The first question I always get from clients is, “How will you do this?”.
The full answer is, of course, long (and depends…).
The bullet point list is, of course, short(er).
But first, it fascinates me how many people and companies out there want to make their own version of this (and then market it until we are all sick to our stomachs). As they say, “it’s not rocket science”. The expertise,experience, patience and empathy needed to get solutions from the answer and the list may just be some version of CM rocket science though.
Here is one example of a version of steps to address change. In this instance it is called a “Change Network Map”. (Maybe this speaks to experience, but, I do a version of this in my head after a series of questions on the first day of every engagement).
The bullet point list:
- How wide will this change (and process and effort) stretch?
- Who gets touched the most (hardest?)?
- Who is officially responsible in those areas?
- Who is really responsible in those areas?
- What path might the change process take throughout the organization?
This is one time where I work from here to then instead of end state back.
I ask questions to keep building the connections this change might take and need. Some sort of grouping eases the process- by function, by working group, by expertise, etc. I think of this as pouring water and seeing how far it spreads before it dries up. The approach can also be more tactical by just using an org. chart and working down and out within those boundaries (silos?).
Within that now big spread of influence, connection and effect which spots gets touched?
Later this will lead to expectations, ownership, communication, etc. For now it is to simply imagine how the change process might, well, change things. The tactical extension of this piece is to look at the people connected to the “things”.
Who, specifically, will be touched. In what way? And, yes, will it hurt?
Who is expected to, will offer to, will need to, be responsible for parts of the change?
At this point I always, quickly estimate (through lots of questions again) how much responsibility already exists for OTHER things, like, you know actually running the business. If there is “resistance” this is where it will happen. Don’t ask me to do more when I only have two hands…
Long before this process I asked this question, “Is the owner going to own?”. If the answer was no I will have a lot of work to do.
This is the part I love.
The client/stakeholders says things are “this” way. My expertise (probably the core competency for change practitioners) is to figure out how things REALLY work.
How close is reality to the org. chart?
If there is separation (stop snickering), where is that and which person or people have influence (or power or control)?
Flow and Resistance
Back to the water analogy.
When this change rolls out as a process like water how will it flow?
There will be paths of least resistance (not necessarily where we want it to flow- sometimes you have to create dams to get to sustainable solutions); there will be obstacles that slow and reorient the flow; there will be places where it backs up and overflows unexpectedly; there will be (honest) places where it tumbles forward like a spectacular waterfall.
A practiced practitioner can get pretty close to seeing the flow (and to be really corny actually “feeling” how this will flow).
Early on figure out Change Reach. Use Width, Touch, Responsibility, Hidden Influence and Flow/Resistance.
Change starts at the point where the person with the idea tells someone else.
Or, to be more precise, it begins with the next thing that happens. If you are looking for an EXACT starting point it is when a third person gets the original idea explanation.
One person’s idea becomes a dialogue that creates an initial action (almost always involving a third person) and you have started change.
This is not something to shrug off.
Because it is at that second interaction/third person included that Change Management also begins. I posted about this, “Front Loading Change Management” and created the term “Front Loading” because every engagement I had participated in at the time started their change management process waaaay too late. Front loading seemed to stick as a term to reduce disparity of perspective (and make my explanations to senior leadership easier).
Since then the disparity has become even more apparent with clients as companies market a linear, template oriented approach to change. That tends to create a “Big Bang” that is full of fancy communication and a “start date”.
Front Loaded Change
If you are front loading change you are looking to:
- Define the make sense nature of the change from multiple stakeholder viewpoints.
- You are testing the waters for ideas within the change process for specific things, people and groups.
- You are assessing the environment (which is very different from assessing “readiness”).
- You are looking for first adopters (which is very different from scouting for “resistance”).
- You are engaging and developing an inclusion process that is genuine.
- You are looking for and finding expertise (and lack of needed end state expertise).
- You are increasing the visibility of change management without asking for or mandating anything (that can, and likely will to some extent, come later).
In general you are working to gather information that makes a start date (the celebratory kind not the mandate for-speed kind) seem like just one of the days in the overall process. “We started a long time ago” is what you should be hearing. The opposite of this is “Change as an Event”.
The actions you take, the connections you make and the level of communication (formal and informal) you have during this front loading should be part of the full change management plan.
If I were to come in and have a conversation about your change with you (keep in mind unless you had the idea talking to me means you are starting the process or are well into it- 99% of the time it is the second option) I would ask a lot of questions. The answers to those questions are all the things you would get with a front loaded process. Good answers would show you truly understand this change from the eyes of the stakeholders, the mind of the owner and the needs of the business.
An idea is heard by a second person. A third person is included in some way. Change has started. Everything you do before firm dates are set and the project process explodes with a Big Bang is the Front Load Phase of Change Management.
I can’t resist a follow up to yesterday’s post, “Tradition”.
Sometimes you have to just plow (frigid-cold-condition pun intended) right past tradition to move forward.
To buck tradition you can:
- Change the rules
- Work within constraints
- Chip away at restraints
Change the rules
For our NFL analogy the league is apparently considering removing the home field advantage for division winners. Don Banks at the Monday Morning Quarterback posted, “Seeds of Doubt” to explain the reasoning for giving home field advantage to the better record team. If you want an interesting journey through some strange reasoning to support current rules look at the long comment section after the post.
My guess is that those who think the tradition of rewarding a division leader with a home game live somewhere in the vicinity of Green Bay/Chicago/Detroit/Minnesota. If your team is barely going to make it you want all the help you can get. (Remember I can make these jabs as a Raider fan).
When it comes to rules I have always looked at fairness and sensibility. If you have proven better I say you should be rewarded extra.
Switch to organizational settings now.
The first rules I suggest clients go after are around performance management. That is the ultimate, “that is the way we have always done it” system. Change those rules and you might just start to measure the process of moving forward.
Look closely at your rules both for change and for simple practical growth. They are the first tradition barrier you must hurdle.
Work within constraints
But good luck with that.
As soon as the NFL changes the rule there will be a backlash and they will feel the need to change it back.
Hint to the NFL (and organizations): when I suggested changing rules I meant to SOMETHING NEW. Not back to what you had.
Obviously the 49ers successfully worked within the constraints of the rules. The rules did not get in the way.
(and speaking of NFL rules and referees… check out this post, Home Field Advantage from Football Freakonomics, that illustrates the fact that home field advantage in professional sports comes not from the fans, or the noise, or anything else that has a homey feel, but from the referees natural tendency to stretch the rules, thanks to the feel-good of the home crowd response).
So let’s say you can’t change those rules in that corporate setting. Then work within those restraints.
Early on in my career I would plan out the clear (in my head with no rules in the way and no need for internal politics) path to client organization change. I learned fast that the path is littered with obstacles. (And no, it is not people that resist. It is structure and process that does not support the change or the end state).
Now I look to see how far rules can be stretched. How do we get a little of that home field advantage? There are always gray areas where the rules are either not followed or just haven’t been changed yet. And there are always way to stretch the rules a little (that innovative, energetic mid level manager who has not been knocked down yet is like the ref for a home game).
To some extent you can always get things done, and move forward, despite constraints.
Chip away at restraints
The Niners made light of adversity. Something like, “it’s not really THAT cold out”.
Seeing where you want to go (for the Niners it likely has to do with a number 6 Super Bowl win) and throwing in some positive (even with the worst of conditions hitting you in the face, maybe literally like the Niners) can push away restraints. (And yes this time that might mean those few who are genuinely resisting movement forward).
In an organizational setting the chipping away process usually means confronting, spending time on and/or addressing restraints. You at least have to make the list of those restraints and determine how much they will get in the way of progress. Call that the “Change Assessment”. Restraints are risks. Rules, when it comes to change, are full of risk (risk for change being the inability to do anything).
Once you have a list you can figure out how to get around the restraints. Maybe you need to corral a little group think? Maybe you need an influential senior executive to support your bold moves? Maybe you need that quiet informal power person to show you the path forward (while first going around obstacles)?
To fly in the face of tradition, which is usually needed for change, change the rules, work around constraints and/or chip away at restraints. The 49ers with their win against the Packers, chose options two and three while waiting for one for the next time around.
Change = +
It seems practitioners and some “thought leaders” like to talk about what change takes away.
That has always seemed a little strange to me.
Change Adds not takes away.
What Change Adds
There is no change without the stakeholders learning something new.
“They are going to resist this training”.
Maybe if we just changed the label from training to learning change would get easier (and more fun)?
Change should be an opportunity to learn new things. Maybe that is technology (the closest to training). Maybe some soft skills have to be added or enhanced. Maybe the learning is about the organization and its connections. Maybe there is something to be gained/learned from external input?
You can’t have change without interaction.
Even the lone individual pursuit of learning to play an instrument will likely entail a trip to the music store.
Change really is interaction.
Yes it is interaction different from the current version.
Would people around you say you are hopping, skipping and smiling to get to your current version of interaction?
And who says you can’t take some or most of that with you to the end state (and add some new hopping, skipping, smiling interaction)?
It is possible to have truly transformative change that is entirely future/end-state focused.
Since people are people though it is hard to make big changes without looking inward and back.
Change forces assessment, analysis, comparison, critique, facts and realistic retrospection.
You want to make sure what you add makes sense.
And yes you want to make sure there is room (sometimes something has to be taken away to add) for the change.
Retrospection that illuminates strengths and then takes that into the end state is re-adding right?
A new tool is not a change.
Change is not about tools.
But most change has a tool addition.
I have been on a couple of social media initiatives lately that had stakeholders fighting to be the guinea pigs for new tools (SharePoint, Yammer, training tools etc.).
New tools rarely address all concerns. And new tools require genuine skill based training.
New tools always have positive additions. You can find them if you look past the changes in process.
Tools always seems to be one or the other though. The emphasis on replacement, as in “end of life”, makes calling out the positive “adds” difficult.
I know the most painful part of change.
I see it in the eyes of “resistant” stakeholders.
I can feel when it starts and builds.
It is being forced, or having to, look at things in a different way.
It baffles me that is not a fun exercise.
If the change process is good, perspective should be addressed from the beginning. Which means there will be a chance to blend current perspective with that of the journey and the end state. If fact if the end state is not the old perspective with some new additional tweaks the change will not stick.
Change is about Adding (as opposed to the opposite). Change adds learning, interaction, retrospective, tools and perspective. Are you communicating that?
Change is complicated.
Change tends to take longer than wanted or expected.
Change involves people and people are hard to figure out.
So how do some practitioners, project managers (and their peer organizations), mid-level leaders and anyone trying to profit from change deal with this?
They try to make Change an event.
How to Make Change an Event
- Advocate the tool over the practitioner.
- Define distinct beginnings and endings.
- Create defining borders.
- Layer change efforts over a project approach.
The best way to turn change into an event is to make the tool appear to be the solution.
A tool you can sell to anyone. A service? Not so much.
Those trying to make change an event (the most guilty being potential clients for those service providers) will spend a lot of time talking about and pushing the tool- as if that was the only way to approach change.
If they have a winning (selling) argument then practitioners and stakeholders can be made subordinate to the tool.
(PS you can facilitate change with Word and Excel or with pen and paper).
Starts and Stops
Distinct starting and stopping spots sells (in both senses of the word, as in- buy this and buy into this) for change.
It is comforting to know that this scary change thing will come to an end at some point.
It is comforting to be able to pinpoint when it starts, so everyone can be ready.
Things with beginnings and endings sell easier than stuff with vague timelines.
(PS change is pretty much constant and never-ending and the instant the first person with the change idea talks to someone else change has started).
A false start (pun intended) and stop is only the first level in containing this change thing so it seems manageable and is sellable.
Making a box can create clear edges to this ephemeral change thing.
Assessing (and selling assessing “tools”) can help create some more lines around the change.
Groups can be contained or pushed out; people can be included or not; costs can be “controlled when boundaries are set.
That has the added bonus of looking and feeling just like project management which is something everyone is comfortable with.
(PS Change Management is not project management, nor does it fall under that umbrella, and it flows past boundaries like water to rocks in a downhill stream).
To make this change as an event thing really work you need to layer the approach right over the project/program process of the organization.
If you are selling into organizational change this is perfect. Project processes within organizations are littered with phases, steps and tasks that need a change component right? What better way to add work and effort than layering over each one of those requirements!
(My nicer take on Layering Change).
When change management is layered it automatically takes on the first three items in our list.
(PS Thanks to the global nature of most organizations Layered Change tends to quickly break free of its bounds and touch something outside predefined limits).
Make change an event if you choose- rely on tools, mark starts and finishes, draw out boundaries and layer your approach over existing project management parameters. Be forewarned though- tools are not solutions, change starts as soon as two people discuss it, change boundaries are always subjective and project management is usually the smallest box you can put change into.
It is Wednesday and I am not in a disillusioned mood (thankfully).
The wonderful side is coming from enjoyment of people interacting and dialoguing.
I started a conversation at the Organizational Change Practitioners Group on LinkedIn with the question,
“Can an Internal (employee) really be a Consultant?”.
It stirred up a bit of a firestorm.
Internals upset, externals soothing and jabbing at the same time (oops that was me….), the usual marketing cloaked as discussion and LOTS of good comments.
Separate from my own answer to the question (tomorrow) I am struck by how role oriented business and work has become (it seems- to be a little disillusioned- lately, as in the last few years).
There are the roles that are jobs (with the incumbent acronyms (here is an aside- did you ever notice managers, directors and senior versions of each don’t have an acronym? above that we have AVP, SVP, VP, C something) and there are the things-that-need-to-be-done that are turned into roles.
Is this because everything is so mechanized now?
If you can’t put something quickly into the cell of a spreadsheet then it can’t exist?
I keep contrasting this discussion about what it means to be a consultant with the endless contacts I get from third parties (and, gasp, other consulting firms) that want to explain some available role. Actually I have a role I sell to others.
It is called consultant.
A client can easily hire me as a “Consultant”. That is a role I guess. A role with leeway. A role that will give the client a big broad perspective (narrowed down to specific options and suggestions when the time is right).
Most important it is a role that is not previously defined by the client. If that is the case then what is the point in being consulted?
If the definition is narrowing interest to a certain area fine. But if the definition, or the creation of a “role” in general, is to pigeon hole the consultative process then I am not a consultant I am a contractor.
The misunderstanding (and frankly disinterest from some internal people I meet) is disillusionary.
The analogy I used as part of one of my comments on the LinkedIn thread was a child’s messy room. They do not see the mess. It takes quite an effort to illustrate to them the importance of “clean” first and then to get them willing to clean up (in order to have a straightened room).
I have to say many change efforts (huge mufti-million dollar ones) to an outsider look like a messy room. Those in the organization do not only not see the mess they do not understand why it needs to be cleaned up…they create a role it gets straightened, only to get quickly messed up when the role is gone.
Huge Kudos go out to Jennifer Frahm for her post, “70% of change projects fail: Bollocks!”.
The time has come to topple this change management sacred cow.
I won’t steal her thunder. Go read the post, see how she even has the guts to tackle Kotter converting-observation-into-assumed-fact.
Here is why that “statistic” has been used (use this to weed out poor consultants clients):
You are already fearful of your change. If I REALLY scare you do death maybe you will pick me as your savior (and pay me lots and begin to depend on me to salve your fear…maybe for years and years!).
If I bring up the dreaded number you will automatically think I am in the 30% category. Always go with a winner, right?
- A little Erudite mixed in
If I whip out that 70 number with no hesitation it must mean I have really studied this change thing. No way would I drop a number that has absolutely no scientific basis.
- Science based Change
If I can show you there is a way to approach this change thing step by step in a scientific way with “numbers” to show how well we are doing (we not you or I- no practitioner actually wants to OWN a number like that) then I am a shoo-in for the role.
That number has been a crutch and lever for practitioners and “Thought Leaders” for years. No one dares touch it. It is- was thank you Jennifer- a sacred cow. The perfect thing to keep going back to if it turns out you as a practitioner are in the 70 area. (Hint we all are AND we are in the 30 area because the number is bogus).
- Tool Setup
This is a post on its own. If I knock off those first five things then I can introduce you to my set of tools. ‘Cause we all know not every hammer or saw is the same or works for building a house…Change without just the right tool is what has caused those many “failures”. (I have had a couple of huge initiatives that, if the power went off permanently, I could have accomplished with pen and paper).
Don’t buy the snake oil clients.
If ANYONE quotes the 70% statistic either walk away or have fun and toy with them- ask them to cite the study with reliability and validity (just mentioning those last two words will likely make a 70% ’ers head swim).
Clients-topple the 70% change statistic now and stop its use for fear, competition, false knowledge, false science, distraction and a set up for emptying your budget. Change Practitioners don’t embarrass yourself (or set yourself up) by talking about failure that can’t really be measured.
Project managers, thanks to the addition of the change management consultant line item, are getting a taste of change management and switching from a competitive to a cooperative approach. Many organizations have, smartly, realized these are two different roles with two different skill sets. (Yes many can do both roles or exchange roles but these two do not make for a good SINGLE role within any major project- and certainly not for any kind of program or initiative)
5 things for PM’s to think about
- We do not want your job.
Or your particular influence, or any of your particular power.
You want to get things done, check off the list, accomplish. We want to do things right, consider people and business and create solutions (end states) that last. That is a perfect combination. We can be partners. Either as right hand people for your role, when we are brought in middle-of-the-organization, to guide you in your implementation strategy OR as valuable liaisons to the owner, leaders and influencers when we contract higher up than your hierarchical placement. Fight with us for power (which we care little about) and you are wasting a valuable resource.
- We have a different measure of success.
On time and budget are your usual measures.
How often do you depart and the budget goes out the window from mistakes, missteps and errors? We, change practitioners, can give you some answers. We come in before, after, during and in and out. We see a lot (and we tend to be asked to fix a lot). What if you got the reputation of not only satisfying your time and budget measures, but also leaving solutions and infrastructure pieces that sustain your work? You might even get credit for building the foundation for the next project/change/solution.
- We don’t jump to take credit for things.
Get on the good side of a CM and you might find lots of your checklist items getting satisfied with much less input and work from you.
We rarely look for credit for accomplishments because we think well into the future. We are gone before our true work is visible. You should leverage this both to get credit and to create credit from our work. If you see that connection we will help you.
- We see well into the future.
Your focus is the things that need to happen to complete this project. Our focus is on the environment and scenario after your role is over. We move backwards from that end state to gauge what needs to happen, be added and be accomplished. We both want the same things, in some ways, we just come at it from different angles and directions. If you understand that and leverage it, nasty mistakes can be avoided. Or look at it this way, our measure of risk is different than yours- and a valuable addition to your work.
- We focus first on people.
You focus on ROI, business results, metrics.
We are being asked, more and more, to be both business AND people experts (business process, organizational capability, job roles, competency measures tied to strategy are now solid pieces of my own resume- not change specific). Your biggest risk, always, is people. Either the motivation of people or the lack of resources. We fully understand how that makes your role difficult and we like tackling that difficulty.
So project managers or PMO’s as a whole, if you are waging a battle against the power levers you have or might fell slipping away, stop, take a breath. At least from an external perspective (those employed next to you may be on a different mission) we are looking for many of the same things you are in terms of work, strategy, tactics and results.
Change Practitioners (the good ones anyway) do not want your job, measure success differently, don’t take credit for things, see the future and focus on people. All five of those thing can be very helpful for you if you switch from competition to cooperation.
My blog has some white space (black in this case) this summer.
I finally pinpointed what happened.
Looking back over my career I can make a long list of times when power plays affected the ability to get a role, to be successful at a role and to keep a role for the agreed on time.
A few examples:
- Head Hunters
A couple of times I have been contacted by Head Hunters (the real kind not the representatives or staffing firms trying to wear consulting uniforms) and led through cheery “you are the perfect fit” conversations only to be screened out of submission. The power play here is the fact that the person must stay some period of time. Any mention that this is not really an employment role or that it is an internal/external mix situation is a nix. One of those situations has me smiling because the choice they made did not make it through the year, they couldn’t keep the next person and the role is up again (and pushed way down the hierarchy which dooms it to failure).
Don’t even get me started on this one. They do want you in there. They, after all, get paid for parked bodies. They rarely even know who the owner of the engagement is and refuse to admit their job is to make one phone call, fill out a form and move on. That power grab waste of time is what used to be a phone call to the person doing the work, which was one short step from getting the work started. Best story here is the time I finally decided to hold my ground and explain things to the recruiter. That included that fact that their role was really just in the way. (I was irritated because they offered me a rate which was doubled by the next staffing firm- an attempt to power grab what should be MY compensation). They hung up in disgust promising to never talk to me again and to let others know. Take a guess at who made next Monday mornings call for a different role… to me. Yes that very same disgruntled recruiter. With fake happy talk no less!
- Vice Presidents
I have decided this is the most competitive horizontal. Especially if professional services or sales is in the mix. They instinctively push things, especially change, well down the ladder. Half the time they push it so far away they really have NO control. Every time I have an SVP meeting and it is followed by VP looks at my profile I wonder why we didn’t just all sit down for 20 or 30 minutes and talk about their scenario- before any contracting.
- Consulting Firms
This one has actually lightened up a bit (mostly because the consulting firms are having to fight the procurement/staffing firm battle together). For a while there was a ridiculous protection of clients as if they were race horses in a stable. California, thankfully, one of the few non compete states, scoffs at this practice. I have my own firm. I get it. It would frustrate me if someone “stole” my clients. Then I would ask why and improve. And I don’t compete on price anymore so this power play is just kind of comical.
- Middle Management
Are always trying to usurp change- and the messenger. The few who don’t are fantastic to work with. Those are the ones I try to help get promoted so they can move from implementary leader to owner of the change.
- Anyone in any transactional vertical
Every organization has the power grabbers from other verticals- the ones who rarely have change initiatives of their own- procurement, legal, HR, the PMO (this one sometimes does have initiatives for their vertical, which makes them MORE power hungry).
My silence in writing comes from this simple fact- I am an external. I don’t care about power.
I care about solutions and results. I don’t have a title. I chose NOT to have one by being external.
Having to fight so many people I am not interested in fighting is a distraction from accomplishment. And a drain on creative energy.
Replace I with most senior consultants who have somehow managed to work around all these power plays and still stay in business. This isn’t just about “me”.
Head hunters, recruiters, VP’s, consulting firms, middle management and people inside of transactional verticals make for a world of Change With Power Plays.
How many different kinds of permissions are there in organizations?
I started a discussion on LinkedIn questioning the organizational pattern of middle leaders coming up with things, senior leaders approving or not and the organization as a whole thinking that is somehow strategy. Now I am intrigued by the answers to the posts. Most stretched the definition of permission in multiple ways.
Permission from a senior
This is the version that got my cackles up.
It is very common in organizations for work to be decided through a permission process where middle managers (or their hired gun consultants) present in PowerPoint to get approval. (In fact many project processes are an endless string of these interactions). Everyone seems to think this pattern is OK.
Here is what I see:
- Senior leaders disconnecting. It is much easier to place the responsibility for decisions in someone else’s lap. “Hey you told me, in that presentation, that this was going to work”.
- Middle managers taking over. This can sometimes be a good thing, especially if senior management HAS checked out. But it often happens because the middle managers tell the leaders just enough to get approval and then they do it their way.
- Too much democracy. I am all for engagement and participation and ownership at the work level, but there are just some times when ONE person needs to make a decision and be responsible. NO this pattern of up-deciding does not make this happen.
Permission to decide
This was one of the threads of expansion in the discussion. There are many times when we as individuals, and senior leaders in particular, need to give ourselves permission to decide.
I realized today that I have this pattern when I order something online that took research. The latest was a Quiet Cool whole house fan. I looked at ducted versions, the cost for fixing our broken air conditioner, the difference between energy efficient models and the regular classic line, and I thought and compared. But when it came time to push the buy button I had to sit, think more and stare. It wasn’t until I gave myself permission, because I had done extensive research, to decide that I was able to push the button.
Which gets at the problem with our first form of permission. Leaders do not seem to look into things on their own. If they had a little more of a consultant attitude then they would not be setting bad patterns with all those PowerPoint approvals.
Permission to proceed
Sometimes we just get locked in one place and can’t move forward. Maybe something was a setback and we can’t get over it. Maybe we know people do not agree with an approach, but we are convinced it will work if we could just get started. Maybe we see the possibility of only partial success and the work is starting to seem not worth it.
For all these scenarios we need to learn to give ourselves permission to proceed. Nothing ever turns out perfect. But when nothing starts, nothing ever happens. It is OK, and we need to tell ourselves this once in a while, to take the first step.
Permission to take a chance
This one is like the last except in this case we really do not have measures for whether the work will be a success or not.
Maybe it just feels right. Maybe we have just enough parameters to know this will probably work. Maybe we, or our organization, could just use some momentum and this next action is worth the chance.
Permission passed up, to decide, to proceed, to take a chance. Lots of permission processes are happening in organizations.