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It’s More Than Just Having Coffee

An important distinction between project management and change management* is that change management requires a keen sense of what’s going on in the organization – what people are experiencing and feeling that will affect how receptive they are to learn about and adopt a proposed process, systems or organizational change. As a result, it’s important to have built vehicles to sense “vibrations” in your company before you embark on any major change initiatives. Conversation over coffee can be one such vehicle.

Beyond sensing, however, is a whole range of additional programs that are needed to ensure the successful movement of an organization from awareness to understanding to adoption to ownership.

In many creative fields, we talk about the balance between hard and soft skills, and change management is no different. The soft skills encompass this sensing or intuition that we’ve been talking about and a nuanced approach to strategies that will likely yield the best result in terms of understanding and adoption. The hard skills come with the application of tools that help a change manager lay out concrete plans to facilitate and measure the implementation of a proposed change.

Stakeholder identification and analysis. This is a comprehensive list of people who will be impacted by a change. In completing this activity, I advise identifying primary stakeholders – those employees who will be asked to do something new and secondary stakeholders – those whose jobs are not directly impacted but who need to know about the change because their work is downstream and they may receive inputs from upstream partners in a different format or cadence. This work also calibrates how influential a particular stakeholder (group and/or individual) is and how committed they are to the change throughout the process.

Impact analysis. The purpose of this work is to analyze the scope and scale of a change and as a result, how you might resource it – how many people are impacted, how many geographies (including languages and time zones), how many and which systems, the history of success or failure with similar initiatives, etc. Additionally, it includes a summary of what other work is on the stakeholders’ plates and a recommendation to executive sponsors whether or not there’s capacity in the organization to take on this degree of change (in addition to everything else).

Communication Strategy. Bottom line, the successful implementation of any initiative relies on effective communication. A comprehensive communication plan outlines who your impacted audiences are, how often you’ll communicate with them and through which media. It’s important to understand different learning styles and include a mix of materials and formats in your strategy. Coordinating with a Training Manager is key.

Sponsor support. Another element critical to the successful implementation of an initiative is effective leadership by the project’s executive sponsor. The Change Manager can provide invaluable support to that executive by communicating what he or she has learned through the previously mentioned organization sensing tools, highlighting potential landmines and preparing talking points for the leader.

Feedback loops. The path to new behavior is not linear. People hear what’s relevant at that moment and can only absorb so much information at a time. Periodic surveys and the analysis of results help the project team and sponsor understand where the comprehension of objectives and benefits as well as desired behavior shifts are moving forward and where they’re stuck.

Change agent networks. Change needs to cascade through an organization. Even with effective executive leadership, middle managers and the rank and file can serve as crucial advocates for change if properly nurtured.

Resistance diffusion. You know the saying, “the best laid plans…” Resistance in some shape or form is likely to occur. Diffusion can be challenging, yet solutions often exist in questions that lead to the examination of root cause.

Sustainment. And finally, a good change management plan always includes provisions for measuring how well a change has been adopted and ensuring that support exists in the business as project teams disband and business leaders are charged with running the new process or systems as part of their day-to-day operations.

This post was much longer than intended. But it sketches out a comprehensive approach to change management to help business leaders increase their chances significantly of successfully implementing major change initiatives. It’s more than hosting coffee klatches; it’s about listening, communicating AND the deployment of quantifiable tools to help people move from awareness to understanding to adoption and ownership.

Note: Project management and change management skills are complementary and definitely not mutually exclusive. Effective project managers optimally understand how best to leverage change managers and vice versa.

The Value of Repetition
Engaging Your Stakeholders in Change Management

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