A number of change management tools and models are not only useful when transforming a business or landing a project, but also in understanding why some businesses don’t operate effectively.
Two very important aspects of improving business in general and business transformation involve focusing on awareness and desire: to improve employee awareness of ways to work better, and increase desire to adopt new methods and technologies.
This post is based on the experiences and observations of Robbi Laurenson, a Microsoft Enterprise Architect and certified Prosci® consultant, who has found value in using change management principles in diagnosing organizational issues.
Engaging with a Struggling Organization
I recently began consulting with a company that has been struggling to effectively carry out strategic plans. It’s been easy to see at an intuitive level that there’s dysfunction in the business, but it’s been hard identifying or describing it explicitly and understanding how to approach solving it.
The problems have been especially evident as we’ve pursued changes in business operations and infrastructure. Attempting to carry out and manage necessary changes has revealed that there are deeper problems stemming from the organization itself that need to be addressed.
Morale has been low in this business, politics is evident around every corner, and there’s a lack of direction in current and planned activities.
One of the executives has turned out to be very negative about business changes. Other executives haven’t had the mandate to make decisions, and the business often seems paralyzed rather than able to effectively move forward.
Even just one problematic executive affected the larger organization. The leader was not engaged in the right ways, and was unaware of the impact this silent message was having on the rest of the organization. This was not driving the business in the right direction.
Though my influence as an Enterprise Architect is sometimes limited to driving specific initiative activities, I found this engagement largely about helping make the right things happen, in the midst of executive turmoil. I had to rely on a set of soft skills to help unblock the political situation.
Applying New Understanding
I had an intuitive understanding of the organizational issues in this engagement, but I wanted a more structured approach that would help generate solutions. For example, after diagnosing business issues, we could address them during account planning, identifying key players if things go wrong, methodology for addressing organizational issues, and describing how tools and relationships can be used to communicate compelling value statements to the organization.
During this engagement, I attended Prosci® Change Management Training (see http://www.prosci.com/training/trainingoverview/).
I soon found myself mapping change management principles to diagnosing the organizational dysfunction at our client, as well as ideas for overcoming it.
The Prosci® ADKAR® model (see http://www.prosci.com/adkar-model/) describes a process that individuals go through in terms of change:
Specifically of interest to me were the phases of awareness and desire. I realized that communication issues relating to awareness were interfering with carrying out changes in my engagement, and that desire for change was ambivalent at high levels within the business.
Issues with Employee Awareness
Most people affected by change suffer from lack of awareness, which impacts all the other stages of change management. It often requires many contacts, using multiple types of media, to communicate to stakeholders. There are also different levels of awareness that people acquire about upcoming changes. Employees may be technically aware of a change without realizing that the change applies to their work.
Without adequate awareness, change does not happen smoothly, and sometimes does not happen at all. For example, one business that sublet some of their facilities forgot to inform the help desk about the new people using the equipment. When the change in facilities usage began, the help desk began getting calls from people they didn’t support, and conflict arose.
People also dislike having changes forced on them, without an explanation of the value of the change. This can make stakeholders feel that they are just cogs in a machine, without the need to know or understand. Stakeholders should understand why a change is better for them, as well as for the business. They should view opportunities enabled by the change, such as being more effective, and directly impacting the bottom line of the business.
Conflicted Desire for Change
Desire is a difficult stage of change to get through. How do you create desire in the face of resistance to change?
Keeping people informed helps overcome initial reactions against change. More desire is gained by clearly showing solutions that people will find useful.
But in most engagements, we should be building buy-in with ongoing participation of stakeholders and those who will be affected by the changes. Influencing desire begins early in the planning process. Invest in stakeholder engagement early. During this phase, it can be very useful to make a vocal champion out of someone who was antagonistic at the beginning, but who has since become a supporter of the changes.
Desire is not a set quality, especially as opinions change as changes are rolled out in phases. A great new system, with exciting and valuable benefits to the business may eventually cause someone to say, “Wait, they’re going to lay people off.” In this case, repair work needs to be done to raise the desire for the planned change and lower the risk of having adoption problems.
Desire is a fickle thing, and extremely dependent on keeping stakeholders informed of changes, value, and rationale. Changes must be seen as being well thought-out, and have involved the participation of stakeholders. Also, when business stakeholders communicate well with technical stakeholders during planning stages, IT has much more desire to enable business changes.
Choosing the Right Opinion Leader
Both awareness and desire hinge on how you run communications through the change management process, especially in the disrupted world of a rapidly changing environment.
Two of the most important people to the success of change management are the CEO of the business, and the immediate line manager where changes are occurring. There is often no substitute for these participants: other managers don’t generally have the same influence or effectiveness in driving conversations and setting direction about change.
When you enter an account, it’s important to know if someone in a leadership position is bucking something happening, without desire for change, or thinking things won’t work out. You need to understand this individual’s drivers and personal context in order to optimize your influence. You’ll need to get this person on board: If a leader doesn’t “feel it,” the leader can’t communicate the right message to others.
Ideas for Influencing Business Leaders
When trying to influence people to “come to the party,” different approaches are needed: sometimes you can approach executives directly, and sometimes you need to approach with subtlety.
Some of the techniques for influencing business leaders include:
- Flawless Consulting. (See the book “Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used,” by Peter Block, pub: Pfeiffer) In this approach, you negotiate for what you need. Often, a CEO or line manager will send you off to do the work, without realizing that they are a critical part of delivery. These leaders need to be involved in communicating messages about the value of the changes, and reinforcing the message along the way. At times, you may need to help the executive change perspective, or inspire them to be courageous about communicating the right message. Flawless Consulting involves being direct, and saying “I need your support to make these changes, and if you want the initiative to be successful, this is what I need from you.”
- Political Navigation and Personality Analysis. Within an engagement, we learn know who is involved, their personalities, and what we want them to do. We have tools for mapping out stakeholders that are sympathetic or antagonistic to your cause. It’s important to try to lessen participants’ antagonism, especially because they may be instrumental in identifying other potential projects and necessary changes. Ask them what is of value to them, what it would take to get them on board. Being able to clearly state value propositions of change is very important in reinforcing business changes.
- Crucial Conversations. (See the book “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High,” by Patterson, et al., pub: McGraw-Hill) Your sponsors have various motivations when pursuing change, and it’s helpful to understand them by talking to them. However, it’s also necessary to have similar conversations with other people in the organization, and to make sure that there is more than one person sanctioned to participate in the project. This can be a delicate balancing act: engaging the support of your sponsor, but broadening your base in the organization to help limit risk.
As I was taking the Prosci® Change Management practitioner training, it immediately became evident to me that the principles were far reaching because they deal with the core of how we get things done – people changing. Much like TOGAF® did for the harder skills in Enterprise Architecture, Prosci® tools provided a language and a framework to describe and influence how, and more importantly why, we can employ other soft skills to land successful engagements.
It’s not enough just to plan and implement – the heart of Value Realization is in landing the change that engages an organization together in creating something better. That means winning the hearts and minds of everyone involved, from start to finish.
When I find that I am struggling to understand why an engagement is not turning out the way I want, turning to the human aspects of awareness and desire is often key to understanding the underlying restrictive dynamics.
I’ve realized that change management principles are both an essential tool for landing projects, and a critical lens for understanding the inner human mechanics of the organization. In this era where we are driving not only purchase and deployment of solutions, but also adoption and utilization, change management is going to be a key pillar of our success.
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