Tag Archives: Transformation

Indian demonetisation – The perfect case study for change management!

  1. Right intentions – check
  2. Questionable execution – check
  3. Majority users agreeing in principle – check
  4. Majority of users suffering – check
  5. Lack of clear KPIs to measure benefits – check
  6. Project team constantly coming up with new ideas to tackle situation – check
  7. Obvious lack of planning – check
  8. Project getting muddled up in politics – check
  9. Benefits likely to be questioned – check

This in short is the story of every change management program and it seems a program as big as India’s Demonetisation is no different.

I had the pleasure of experiencing this change management program as a user and for all the right intentions of the project team, I was left with a feeling that this was not well planned and users were not at the centre of this particular change management program.

The project team (government) kept insisting that ‘pain’ is necessary for the gain – getting rid of black money.  As a user I am convinced that if better planned, the pain could have been reduced for the users.  For a program of this size, the last-minute thinking on multiple fronts was astonishing

In my discussions with various people on the ground, I heard various valid questions. Here are 3 of them

  • Did the project team not foresee issues at toll booths and other places. Why was chaos necessary to prompt action?
  • Did anyone not think while designing the 2000 rs note that the ATM machines will have to be re-calibrated?
  • Why were expectations not better managed? Why do the BAU ( business as usual) timelines keep changing? Why have few days become few weeks and now potentially few months?

In each of the change management project, users have similar questions. What seems to be common sense to them, seems to be alien to the project team. What seem to be big issues for the users are usually trivial to the project team. Project teams more often than assume that users have to suffer and make little or no effort to reduce the pain. Users in this and every case are sensible and want to support the change, if only they are shown some empathy !!

Note : – I am  not a supporter of or against the demonetisation move. My views here are strictly as a change management professional.



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.


  • 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!

Storytelling and Change… now that’s a story worth telling

First of Placeholder Imageall I want to thank Jude Claybourne for a wonderful insight into the world of story telling.  For past 2 days, I have immersed myself into the world of business storytelling under the guidance of Jude. It has been thought-provoking specially in context of the change ideas I have been toying around. This is my effort to put these things together.

2 things from the storytelling session that stayed with me

  • Everyone is unique and each one of us have our unique stories
  • Our stories is what makes us who we are

If stories define us then our change also has to be a story.  We should be able to describe every change in our personal as well as professional life as a story.  As a part of every change initiative that organisations undertake, there should be a story for everyone or at least every group.  Here is where I would like to thank Jude again for introducing me to the easiest way of creating stories using a a simple template –

‘Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.’

I have tried this template and it works with almost every situation. Let’s try something funny to being with

“Once upon a time there was a ‘happy cat’, everyday she would play with all the other cats in the neighbourhood until once day all cats just vanished. Because of that she started feeling lonely and because of that she became a sad cat. Until one day a cute puppy came along and started playing with her and the sad cat became happy again

I know the story sounds stupid but it you follow the structure, story just flows and you can apply the structure to any context. Let’s try this in a change context. Let’s be more specific – let’s try this in sales transformation context . Can we write stories for each of the group of employees who will be involved in this change using our template above?

“Once upon a time there was a sales executive. Everyday he would go out to sell pens. One day he sold pens to everyone he knew Because of that he could not sell any more pens until finally he found a way to meet more people to sell more pens

I could have described this as that our sales teams are struggling with lead generation and we need a better way of generating leads more efficiently. But isn’t the story better? It just keep things simple and makes it easy to communicate what we are trying to do.

If we had these change stories for each of our key employee groups, then that will set the stage perfectly.  It seems we as humans are hard-wired to listen to stories, stories connect us at a different level. We need that in organisational change management. We need to connect with employees at a different level and we need that connection to be strong throughout the change journey. I think there no better way to achieve that than change stories

Here is my challenge for you. Give storytelling a shot in your change initiatives. If not for any other reason then just for fun. Try using the story template at least for one of your target employee groups and run it past them. I am sure you will be surprised by their reaction 🙂

Change is a transaction… whether you like it or not


  • Change happens , just get on it with
  • Employees are paid to work, they don’t need to be marketed to
  • Employees are no customers. There is accountability and ownership.

These are some of the reactions that I have got in past few weeks to my ideas around change. Here is some of what I have suggested

It seems that there is lot of resistance to the fundamental idea that when it comes to change we need to treat employees as customers.  The resistance stems from 3 central themes

  • Change is not a transaction
  • Employees have accountability and ownership whereas customers don’t
  • Employees have chosen to work for an organisations so they have to get on with it

All these have some basis. Employees do indeed have defined role and responsibilities. Organisations expect employees to act in the best interest of the organisation and in line with the long-term strategy. It is absolutely true that employees have chosen to work for the organisation. Change is actually not optional when it comes to employees. Taking that thought further, if something is not optional then how can it ever be a transaction?

On the face of it, all these seem reasonable . Let’s dig a bit.

If you really think of it, change is a transaction. Employees are giving their time/ effort to adopt the change and expect benefits in exchange. Organisations hope that those expected benefits are in line with the organisational benefits but there is no guarantee of that. The other aspect is the opportunity cost. Employees can dedicate the same time/ effort into something that will help them  impact ‘here and now’ as opposed to the proposed change.  Whichever way you look at it, you cannot ignore the transactional aspect of change.

Employees don’t really have option when it comes to change but they can for sure decide how quickly to adopt the change or how effectively to adopt the change. This is where most change projects fail. Every change management approach suggests that organisations need to create a sense of urgency. That cannot be created unless the organisation has ‘buy-in’ from the employees. For all the talk of change not being optional, it seems that change still have to be bought by the employees. If employees have to buy the change then they surely need to be treated as customers.

After reading this, you might think that the worst case scenario (for the organisation), is that employees (as customers) might just choose another organisations ( as a product or service). Trust me that is not the worse case scenario. The worse case scenario is that they decide to continue to with the organisation, pretend to buy into the change but never actually do. As any marketer will tell you , it’s never fun to have disgruntled customers !!


Why wouldn’t users just listen?

User's won't listenThey don’t. They just don’t.

  • You tell them where the training manual is, they still ask again
  • You train them multiple times but they still wouldn’t learn
  • You send them thousand emails but they would just ignore

They just won’t listen. What fascinates me is why does this surprise us? Why does this frustrate us?

If you ask me I trust users to be ignorant. I trust them not to listen to most of the instructions and I completely trust them to do their own thing their own way after all you did to shape their behavior.  The problem is that most change professionals don’t.

Most change professionals I have come across seem to exist in a Utopian world. A world

  • where users have all the time in the world 
  • where users are just focused on the one change initiative
  • where reading email from the change team is their purpose for existence

I am sure that world does not exist. I am sure every user will tell you that their focus is driven by their own KPIs. I will even go to the extent of saying that users do not really care whether it is in the best interest of the organisation. If their KPIs are met and by co-incidence if that means organisation is benefited then good, else they don’t give a damn. In that sense they are no different from customers (surprise, surprise!). Hold on to that thought for a minute

Let’s look at the other side. Most transformation programs fail to deliver on benefits. Primary reason being that users do not buy into the change , it takes too much time and the landscape changes by the time users come around. Why do you think no one sees this coming?

If I was doing this, I will always start with the assumption that users don’t want to change and will never ever change at the speed which we expect them to. We need to trust our users to fail us most of the times. Once we do that, we can then plan for the failure and set the expectations for that scenario. Do that and very few transformation programs will fail or at least will not be seen as failures.

We have to be honest and brutal when it comes to setting expectations around change programs. If we start living in the Utopian world then we are bound to be surprised..

and yes, treating users as customer will help !

It isn’t enough to roll out change!

road-sign-1076229_640It isn’t.. Trust me it isn’t . It isn’t enough to roll out change and then leave it to BAU to survive. This is equivalent of bringing a child in the world and leaving them on their own even before they can walk. Change has to be cared for, embedded and then at the right time made BAU. In my experience, organisations are always in a  hurry to make things BAU.  That is exactly where we undo most of the efforts to introduce change

Look at most of the project organisations set-ups for change projects, you will find Business Readiness as a stream but you will rarely find a stream around ‘ BAU assurance’ or ‘ Change Assurance’.  We put in lot of efforts to ensure that the business is ready to receive the change but we seem to put none to ensure that the change is supported on an ongoing basis. I am sure that the budget distribution on change projects reflect the same situation. Majority of budget is allocated to preparing for the change and introducing the change. By the time that happens, the ‘project’ has very little left for ongoing change assurance. If needed money has to be found from BAU and that is always flushed with cash, isn’t it 🙂

It is ironic that in most cases,  we expect change to be supported by the existing structures. We tend to retrofit the change to work with existing systems. It is almost a case of someone giving you a latest car but asking me to drive it on the same old narrow bumpy road. How will my experience be? frustrating to say the least. It is likely that I am not going to use that car much because it means more hassle for me and very little use. That is how internal customers feel most of the times. They feel that they are left alone to grapple with the change on their own and the support provided is not what they would expect.

Change is a journey and you can argue that well begun is half done. Are we really happy with half done? Should we be happy with half done? As per me, half done will cause more harm than good when it comes to change. I am sure all of us know this and most of us agree that we need better support to embed change on an ongoing basis. Change and transformation is too critical to be left to BAU. We need dedicated structures and processes to ensure that change is not just introduced but also embedded.

For all said and done, when it comes to change Half begun might be well done but it’s just not good enough !


Is there only one route to change?

© Copyright Jim Barton - http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4801900

© Copyright Jim Barton – http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4801900

For me the answer is ‘No’ but ask most of the change management professionals their answer might be a resounding ‘Yes’

All the change management programs expect the users/ internal customers to follow the same journey on route to change. There always are fixed milestone, pre-decided paths and pre-determined KPIs for success and all of these tend to be the same for all the users.

Why does it have to be that way? Why do we have to force everyone down the same path? If I am a user I will hate that. Every user is different and everyone adapts to change differently. Why then we assume a single path to achieving change?

Why can’t we apply the concepts of customer journeys to change management? Similar to customers taking different ways to interact with products, services; internal customers interact with change in different ways.

A quick Google search tells me that the concept of Change Journeys exists but there seems to be no application of it to large scale technology driven change programs. I feel it is worth a shot. At a minimum it will help change the perception that majority of change programs fail. If we know that people are going to take different paths to change then we will also know that their journeys are going to take different duration. We will be prompted not measure everyone against same benchmark and if someone takes longer to change they will not be seen as a failure.

Application of change journeys will also allow us to customise the support we provide for each of these journeys. We will no more have single communication or support structure for all the internal customers. Each customer group will get the change products and services they need at a time and in a format they find most convenient. The reason we do not do it now is simple

  1. We do not treat users as customers
  2. We do not market/ sell change

and as we discussed today we do believe that change is monolithic !

Why aren’t we marketing change?

Last week I made a statement ‘ We need to change how we change’ and I promised that I am going to discuss all the things we need to change about the way we change. So here I am..

The second thing that irritates me about change management programs is that these programs are always communicated but never marketed or sold to the employees. If we are going to treat employees as customers then we need to market the change programs to them and convince them to buy products/services (benefits) delivered by the change programs.

I have a lot of respect for internal communication as a discipline but when it comes to change programs communication isn’t enough. We literally need the employees to buy into the change and the benefits that the change will deliver. I have time and again felt that internal comms teams are great with communication but come up short when it comes to marketing and selling. That is where I believe marketers can come in and help drive campaigns to sell Features, Advantages and Benefits of the change programs.

The whole marketing world is trying to target customers on a one-to-one basis. The marketing community struggles with data and what that data can tell them. That is why I feel every marketer should relish marketing the change management programs. You exactly know who the customer is. You know where your customer is. You have almost all the data you need about them. Why wouldn’t you want to take on such a campaign?

Yet I have come across very few marketing professionals working on change and transformation projects. Don’t get me wrong, there are many marketing professionals working in the space but they are not doing a marketing job on the change teams. (at least in my experience.)

There might be many reasons for the missing marketers but here is the real one as per me – Marketing is not given as much importance as all the other aspects of a change program. I might sound like a broken record here but that stems from the fact that we do not treat employees as customers so we do not really feel the need to sell to them!

So here is what I have told you yet

  • We need to change how we change
  • We need to treat employees as customers
  • We need to market change

I am going to talk about many more aspects of changing how we change but that will have to wait for another week.

We need to change how we change!

We do, we really do.. The more I learn about how we drive change in organisations, more I am convinced that we need to change how we change. This problem is severe when it comes to change driven by IT systems. Funnily enough, that covers each and every change programs now a days.

I am going to spend a lot of time about what we need to change but let me start with something fundamental – We seem to be calling internal customers as ‘users’. For the lack of better word, I hate that and with good reason.

If you ask me, most of the issues with our change management approach stem from there. The moment we say internal customers are ‘users’, the way we treat them changes fundamentally

  • Customer is always right, but user… may be not! Users needs to be told what is right..
  • We are obliged to deliver what the customer asks for, but users? may be not..
  • If customers are not buying our products and services we question ourselves. If users are not ‘adopting’ the system, we question them with the assumption that they just don’t get it.

Just for a second, let’s assume internal transformation teams are start-up projects and employees are their customers. Do you think that business is ever going to be successful with the way they currently treat their customers?

I am sure I am not the first one who has thought about this and I will not be the last one. There is a big body of research done on why transformation programs fail and I am sure in that research someone somewhere has begged transformation teams to start treating internal employees as Customers. I am sure the IT and Transformation teams have the right intentions but something somewhere must be making it impossible to treat employees as Customer. More about that in the next post..