Tag Archives: organisational change management

Want successful change? Define failure!

‘No one is using the system’

‘This is not working’

‘Everyone is facing issues’

‘This is not working’

‘We need to go back to the drawing board’

I am sure all of you have heard these statements before – typically after the euphoria of a new technology, solution, process settles down and it all starts to move towards the dreaded BAU !! Around this stage, you suddenly start getting (premature) judgements on your months worth of work. More often than not, someone in an influential position declares that ‘this just has not worked’.  Ever wondered why this almost always happens? Here is the answer – ‘We do not spend anytime defining what Failure looks like’

Projects often spend considerable time defining ‘what good looks like’. Everyone (in the project team) is keen to declare success and is even more keen to know how will success look like. While there is nothing wrong in that, here is an unintended consequence –‘Everything that does not look like success is failure!’

This obsession with ‘what good looks like’ creates an illusion of everything else being bad. We enter into a binary world where projects are either success or failure but nothing in-between. I doubt if the world that we live in is so binary. I think there are different degrees of success ( currently termed as failure) as well as failure and it is important that we acknowledge that.  As far as I am concerned, most of the so called failures are not failures at all. Those are just undefined stages of success. This is not to say that there are no absolute failures but those tend to be much less common.

While defining ‘good’ or ‘success’ we usually miss 2 key aspects

  • Journey – Typically projects define ‘what good looks like’ at the destination and the destination could typically be months and in some cases years away. I must clarity that I am not talking about project planning or execution. I am talking about success after the go-live. I am talking about change, adoption and ultimately business benefits. These are typically defined in terms of the destination which is the ‘BAU’. Most of the projects, do not define what success will look like on the journey to BAU. How will things look like 3 months from Go-Live and then how will things look like 6 months from Go-Live and so on..  This makes destination our only reference point and it usually results in the feeling of defeat, despair and desperation!
  • Context – For me success or failure is usually is a function of context. Something that is viewed as a success in one environment might be a out right failure in another. The second issue with the practice of ‘what good looks like’ is that it is usually without the context or is meant only for a single context. For defining success, I would love to see a scenario analysis. We all know the risks and sure we all have plans to manage risk . What we don’t have is – if this risk materialises how does our definition of ‘good’ changes?  I am sure all of you will agree that if we have defined our success without context, we will always view it as a failure if the context changes. Context definitely impacts outputs so it should impact expectations too!

If you want successful change then here is how I suggest you define ‘what good looks like’

  • Have multiple definitions of ‘good’ for different checkpoints after go-live
  • Have multiple definitions of ‘good’ for different scenarios based on your risk register

Your ‘what good looks like’ definition should help you answer this one question – ‘Am I close to where I would be given the circumstances?’. If you are close, then it is not a failure. It is just taking you one step closer to success!

 

Want successful change? Pick the right problem!

question-and-answers

  • Pick a problem that is of the right size
  • Pick a problem that is worth solving
  • Pick a problem that can be solved and in finite time
  • Pick a problem that can be quantified
  • Pick a problem that impacts lives

Ask these questions because people will only change if they see you solving their problems. They know that some problems are too big and cannot be solved here and now. They also know that there are problems that can be solved and solved in near future. If they see the proposed change as something that will solve the later problems, they will be willing.

For me the success or failure of a change initiative rests on choosing the right problem to solve. Too often organisations set change initiatives to solve problems that are too big or too vague. These problems are either not understood by an average employee or are at too higher level to impact the life of any average employee. Let me explain this with an example

‘To sustain in the current market place we need to adopt a culture of innovation’

That actually means nothing. If you test this problem against all the conditions that I stated at the start of this post, you will realise that this one fails on almost every test. Can I change the culture in short term? Is the problem of right size? Can the problem be quantified? Can the problem be solved in finite time? Answer to all of these questions is ‘No’ and that is why usually such big statements do not get enough engagement and reaction.

We need to break these big statements into smaller pieces. Each of these pieces needs to pass all the tests that I mentioned at the start of the post. Let’s relook at our statement again.

Here is how I can look at the same problem in pieces

‘To generate at least 100 innovators and 1000 viable ideas from within the organisation’

Now that is a problem that can be solved and is worth solving. It is also a problem that can be measured and benefits can be felt. Employees can get excited about this problem and the impact can be felt. Will this lead to the desired culture change? The probability is good. People can rally behind such problems as these are much more tangible than the vague statements of vision.

Give the concept a chance. Take a look at how you have defined your ‘change problem’. Check your definition against the tests I mentioned. If it fails then maybe it is worth redefining your problem. After all if your problem cannot be measured, solved in finite time and cannot impact lives directly, why bother?

Stop asking me to wear that shirt (or use that technology)

Once upon a time, my mother bought me a shirt. More often than not, I hate clothes bought for me and this shirt was not different. For no particular reason I resisted wearing that shirt. May be it was old-fashioned or may be I did not like the colour; something about that Shirt did not sit right with me.

For years my mother kept asking me to wear that shirt. With every reminder, I hated that shirt more. My mother is a persistent woman but finally she gave up and stopped asking about the shirt. Here is what happened after that

One fine day, I ended up in a situation where I could not find any clean/ ironed shirt to wear (yes that happens to me) and as fate would have it, the only shirt available to me was the one my mother gave me. I gathered the courage, put on the shirt and went on with my day.

‘Hey, nice shirt!’

‘Why don’t you wear such shirts more, they look good on you’

‘This definitely does not look like your shopping. Looks good’

Some of the things I got to hear that day. Not sure all of them were compliments but I will live with that.

I came back home and tried my level best to figure out why I hated that shirt. The best I could come up with was this –

‘I was a young rebellious kid who did not like the fact that his mom bought him something without asking him first’

Now replace the shirt with technology and my mother with any change/ transformation managers in your organisation. You will get the same situation

  • You will mostly hate the technology procured by the organisation
  • You will hate it more as a result of the ‘adoption stats’ and constant reminders to ‘use the technology’
  • You will one day be forced to use the technology and if everything is right, you will actually find it beneficial.
  • You (and the change manager) will be wondering why you hated the technology so much to begin with.

I think we as change managers need to ditch the traditional adoption measures and focus on creating situations where there is a reason or at least an excuse to adopt the technology. We also need to find ways to ensure that end-users feel that they bought the technology along with the organisation. It is a difficult thing to achieve but I think it is mission critical.

As humans, we have tendency to hate new things when those are forced on us. Asking ‘why you are not using it’ just adds oil to the fire. I am sure none of us want that. My mother knew that shirt will look good on me, she just could not find a way for me to try it on. In my case luck helped and I ended up wearing that shirt, I am not sure if organisations can depend on luck when it comes to technology adoption!

People hate change! Do they really?

time-for-a-change-897441_640

I have been reading a lot around the subject of change management. Almost every model, approach , paradigm starts with the basic assumption that ‘people don’t like change‘.  I for one don’t completely agree with that basic assumption and I am dedicating this post to explaining why. I think people don’t hate change, they just hate badly executed changes.

Here is my fundamental question

‘If people queue up to buy the latest phone, why don’t they queue up to benefit from the changes that organisations launch’

Surely buying a phone is a big change. New phone means new accessories, new features, new chargers plus the effort to get your head around all of that.  That is a lot of change and a lot of effort. Why don’t people hate that? Why don’t people resist that change?

Now replace ‘phone’ in the above situation with ‘house’, ‘car’ or anything else and the same can be argued. In these scenarios people seem to enjoy the change and in fact look forward to the change. Why then the same people resist change when it comes to their professional life?

let’s take the same phone and think about a OS upgrade. I bet lot of us have hate those. On the face of it, these upgrades are supposed to make our phones perform better but they rarely do to begin with. Many a times we are not aware of the potential problems and there are times when we regret the day we decided to upgrade the OS.  New Phone and New OS are both essentially change but I am sure while most of us love the former and we dread the later.  I wonder why is that. Now if you had bought a new Samsung Note 7, then it is possible that next time you will be less excited about even a new phone. Guess that tells us something – People don’t hate change they just hate badly executed change.

Let me say that again ‘people don’t really hate change’. They in fact love change when it comes in the right proportion, at the right time and in the right way.  If I can walk up to my employees and offer them something that they know will make their life better, I don’t think they will hate the change. The problem is that employees are never presented change in a way that they can embrace and enjoy.

Most change management projects start with the grim view of employees i .e. they don’t like change and more often than not it is downhill from there.  Instead of looking at how we can present the change differently, we curse and moan about the users. Many a times we conclude that employees are the biggest problem and for better part of the project we try to solve that problem.

Here is a different way of approaching this

Let’s start with a different assumption – ‘People love change’. If a proposed change is not working then the issue if with the change and not with people. This will make you approach the problem in a different way. You will try to create a change package that is of the right proportion, at the right time and the right way. You will keep trying till you are able to excite your users about the change. You will aim for the day when people will fight with each other to be the first recipient of the change you are offering. I am not saying that you can make every change exciting. There are changes which will never fall in this category but most can.

We need changes to be like a new phone (not note 7 🙂 ) and not like the new OS 🙂

Organisational change is not about the change !

It isn’t. It is about people/ employees/ internal customers and not about the change. How many times you have heard these statements ?

  • We need to embed change
  • We are rolling out change
  • Change has to be embraced

We make it so much about the ‘change’ that we forget that it is the people/employees/ internal customers who are changing. Change in itself is nothing. What we call ‘change’ is the act of people changing their behaviours. Most of the times ‘change’ as a noun becomes much more important than ‘change’ as a verb. We start talking about ‘a change’ as opposed to ‘ to change’. This is where I feel most change management projects miss the point – ‘Change management projects are about people and not about change itself’

Let me help you visualise this. On the left is how we mostly do it and on the right is how I am proposing we should do it.

people-and-change

  • If you put ‘Change’ at the heart of everything (left), then you will have change driving people and that in turn driving the benefits
  • If you put ‘People’ at the heart of everything (right), then you will have people driving the change and that in turn driving the benefits

This all might be very subtle but I think this matters. I think people (employees) need to feel that they are driving change and not the other way round. To achieve this we need to think people first. We need to create structures that empower people to drive change. We need people to see benefits as their achievement and not achievement of the change project. To begin with, we need to acknowledge that ‘change is about people and not about change’. I have few more thoughts around the subject but that’s for another day!