“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
– Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke (as paraphrased in The Swordbearers : Studies in Supreme Command in the First World War (1963) by Correlli Barnett
Resistance to change, unexpected stakeholder challenges and failed adoption are all enemies of successful change.
Change Agents should heed the Field Marshall’s insight and expect that they may need to adapt their plans at some point.
In my two previous posts in this series, I introduced a 5-step process Change Agents can use to adjust their approach over the course of executing a big change. This process starts with gathering raw data about change adoption and identifying meaningful information buried within that data.
Specifically, I suggested that Change Agents should ask their stakeholders for feedback about how the change is going and then sift through this results to glean out information like:
– Trends & patterns. How is the change going in an overall sense?
– Outliers. Who is still struggling with the change even as others around them are adapting?
– Assumptions that are validated. What elements of our approach look to be on track?
– Assumptions that prove to have been wrong. How do we need to adjust our approach?
– Gaps in the data. Where do we need more data to draw accurate conclusions?
Now that we’ve gathered the data and coalesced it into information about the needs of our stakeholders, let’s consider what choices we have to address their concerns.
Change Agent Tip #62: You May Need to Change Your Change.
I recommend Change Agents focus on five areas when looking to validate or adjust their approach to implementing change:
- Change Leadership
- Stakeholder Readiness
- Change Execution
1. Evaluate the information about Change Leadership:
– Based on the information you’ve gathered, does it appear that the leadership team is “on the same page” about what the change is designed to accomplish?
– Do people believe the justification for the change?
– Do the words and deeds of your organization’s leaders demonstrate consistent support for the change and support for those going through it?
– What level of adjustment is needed in the area of Change Leadership? Should we stay the course, make targeted adjustments or go for a complete overhaul?
2. What do we know about the effectiveness of our Change Communication?
– Do the broad messages about the change appear to be getting delivered to the right people?
– Are the messages being understood by those who need to hear them?
– What trends can we discern about the flow of information regarding the change to our various stakeholder groups?
– Are any “outlier” areas lagging behind in their awareness about the change?
– Are some parts of the organization doing well enough that there is no need for adjustments?
– Should we consider some targeted communication based on different roles or differences in change impacts?
3. What does the feedback say about Stakeholder Readiness?
– Do those who need help preparing for the change appear to be acquiring the knowledge they need?
– Are any aspects of the change causing confusion? If so, is there any pattern to the confusion? Do a few topics dominate this type of feedback?
– Are stakeholders picking up the the skills/abilities needed to adapt to the change at an appropriate pace?
– Which areas of the stakeholder map are doing better than others?
– Which groups might need some targeted help in order to get ready?
– Are there any assumptions we made going into the change that need to be re-visited?
4. What can we tell from the information you’ve gathered about Change Execution?
– How clearly defined and how well understood are the “nuts and bolts” activities of your change?
– Do people know what steps to take in order to do their part?
– Are those involved in rolling out the change getting their work done in a timely manner?
– What areas of the plan might need more resources in order to stay on track?
– What about gaps? Are there any activities of the change project that you really don’t have any information about?
5. Finally, what does the data tell us about Teamwork?
– Is it clear who is responsible for making the change happen?
– How effective is communication within the change team?
– How effective is problem-solving within the change team?
– Do you need to make teamwork improvements or stay the course with your current change team?
How Much Should We “Change the Change”?
As you mull over your findings in each of the five areas, I also suggest that you consider the degree to which you may need to make changes to the approach.
For simplicity, consider three levels of adjustments Change Agents could make:
The three levels are relatively straight-forward:
- Stay the Course and continue to move forward with your current approach in areas where the data suggests it’s working.
- Look for targeted adjustments if certain stakeholder groups are struggling with readiness, communications or some other area of change adoption.
- Overhaul is a particularly challenging adjustment, but it’s sometimes necessary when the data indicates that the current approach is not working at all.
It’s important to be clear about what level of adjustment you and your team think is needed. Some members of the team may feel that the data indicates a need for a radical shift in the approach while others argue that you should stay the course. In either case, it would be a big mistake to march forward without synching up expectations.
One Final Note: Making adjustments to your change approach isn’t necessarily a sign of failure. Sometimes it’s a sign that you didn’t gather enough data up front, guessed wrong or misread the situation. Other times it’s a sign that you underestimated the challenge. If you are uncomfortable about making mid-course adjustments, double-check your findings and run your decisions by the team.
In any case, don’t deny what the data is telling you.
I’ve found that the only thing worse than changing course in the middle of a big change is not adapting the change approach when the data clearly tells us that we should.
Questions for Chatter:
– What have you found harder to do: stay the course in the face of criticism or make adjustments to your change approach?
– Have you been part of a change that suffered because the change team ignored what the data was telling them?