I once attempted to use a Simpson's reference in a discussion with participants at a very serious academic seminar. My explanation of why Homer trying to climb the Murderhorn was a metaphor for studying for a PhD and even life in general fell flat and I decided then to steer clear of Simpson's references in the future. But this week I'm thinking about change, and what better explanation of the different stages we go through than Homer's rapid jog through the Kubler-Ross curve. We might not all be as quick to reach acceptance as Homer, but it's as good a place as any to start a post on dealing with change.
It's no revelation to say that change can be tricky. It can be formal, through a defined project, or informal, as you try something new. It can be structured with action plans and objectives, or unstructured, testing the water to see what happens. It can be driven by internal factors, such as new systems or a reduction in resources, or external ones, like Brexit. It can be incremental, where things change bit by bit, or transformational, where lots of things change all at once.
Whatever form it takes, and whatever causes it, change can affect all aspects of an organisation: people, culture, products, systems, services, processes, behaviours, and more. This complexity contributes to Mckinsey's findings that 70 per cent of change programmes fail to reach their objectives. So, with the inevitability that we'll always be facing some sort of change, we need to find more effective ways to manage it.
A quick internet search shows that there's no shortage of techniques and approaches that have been developed to help organisations manage change. Prosci's three stage process and ADKAR model, Kotter's 8-step process, Lewin's unfreeze-change-refreeze model and the Mckinsey 7-S framework are all examples of tested and enduring methodologies. Our approach to change draws on different characteristics of these models to focus on the essentials:
Understand the reasons for the change. These reasons will be different in each situation, but having a clear understanding of why the change is needed is the evident place to start. Your staff will need to know if a particular change has been caused by internal or external factors and, most importantly, the likely impact on their role within the organisation. If you don't fully understand this, neither will they.
Plan a course of action. The majority of change projects benefit from a structured plan, setting out what actions will be needed to achieve the required outcomes. Set out clearly what will happen, when each action should be completed by, and who will be responsible for delivering it. Monitor the plan throughout the project to keep on track.
Identify and manage risks. Risk management is key to any change project, which just means that you need to understand what might go wrong (the risk), assess how likely it is to happen (likelihood) and what the effect on the project might be (impact). Figuring out the risks at the start of a change project means you can monitor them throughout and, if need be, develop ways to reduce their likelihood or impact.
Support your staff through the change. We referred to the Kubler-Ross model at the start of this post, as it describes the different stages people go through when faced with change, from shock and denial to acceptance and commitment. Developing a shared understanding that people go through these different stages, each at their own pace, will help you manage your change project according to your own staff needs.
Communicate throughout. As with most of our work, communication from start to finish and beyond is the most important factor in the success of any change project. Sharing the reasons for change will help people develop their own understanding. Being open about the action plan will provide your staff with the structure they need. Talking about the risks and how they're being managed will give your teams the assurance they need that consequences have been considered. And acknowledging the different stages that people go through will give them the permission to reach acceptance in their own time.
Rather than sequential steps, you'll need to actively monitor and manage each of these elements throughout your change process. And while it may sound like a lot of hard work, taking this active approach brings benefits. Not only will you be better able to respond to further changes and build them into your project, your staff will be more likely to accept and commit to the change more quickly. We can't guarantee that you'll move through the change curve as quickly as Homer Simpson, but we're confident that it will help you deal with the inevitable changes 2020 will have in store with greater ease.
We don't style ourselves as change consultants, but we can help you and your teams to understand, plan and prepare for your change projects. If you need support on a particular project, or guidance on managing change more generally, please get in touch. We'd be delighted to help.