How should we implement change? It’s a simple enough question, surely there’s a simple answer -- especially since we get to do it so often. Every time we implement a new system or install a new process, we’re implementing change. Surely there are some things that work, and some things that fail? Surely we’re intelligent enough to sift out the good from the bad? Perhaps.
We have a problem. We need to understand the deep mystical secrets of change implementation.
We know some of these secrets involve the target audience;
- Making it their change, not your change; providing support during transition;
- Celebrating small successes etc
Sounds like motherhood and apple pie. Perhaps that’s why we ignore them so often. But Robert Fulghum was very successful with a simple little book entitled ‘All I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten’. Perhaps we need to follow his advice and pay attention to the obvious and the simple.
Perhaps when it comes to Change, all we really need do is paraphrase Fulghum and state “All I really need to know about Change, I learned in my last failed implementation!” and add this commentary as a warning... “I ignore them at my own peril!”
When faced with Change, any Change, our immediate response is “How will it affect me?” Will it destroy a way of life, or just disrupt a sense of comfort? Will it threaten jobs, or will it just be perceived as threatening jobs? Does it matter if it is a perception rather than reality?
Everyone shares these simple, personal, self-preserving questions. Answer them and you’ve solved the problem of implementing Change. Ignore them and you guarantee yourself a difficult, if not impossible, transformation.
Related Article: Leadership Lessons: Change in Seven Questions
There are no silver bullets in change management. No guaranteed, money back solutions. Your change strategy will depend on the present situation, your history, the future you’re trying to create and how difficult you make the journey from here to there.
The bottom line is, there is nothing you can say to someone you’re about to layoff that will make them feel better. If you’re looking for such a solution, then you‘re looking for the Holy Grail, it doesn’t exist.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to get a target audience to accept a new way of doing things, a new system or a new set of standards, then there are partial solutions. Solutions that allow the target audience to gain some control over their destiny while implementing the necessary changes.
The following list of questions and suggestions are intended to entice you to think about the whole situation, past and present, not just the uncertain future you’re trying to build.
Phase I: Understand the Change
Before we implement change, it’s imperative we understand all the reasons for it. We must become experts in the change being proposed or reacted to, because people will look to us for answers. They might even look to us for guidance. At the very least "Is the change necessary?" will be asked by everyone impacted by it. It would be nice to have an answer.
- What/Who is the Foreign Element?
The foreign element is the event, or person, which will disrupt the ‘way things were” otherwise known as the status quo. It’s dangerous to assume that the ‘foreign element’ is obvious to everyone. If the foreign element is misidentified, then the change will be more difficult to manage. This is sometimes another way of asking “What’s the real agenda?” If assumptions are made about why this change is being made, and these assumptions are wrong, it is likely the type of change implemented will not address either the real issue or that hidden reason for the change.
- What happens if we don't change?
What are the consequences if nothing changes? How certain are we that these consequences will take place? If the target audience does not believe the consequences will occur, or if the consequences have no noticeable positive or negative impact on them, they will not be motivated to move forward. People need to understand the real necessity for the change. Most people, when they understand the need to change is real, are unlikely, for reasons of self-preservation, to resist the change as strongly as those who believe the change is unnecessary.
- Who is affected by the change?
Closely tied to the question of consequences. Will *I* be affected? If I’m not affected? Why should I change? It’s possible, and it happens often, that one way to reject change is to live under the belief that it doesn’t affect me personally. Identifying the ‘target audience’ is crucial to any change project.
- When will the change take place?
The more imminent the change, the more people can relate and respond to it. Sometimes the only way to get people to accept that a change is ‘real’ is to attach a firm date for implementation. We’re all busy, our plates are filled with projects and important to-do items. If a change doesn’t have a deadline, if a priority has not been assigned, if budgets are nonexistent, then the change itself doesn’t really exist and it will be ignored. Distant change is less ‘real’ than imminent change.
- Why now?
What forces this change upon us at this point in time. Why not next year? Why not last year? What makes it important that we act now? What is it about this foreign element that causes it to affect us today? If this change was really important, why didn’t we address it sooner? All of these questions, if answered properly, provide justification for the change. They legitimize it. If the answers aren’t readily available, you’re communicating to the target audience that this change is arbitrary.
- How will the change affect us? Today? Tomorrow? In the long run?
This is another key question. Another version is “What’s in it for me?”
© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission