Driving Effective Change – That Changes Things

Last week we talked about why Change Models Don’t Drive Change and left off with the two things you absolutely have to get right to ensure that a large scale organization change is implemented effectively. Those precious two things are Leadership alignment and tools. Today we’ll expand on what it takes to get them right.

Leadership alignment has likely been the most neglected piece of change management in every major change I’ve worked with. In short, your leadership team, to the lowest levels, must be in laser-like alignment around what needs to happen and what their role is in making it happen. They must be crystal clear on the business case, be able to articulate it and link all communications to it. They must also be able to anticipate and understand what transitions all stakeholders will go through on the way from current to future state and be able to support them through those transitions. The absolute only way sustainable change works is if those transitions are effectively managed and supported. This is the role of leadership and it only works if they are aligned. This is a big topic and I’ll submit to you that it is also the most difficult because in it is where all the difficult conversations live. Leaders at all levels need to be not only aligned themselves, but they must have the skills to align others. In many cases, that involves the ability to anticipate what people will go through and the ability to have very candid conversations about topics that are often personal in a way that promotes dialogue and drives learning for both parties. These are not skills that many leaders have mastered. Compounding the problem is that getting the leaders themselves aligned is a step often skipped by those driving change.

The other piece you need to get right is the tools you use to drive change. These tools must meet a few criteria. They must be intuitive to use. If they are not intuitive, no one will use them. People are busy, keep it simple. They must add value. I tell all my project teams, if a tool doesn’t add value, don’t use it. One company I worked with had 15 change tools and required all of them on every project. That’s just silly. Be thoughtful about what you skip, but if it doesn’t add value, don’t do it. I generally recommend that most projects need 4 or 5 tools to drive change. This is where how well you use the tools is much more important than how many you use. Change tools should come alive. They should be built right into the fabric of the project from the very beginning and become real living documents owned by the whole team, not just a ‘change person.’

The tools you use should be determined with a healthy dose of common sense. I recommend William Bridges book, Managing Transitions to provide a basic understanding of how change works. Every large scale organizational change is just a series of personal transitions that happen between current and future state. You need to anticipate who will be affected, how they will be affected (or what they will go through) and how you will support them through the process with communication, training, etc… The ‘etc…’ could simply be a check in with the manager or another creative way to show support. Then you need to determine how you will measure how the change is going and if it is sustainable. The LeaderShift Authentic Insights, Inc. change toolkit includes a simple set of integrated tools that compile all this in a simple spreadsheet. I developed that out of necessity – I just couldn’t find anything else in the market that was nearly as pragmatic.

There’s a lot of ‘hoodooo voodoo’ thinking around change management. So many leaders seem to think of change management as the ‘soft fuzzy’ piece of the project they just can’t seem to get their arms around and are really hesitant to spend their time on it. The reality is, there is nothing soft or fuzzy about this. There’s no amount of magic, new age metaphysics, or team building that will get you through a successful change. There is simply no substitute to getting leaders aligned and teams functioning effectively with some very concrete and simple tools.