Comments about change are everywhere: “Change is the only constant,” “Things do not change; we change,” “We can change”. Why is change such a popular topic? Why do organizations keep talking about it? Why do people keep reading about it? And, why am I writing about it?
Simply put; it’s relevant.
Competition is fierce, talent is scarce, information is more public, interactions are more global and expansive, grass-roots innovation is more common and disruptive. In short, we need to change to survive and thrive. We need to learn how to implement change, we need to become living adapters of change and, even more importantly, we need to become creators of positive change.
Organizationally, change comes in the areas of governance, leadership, strategy, process, culture and certainly in many cases with technology – new or updated. With nearly every change, at least two major things happen. One, people are impacted and, two, there is a learning curve and what I call a “conviction curve” for those people to agree to and advocate the change initiative. Companies who truly make change happen are those who embed it within what they do and with what is expected, acknowledged and rewarded every day. But doing that isn’t an easy task and certainly requires agonizing patience most of the time.
It’s easy to change lanes when you’re the driver.
Change is difficult to manage because it involves people. Human behavior is complex – we have opinions, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, quirks and egos. Having seen the implications of not proactively guiding change, I have become a passionate and converted believer in “change management.” Of course it’s never easy but it’s been easier for me, being a consultant and not someone directly impacted. The situation is the same with leaders, sponsors and project managers who are tasked with “managing” change – those who make decisions to invest in the system implementation, process redesign, leadership change, workforce reduction or acquisition. This group, who usually makes up a small percentage of the impacted audience, has influence and power but they will not, cannot, should not, think that they will see the results without considering those who are impacted and who will ultimately make the change live on.
So, what about the passengers on this “change” bus?
Think about the latest difficult change you have made or have attempted to make (e.g., exercising more, gossiping less, complimenting and coaching more than criticizing). With this change, I’d imagine that you took the step to consider before committing. For me, I’ve been considering a move to a different state – a big and difficult change. My initial reaction to considering this option started with questions. What are the benefits of doing this? What if we don’t like where we move? What if my kids start hanging out with crazies? What if the value of our new house takes a dive right after we buy it? What if, what if, what if. These kinds of questions – some rational and others left to wild imagination – are a normal reaction to something that has been routine but is now going to be very different, or maybe just a little bit different.
In my opinion, the best thing any leader, project manager, change manager or sponsor can do when considering a major change is starting with these five simple questions:
1. Why would we do this?
2. Who will this impact?
3. When and how will this impact them?
4. Why would they adopt or support this change? And why might they completely avoid or oppose the change?
5. What is important to them about this change that may resonate as a benefit or solution to current pain points?
The first questions starts with the focus on the responsibility to surviving and thriving organizationally – will this change add value and provide benefits that align with our goals and stakeholder expectations?
The last four questions immediately then focus decision makers on HOW this change will happen. And it always starts with recognizing the contributions and involvement of and impact on the people in your organization. The HOW starts with deeply knowing and understanding the WHO. It’s putting yourself in their shoes to anticipate the questions they may ask, the concerns they may raise, the fears that may develop or the rumor mill that they may initiate or propel. People who are involved in change usually experience some emotional exhaustion, mental adjustments to the “new” way of doing things and social chaos in navigating rumors, new roles, etc. So all of these elements need to be considered and influenced for effective change to happen.
Successful change is an expedition – not a mile marker.
Change is not change until the change has happened and results are obvious. And even when that change happens, it doesn’t freeze. It’s volatile to a lot of influences – some obvious and others hidden. Stephen R. Covey is well known for the wise saying, “Begin with the end in mind.” With creating sustainable change, the “end” is not just the goals and objectives but the people who will make the change happen and keep it alive because ultimately change is not static. Your anticipated destination may only, and in many cases, should only be a pit stop to greater destinations ahead.
“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly” (Henri Bergson).