identified, properly engaged, and operating in sync. It may alter the way you define success when it comes to the execution of your Change Management Program.
When selecting a team what’s your starting point? Is it trying to find people who you feel comfortable being around, a crew with lots of degrees, a crew with lots of experience, or do you ignore all the above and just go with your gut.
What if we selected our teams based on the problems or goals we were trying to achieve? Perhaps we don’t have the same eating habits, like the same movies, or that irritating way you cut me off in the middle of my thought bothers me. But setting these things aside you are the best at solving one of my biggest problems and can do so in your sleep. Do I set aside my feelings, personal issues, and compromise my comforts. If I compromise once then won’t, I have to do so all the time? How would I live with myself?
Absolutely not! Perhaps it’s just been the way we have been looking at building our teams. Maybe we don’t need a long-term commitment but just simply an agreement that focuses on the current problem/ issue that will be addressed and the related payment arrangements. No long-term contracts. No long-term need to build a relationship. We don’t need to break bread together but merely focus on the one thing we have in common - the problem that needs fixing. After that goal is met, we can determine next steps or if we need to continue the working together at all.
Everyone we do business with does not need to be a long-term friend, but it’s something we have to settle in our hearts and minds. It’s not personal. In fact, it opens up our eyes to understand the truly real and good personal relationships we have compared to the those that are merely for a short season.
Let’s get to work. Build those teams with the skills and experience to solve the current problems and help your company achieve those goals. When situations arise for long-term relationships then bring in those people. But this is not required for every single role and opportunity in your organization especially if you are just growing or going through a transition.
I really like a good battle movie, and it doesn't matter if it's a western, historical, or a war movie. I just like to see a terrific battle. Especially, the ones where a person just charges into the action and won't quit or allow fear to hinder their fight. They just keep fighting until they give all the energy and drive they have inside their body. Just when you think they are beaten they give it one last push. It's as if they are driven by something more substantial than themselves, their surroundings, or their enemy. Their minds have become determined to win.
I don't suggest we all wake up and go to work as if we are entering onto a battlefield. But it would be nice to see more people who dared to stand. It would be nice to see people who just resolved in their minds not to quit. To just keep pushing until they achieved something more than the norm or the same old stuff. I think some people just get tired in the battle to succeed and resolve in their hearts and minds to just settle. "It's just too hard," they will say. " I've tried, and it just didn't work."
Well try again or try something different but just don't give up! Fight! Fight to see your dreams manifested. Fight to see your company succeed. Fight to become the best in your industry. Indeed fighting will hurt and it's very exhausting and frustrating. I get it. But if everyone just quit where would we be today.
Leaders are quitting and settling in how their company should perform. They are tired of fighting with employees, tired of every new idea seeming to fail or fall short of the overall target. Tired of the cost required to lead the pack and stay ahead of the competitors. So they give up and just follow the crowd. Consequently, we end up with a bunch of the same with just different labels.
Remember the good-ole-days when it seemed we had more options thus experienced different creations; we had variety. Even car models were so unique you could see a model three blocks away and know the make and model. Now, many things seem so alike you begin to ask the question. Who is on the battlefield fighting for creativity, uniqueness, and real innovation?
Fighting a good battle is about having the boldness to stand and not compromise. It's about pushing away fears and taking hold of something greater than yourself. It's about a vision bigger than one person but playing your vital role to bring it to pass. On the battlefield of business, there will be many casualties such as money loss, employees leaving, competitors beating your ideas to the market, ideas stolen, failures with development. However, to have a victory, it will take a good battle that requires standing alone and continuing to lead the pack. It may require standing alone and driving forward especially in those moments when others can not see the vision. Be the leader and fight a magnificent battle.
We can assume there were probably many failures before Henry Ford created the model-T, Edison figuring out the light bulb, and before George Washington Carver figured out three hundred different uses for the peanut. Prior to the many great and unique things we have today, there were failures. However, someone just kept staying on the battlefield of innovation and progress. In essence, they learned to fight a good battle against complacency, fear, and failure.
It doesn't matter what your degree of impact or your field of influence. Just stay on the battlefield of progress in your sphere of influence. Teachers remain on the battlefield to educate and train our future generations. Employees stay on the battlefield to excel on your job; excel in your field of influence. Leaders stay on the battlefield to lead your company to more significant achievements and innovation.
The Art of a Good Battle is about how you stay in the fight and don't give up or allow the handcuffs of complacency to lock up your progress. The battle may require a change in strategy, weaponry, new intelligence, or just the heart to keep going. Whatever, it takes, please keep going because we need your creativity, tenacity, and courage to bring forth innovations, new ideas, and boldness to refuse compromise.
It was getting later in the night, and we had already been going over this presentation and each slide within the deck multiple times. Nonetheless, each time I would review the slide with my leadership they would respond, "So What?" We had been going over this presentation for many days, and it still felt like we were not making any progress.
Everyone was tired. The Lead was tired, the team was tired, and even the birds outside the office window looked tired. Yet we had to keep pressing through. So despite the raising of the hairs on the backside of my neck, I had to step back once again, push back my ego, and see if an answer would come to respond to the looming question. What are we missing? Finally, after multiple iterations and fighting back the impulse to become frustrated we got to the point the question was addressed. The ‘So What” mystery was finally solved.
In retrospect, this was probably one of the best coaching sessions I have encountered during my professional career. The team and I needed to stop looking at everything from our point of view and concentrate on the client’s perspective. The ‘So What' question was merely to ask, why should the client care about this slide and will it address their needs. Each slide had to pass this test, or it was deleted from the final deck.
As Consultants, we can put together slide presentations for just about anything. In fact, if PowerPoint slides were currency there would be some very wealthy Consultants. Clients must believe the number of slides in our presentations pays Consultants. But how much of the information is indeed relevant to the customer and how much repeats itself or could be told in a much clearer and concise message?
Although this lesson was a hard one to learn it has proven to be very helpful and beneficial to my clients. Challenge ourselves and our teams to ask and answer this question with each presentation and deliverable we present for the customer.
One particular deliverable I challenge, as a Change Consultant is the Communication Plan because it really does not pass the ‘So What’ test for me. On Change Management projects the Communication Plan is always presented as one of the primary deliverables. It’s merely an Excel spreadsheet that lists out all the intended communications, timelines, reviewers, due dates, etc. Indeed, it's relevant, but I believe it's the actual communications that are produced that should be of the most importance. Merely, pulling together a list of projected communications, especially when they are mostly copied from previous projects, is not at all valuable to a client. The strategy to implement and linking it back to the goals of the department, organization, business would seem to be more relevant to the client.
I believe the ‘So What' question should be asked all the way through the process even to seconds before delivery. It's bothersome for planners who like to have everything confirmed and following a perceived project plan. But if it doesn't consistently pass the test then why execute just to check a box on a project plan. At the end of the day, the completion of a project plan is only truly valuable to the client if the business objectives have been achieved. I am not in business to complete project plans but to serve my customers and help them achieve their business goals to remain competitive and successful in their respective market. Project Plans are merely my road map and guard rails to the ultimate goals.