Demystifying Change

Get it right the first time. You can’t afford not to. That’s what enabling large scale organizational change is all about. The problem is that ‘change management’ like one of those guys on the side of the road with a grocery cart. It carries an awful lot of baggage that smells funny and most people don’t want go near it (even when they feel a tug in that direction). Particularly, when there’s real work to be done. Right? I know. I’ve been there.

Here’s the problem. In 20 years in business, I have never seen a project that doesn’t drive some kind of change. Never. If you’re doing a project, by definition, you are seeking to change something. Otherwise, why do it? By definition, projects lead to change. Sorry to break the news, but that’s the secret no one wants to talk about…if you’re leading or working on a project, you need to know something about enabling change.

The minute you say the words, ‘change management,’ though, it brings up nightmares of hours of work that doesn’t seem to add value, is wrought with soft, fuzzy feeling stuff and almost no one can define what it is. So a lot of people quickly tune out, turn the page, or leave the meeting hoping for the best, that it will go away, or at the least, someone else will deal with it.

Well folks, stand up tall and stick your face in the wind, because in a few short minutes, change management will no longer be a mystery.

First, a definition: Change Management is enabling people to manage the transitions required to drive change. That’s it. That’s all there is. There’s nothing fishy about it. The degree to which you enable the people who need to change, to get through the transitions they need to make to get to your future state is the degree to which you will be successful in driving sustainable change. And if that isn’t core to the work you’re already doing, I don’t know what is.

Let’s talk about transitions for a minute. Everyone who needs to move from your current state to your future state will go through many transitions along the way. These are simply the things people must go through, do, or learn, to leave the current state behind and move to the future state. For example, if you are moving a department to a new building, people will potentially need to pack up their offices, say good-bye to the people they sat next to, come to terms with the fact that they won’t be able to walk to their favorite cafeteria anymore, find the new building, locate their office and the rest rooms, etc, etc. These ‘little’ things are called transitions and a plan can (and should) be built to manage them. Managing them could be communicating information, training or just a pat on the back and some empathy from a manager who understands. Usually, this is the stuff that if you don’t plan it, it won’t get done.

Whatever your stakeholders are going through, you can anticipate their transitions and plan to support them. When you do, change works. When you don’t, you end up with a project team wondering why people are disgruntled, don’t use the new system, or otherwise caused the change to fail. But here’s the secret: it’s not their fault. They were simply victims of a project that ignored them.

Now, there are ways to manage transitions, and there is a simple set of steps people go through as they make a transition. William Bridges book, Managing Transitions, is a great place to learn about them. Whatever you do, though, these concepts should not be left to a ‘change person.’ They are the responsibility of everyone on a project team – by definition. There’s no mystery to them, it shouldn’t take oodles of time and this work should be embedded in the work you’re already doing. It’s not something extra – it’s mission critical. In fact, with the frequency and rapid pace of change today, I’d argue this needs to be embedded in a culture or way of doing business rather than just a project.

LeaderShift Authentic Insights offers team coaching, training and a proprietary change toolkit to help you identify stakeholders, anticipate transitions and enable people to get through them while measuring sustainability of change. Just like Weight Watchers, it works.