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Towers Watson undertook a 'Change and Communication ROI Study' this year, and are producing some interesting infographics from the data they collected.  In this one, they highlight how managers (particularly lower-level ones) aren't well-served by most change management initiatives.

Last time, we talked about how gathering input from the organization prior to a change is crucial to success.  But how, exactly, can you gather input without having to sit down with each individual employee?

Here are 5 ways to get accurate input without spending months on one-to-ones:

  1. Focus groups:  Set up a series of focus groups across the organization.  Include all departments which will be affected by the change (even if it’s only tangentially), all levels (juniors often have valuable insights), and all roles (IT types might be less gregarious than the salespeople, but they often know more about the organization than you think)
  2. Deputize managers to gather feedback:  Bring managers from the relevant departments together and show them how to facilitate an input-gathering session with their direct reports.  Provide them with some standardized, structured questions so you get consistent responses across the various departments
  3. Host a ‘town hall’ meeting:  Bring everyone together in an auditorium or other large space, present the change strategy, and then ask for questions from the audience.  This won’t work in every situation (it depends on the size and structure of the organization) but it has the added advantage of providing employees with information about the change, and this can build both enthusiasm and teamwork
  4. Try a pilot project:  Try a 4-6 month pilot in a specific department or area (much like McDonalds will try out a new menu item in a limited geographical region before rolling it out to all restaurants).  The feedback and insights you gain can be used to tweak the change strategy when you apply it to the rest of the organization.  This won’t be feasible for all change initiatives, but works well for new products, new marketing systems, new customer service processes, etc.
  5. Set up an online forum:  Create an online bulletin board within the company intranet and invite employees to offer input, insights or even questions.  You may find that a normally reserved employee has a lot to offer when s/he has the opportunity to express their thoughts in writing without feeling as exposed as s/he would if required to do so in person.

As I mentioned before, sometimes it’s not appropriate to do too much internal input-gathering prior to a change.  However, it’s important to remember that when you ask for input, you’re helping your stakeholders to feel personally invested in the change - and that’s the first step to ensuring they respond positively and enthusiastically when it comes time for implementation.



Monday, 16 September 2013 22:27

What causes behavioral change? [infographic]

Interesting infographic of the Fogg Behavior Model.  Image via Pixelbento.

A few months ago I started working with a new client to develop and implement a change management strategy around their sales processes.  “We really just need you to create the strategy and oversee the implementation,” the senior leadership team told me in our preliminary meetings.  “We have a full-time project manager who’ll be able to handle the day-to-day.”

“Great,” I thought - after all, if you leave all your change up to external consultants, the changes often walk out the front door when the consultants do.  So I was looking forward to working with the project manager.

Our first meeting seemed to go well:  She came prepared, with an organized binder full of reference materials and some good questions about implementation details.  I thought we were off to a good start.

Until the next day, when I sent her a follow-up email - and she replied, CC-ing no fewer than 8 other people.  “Okay,” I thought, “she’s just letting everyone know we’ve gotten started in earnest.”  But no.  Every email response was a ‘reply all’, and if the email had been sent only to her, in her reply she added everyone who’d ever been involved in the conversation - juniors, co-workers, managers, senior leadership, sometimes even suppliers. 

Thanks to the relentless use of ‘reply all’, by the end of the week I had 62 emails about a project that hadn’t even really started yet, and I was exhausted.  When you’re working off-site with a new client, you have to pay close attention to emails.  Spending so much time re-reading ‘reply all’ threads in case they contained important information somewhere in the scrolldown was driving me nuts - especially when it turned out that most of them consisted of really crucial information like “Thanks.  Talk to you on Monday.”

But in some ways I was glad it had happened so early on, because a chronic ‘reply all-er’ can be a real problem for a change initiative.  Here’s why:

  • They aren’t respectful of other people’s time.  I wasn’t the only one who had to sift through 62+ irrelevant emails that week, and I’m quite sure that the other 8 people who’d been CCed on everything had many more productive things to do.  When people see a change initiative as a huge time-suck, they’re more inclined to resist it as the project moves forward.
  • They don’t know how to prioritize information.  When a project manager doesn’t realize that, for example, the CIO doesn’t need to be copied on an email regarding the design of some new materials for the sales team, it’s a good indication that they won’t understand how best to communicate information about the change to the rest of the organization.  And this can be a huge barrier to change management success.
  • They’re too worried about office politics.  People who CC everyone on every email are usually trying to cover their own backside, spread blame, or make it look like they’re busier than they really are.  All of these tendencies can be lethal to a change initiative.

So how do you handle an obsessive CC-er?  Since she was a long-time employee of my client’s organization, and was internally well-liked, I couldn’t have her removed from the project.  And she was quite good with managing timelines.  So I put her in charge of ensuring we were on track with various deadlines, and, using the “We need a single point of contact” approach, I got her to funnel all communications through me for the duration of the initiative.  The change implementation was successful - and we never had a 62-email-week again.



Your sales force can be your best supporters - as long as you manage the process

One of the best things about leading a change management initiative which is focused on transforming the sales function is that salespeople, by their very nature, tend to be enthusiastic about change:  They're good at spotting opportunities, they adopt and adapt rapidly, and they aren't afraid of 'getting out there' and trying new things.

Except these qualities are also exactly the ones that can get a change management project into real trouble.

swimmers and salespeople diving right in

Salespeople tend to want to take action, and they like to communicate, so without the right controls in place, a change management initiative can misfire - the sales force can start implementing changes before the final pieces are all in place, and the rumor mill can go into hyperdrive.

So how do you manage a change initiative which has a large sales force component?

Start by managing these factors:

Ensure you have the 'big picture' mapped out before you start talking about the details:  Getting into the details before you know what the end point will be often triggers early adopters to take action - but without knowing the end point, you risk sending people off in the wrong direction.

Engage salespeople in the process:  The best salespeople are highly engaged in the organization and in their own role in it - they have a keen sense that their own effort produces demonstrable results.  Dropping changes on them without getting their input or feedback can cause alienation - which means you could lose your best salespeople.

Communicate as much accurate information as possible:  Salespeople are natural communicators, and in the absence of accurate information, they'll end up speculating, which can cause misinformation to take hold.  During the change process, it's important to communicate early and often, to ensure the right message is disseminated.

Understand the psychological effect of change:  Top salespeople tend to bring their emotions to work - and that's a good thing, because it helps them build relationships with customers.  But it also means that they can have strong feelings about change initiatives.  It's worth taking the time  to make sure that the sales team clearly understands the change - the good and the bad, and how it will affect them - in order to get them on board.

Your sales force can become your most enthusiastic supporters, and they can lead the rest of the organization in a change initiative - as long as you properly harness their natural strangths to do it.





When it comes to keeping great employees, compensation is still the most important motivator.

Recently I read a couple of articles on by Jeff Haden:  "8 Things Your Employees Need Most" and "4 Rewards That Are More Powerful Than Money".


In them, Jeff talksabout how employees are motivated by things like 'freedom', 'mission' and 'rewards' than they are about straightforward compensation packages (i.e. salary and benefits).  He even says "Employees don't want to work for a paycheck; they want to work with and for people."

It's true that not everyone is motivated by the same things, and everyone likes to feel respected and valued in their workplace.  But the reality is that day-to-day intangibles like being asked for input or being recognized for a job well done are short-term motivators that only go so far.  Over the longer term, as your employees look to achieve things in other areas of their lives - taking vacations, buying homes, having children - money starts to assume more importance.

If people really preferred 'people' over 'paycheck', they'd be doing volunteer work instead of spending time in productivity analysis meetings.

The internet is filled with opinions.  The facts are often held within organizations.

Most large organizations, especially ones with turnover and attrition challenges, conduct 'exit interviews'.  When employees leave, they meet wtih someone from HR and discuss their experiences with the organization and their reasons for leaving.

These exit interviews aren't anonymous, so employees - especially the A-list ones, who know better than to burn their bridges - are circumspect.  When they're asked about why they're leaving, they talk about neutral, inoffensive things like "I was offered a terrific opportunity to grow my skills" or "I've always wanted tow ork in a startup environment" or even "The new job means I don't have to spend as much time communting".

However, when you ask recently-departed employees why they really left, and do it anonymously, they paint a very different picture:  The majority say that they left because they wanted to make more money (or a larger compensation package).  But this information is never made public, because what company wants to admit that 90% of their people leave simply to make more money?

(Now, it's worth noting that the second most common reason that top performers leave a job is that they could no longer stand an overbearing or incompetent manager - but this is a distant second to compensation.)

I definitely agree that the intangibles - consistent feedback, rewards and recognition, employee engagement, asking for input and ideas - all contribute to a positive work environment, and a positive work environment promotes productivity, builds the employment brand, and can compensate for things like an inconvenient office location or a high-stress industry.  But in the long-term, below-average compensation will cost you your top performers.





Sometimes I like to check out some of the change management-related videos on YouTube - you’d be surprised what you can find there.  The other day, while watching another video, YouTube suggested I watch this one: 


Rick Ross’ premise here, in case you’re not inclined to watch the video yourself, is that ‘change management’ is an outdated relic from the ‘industrial age’.  Judging from his website, I think that when he refers to the ‘industrial age’, he means ‘before technology dramatically changed the way organizations function’.  The implication in this video is that ‘change management’ is outdated and doesn’t adequately allow for the organization to have input into change strategy before a change is implemented.

However, the truth is that recognizing the need for adequate organizational input - and Ross’ suggestions for how to make this happen - is already a best practice in change management.  We’ve talked about listening to employees before; in fact, it was the subject of our very first blog post.  His suggestions aren’t a modern twist on the dinosaur that is change management - they’re what every good change management practitioner is already doing.

Ross mentions a company called Humana, which got 26,000 of its 40,000 employees to start using a social networking tool for better internal communications.  That sounds okay - though as a change management professional I’d be looking for better than a 65% adoption rate - but according to this article, if Humana had done a better job of soliciting input from different parts of the organization, they could have achieved a much higher level of compliance across the company, faster.  

Of course, there’s always a “but…”

Sometimes, a change doesn’t lend itself to large-scale organizational input. 

In the Humana example, the CIO didn’t spent a lot of time engaging the organization prior to the change because he decided that it was more important to just get started with the social networking tool quickly rather than waiting months while they collected input from 40,000 employees.  And sometimes that kind of approach makes sense.

There are other situations in which large-scale organizational input isn’t appropriate:  Maybe the changes are part of a plan that needs to be kept under wraps for legal or competitive reasons; maybe a decision is made to try a small pilot program before the change goes organization-wide; and even I can admit that some changes are too small to warrant a lengthy dialogue period.

At the end of the day, it’s still ‘change management’

Whether you spend a lot of time on organizational input or not, the strategic plan and implementation of change is still ‘change management’.  You are still managing yourself and your organizations through change change.  Change management is really just the act of harnessing the power of your people in order to achieve a certain goal. That's never just a relic of a bygone age - it's your silver bullet to success.

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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