I was practicing Organisational Change Management for about two years before I knew there was a special name for it. Back then, organisations would call me and ask for Training or OD work or a myriad of other types of interventions. When OCM (Organisational Change Management) finally began to gain traction and visibility, we still had to explain what OCM was to the general population impacted by the programme or project as a first activity for almost any engagement. Back then, it was a project. I remember one client musing, ‘We just need a few months to get through this and then everything will get back to normal.’ As we all know now, OCM has become a ubiquitous element of virtually every organisation and we never ‘just get through Change’.
We hear that Change is here to stay, that it is accelerating and so we must embrace Change and plan for it. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with any of those statements. I just think there is more to it than that. We can’t continue to expect employees, managers, team leaders and contractors to deal with more and more Change, and, let’s face it, more and more work.
Without an ‘end’ in sight, people become depressed and unproductive. How can we expect them to continue to ‘sprint’ when we know that even a marathon runner has to rest? The phrases, ‘this will be all over’ and ‘back to normal’ are important pause buttons in the ever increasing stress of business life, but they are not true, it will never be over and normal, is now, very subjective.
In programme management we take time to review and wrap-up individual projects, do ‘lessons learned’, and plan for the next big initiative(s) in a way that optimises resources and budget. We need to become more adept at doing this with OCM initiatives as well.
Over the decades, I’ve worked with more than one client with multi-year technology projects to implement. These projects not only changed the way the organisation did business, but they changed the culture. We did a simple thing; we added line-items to the program register, cultural, and business systems change project, that were hooked into the technology implementations. We added customer satisfaction and experience programmes that supported the technology and cultural changes. We treated each stage of OCM as projects and incorporated timelines and rationale into the programme communications, and commitments.
We also told the target audiences when each phase would be over – and when they could expect the next phase to start. A mechanism that integrated the projects also brought visibility to key milestones, and communicated the process to the whole population. Since everyone knew how they could influence the queuing of activities and projects this had a huge impact on buy-in and commitment.
I have seen, over and over, the huge advantages provided through this simple mechanism. Including Organisational Change Management into an integrated programme provides a single view of almost everything that is happening in the organisation and who is impacted. And, almost more importantly, it communicates that there is a standardised process for considering proposed projects – which includes capacity planning.
In providing a run-way for all projects coming online, and a transparent manner to communicate around Organisational Change, we reduce the stress to the organisation and therefore reduce the tension. By communicating the process and general timelines we give most of the population peace; which allows them to get on with their work … but also allows them to understand the bigger picture and to flag issues and ideas that could help us make implementations / interventions more effective. Including people in the process at regular intervals also has the added benefit of allowing the disparate parts of the organisation to find a single voice. To see what they are doing individually in a different light and to move from ‘silos of contribution’ to concerted and coordinated effort. Funnily enough, this allows us to identify and streamline duplicate projects and initiatives, which in turn, based only on the reduced effort of dealing with 1 project instead of 3, increases the capacity within the organisation.
Talk it UP
It is funny that many Managers shy away from speaking with their people about projected changes or the wide-picture view of organisational programmes. They may fear that information causes stress or that their team will be unable to concentrate on their jobs if they know what’s coming. Interestingly enough if you take all the projects within an Organisation, or discrete division, make them visible, and …
- colour code the impacted populations, it becomes quite clear why
- some groups have more sickness than others
- productivity has dropped in others
- some groups just check-out
- complete a simple STOP / START / CONTINUE exercise with impacted groups, it is amazing the …
- number ideas that can be generated to save time & effort
- amount of streamlining that can be used to build capacity dedicated to the Change
- energy and engagement that comes to the project!!
By communicating in a planned and respectful manner, and creating a forum where impacted populations have a voice and are free to having meaningful conversations about the Changes in their part of the organisation, you access untapped potential. And you send the message that the Change is happening with them, not being done to them. By taking a systematic approach to Change, you ‘spread the pain’ so that everyone can see when they will be called upon to participate, and when they will have time to concentrate on ‘business as usual’. This builds stamina for the ‘sprint’ because not only do the ‘runners’ know when the race is starting; they know the type of race and where the finish line lies.
To accomplish this, we use two tools that we find very effective. The first is a Programmatic Change Model that allows us to have conversations with different parts of the organisation about the Programme and what will take place. The second is simply conversation. Whether they are Evidence-based, Content Neutral or Kitchen Table Conversations, they follow a specific structure that builds awareness and engagement at every level of the organisation by transmitting key messages and gathering critical information from strategic audiences.
I’m not saying that Change has gotten any easier over the decades. I actually agree that now, since we have the vocabulary to identify and describe complex, chaotic, and/or wicked problems perhaps Change has become a bit more difficult. Regardless of whether that is the case, now it’s just easier to see and face the challenges when everyone is on the same page – and using the same play book.