What is Your Playbook for Change?
Updated: Jul 30, 2018
Have you ever been in a situation where there has been a big corporate announcement for a new change initiative in a Town Hall or All Hands meeting and after the overexcitement and energy has left the room, you are left wondering what the hell is this going to mean for our business, our team, myself?
Often when changes are being planned, the executive team may discuss for months about the shift into a new direction. Once a decision is reached, the leaders who have been involved in the design process and had time to consider and accept the change, will cascade the information to their people and expect them to fully commit to it straight after the announcement.
In dynamic market settings new announcements every few months are quite standard but what is interesting is what happens in between these announcements. Number one, everybody talks and interprets the latest changes their own way – just go and listen to the conversations in lunch and coffee tables and the amount of rumors that fly around. The blank space in between announcements and what happens next is anything but silent!
Second, people tend to go into wait-and-see mode. Human mind is wired so that it keeps playing out different scenarios about what is going to happen which inevitably leads to lowered effort and destroyed productivity.
The focus shifts from the goals and targets and yes, from customers towards inside the organization. Who is going to care about the existing targets as they are bound to change anyway with this new model/ organization/ leader/ whatever. In a larger setting, what you see is people starting politicking and lobbying for their own seat in the table. There is no way to ever completely get rid of the havoc and detrimental behavior caused by transformations, yet there are ways and measures you can take to make your road towards change less painful and what’s more important, to keep at least one hand still on the steering-wheel.
Share, listen, adapt
Yes, it is tempting to create things for your employees. Yet the more productive way would be to create things with them. Being as transparent as possible and asking for feedback both via technology and in-person discussions, bringing people into the design process whenever and wherever you can, can change a great deal.
I fully appreciate the fact that some decisions must be made on the top management level. That does not mean, however, that once the new direction is set, that you could not plan out the communication plan a bit more carefully. First, you can do that by extending your change program team.
Bring in key people from each region, division or business unit who are trusted by their peers and representing the team. This can be done either by selection or asking for volunteers. Take the time to walk them through the necessary changes and discuss and address any concerns they may have in advance of the big announcement.
Now let’s go back to the lunch table setting again. After the announcement, there are still people talking and playing out different scenarios but this time, you know you have someone there in the table with them, someone who knows the real objectives for the change and can filter out the biggest concerns. These people share and translate management messages to their peer group in their language and relay feedback from the group back to the management.
New change formula
Here is the real make it or break it change formula. Successful transformations do not draw change as straight line from one point to another. Out with the old, in with the new as the saying goes. You have better chances of succeeding in transformation if you pay considerate amount of time thinking, planning and communicating what will not change.
Does this sound counterintuitive? Aren’t we supposed to rally up our troops to embrace the new, exciting future and focus their energy on pursuing the new? Say that we do communicate that this is now how we want you to behave, do things in a new way. So what you are essentially saying that everything we have been doing so far is now regarded as legacy? Old, not needed anymore, to be discarded and forgotten?
I think you get the picture.
The more successful transformations are pragmatic and make the length of integrating the old with the new. Yes, there will be changes but there are elements that will remain as is. The foundation on which we will build on will be our current culture. What is the vision, where are we today, what is changing, what stays the same and finally, how can you help and contribute to this change?
Earlier this week, I tweeted one kick-ass quote from Tony Robbins:
Again, in every change management training I have participated or best practices I have read, creating sense of urgency is highlighted. Sense of urgency is demonstrated best by showing numbers and pointing out facts how the world is changing to underline and stress the point why we must change too. It is sound advice; how else would we be willing to change the status quo
But still, from the real life – perspective, I think Tony Robbins got it right. Knowledge itself will not change anything. It is our every day actions and interactions that will eventually make a difference.