10 Things You Should Know About Change Management

Change Management Series – Chapter 8

A lot is written about change management, and I have enjoyed writing this series of blogs, which has enabled me to share my thoughts and experience, as well as AWA’s approach to delivering sustainable change.

Many years ago, I took flying lessons and became a private pilot, regularly reading flying magazines including a series of articles called “I learned about Flying from that”. These were typically hair-raising stories of people surviving mechanical or navigational malfunctions, unexpected weather changes, emergency landings, illness on board, the perils of bad decision making, and the near collision with other aircraft either in the air and on the ground. They were all written by pilots sharing their experiences, wanting others to learn from their mistakes or their circumstances. I can see so many parallels in the world of change management!

So, in the same desire to share experiences, I asked my AWA colleagues to identify key learning’s from their years spent helping others to change. The following list is the result – thankfully without the hair-raising aspects that were such a feature of the aviation stories!

10 Things we’ve Learned about Change Management:

  1. There’s nothing “fluffy” about change
    Change management is often thought of as the optional ‘fluffy stuff’ which can easily be cut out, particularly when budgets are under pressure. The “fluffiness” label emanates from a belief that anything to do with behavior, emotions or feelings is indulgent and time wasting / unnecessary – and is generally uttered by those who themselves have no idea how to implement sustainable change. We believe that if people disengage from the change, there is a very hard, economic impact on personal, team and business performance – and there’s nothing soft or fluffy about that.The change management process can often be a headache, but it is the activity that enables the desired opportunity to flourish. Without good change support, the potential return on the overall project investment is considerably reduced – particularly as the people engagement generally represents a small fraction of the overall project cost.
  1. Change consultants need some key attributes
    Principally, change consultants require a thick skin, tenacity, calmness in the face of a whole range of human behaviors (including stupidity!), a sense of humor, resilience and the ability to remain likeable regardless of what’s going on!We also need to be clear about our role and its boundaries. Change consultants cannot model, articulate and inspire change – only the organizations leaders and internal change champions can do that. However, finding out what change approaches have worked (and which haven’t) in the organization over time can be very informative.
  1. People need to find out “what’s in it for me…”
    Change is adopted by those who make a strong link to “what’s in it for me”. Those who don’t are passive at best and disruptors at worst. Those who continue to resist the change are generally those who cannot identify any benefits, who see only negative value over their present state, or who have had insufficient engagement in a way that speaks to them personally.What is clear is that if people are given no opportunity to identify the WIIFM, i.e. when the organization adopts a “they’ll have to get on with it” approach, then not only are resentment and disengagement generated, but any hope of better performance is probably lost.
  1. Change takes time and patience
    It must be recognized that it takes several times before messages get through to people, because they absorb things when THEY are ready (and when it is communicated in a way that speaks to them), not when it is first said.Leaders are often impatient to get everyone “on board” but people will simply get there when they get there. Each person is different, is on a different journey and requires different support to embrace the change. Communications can’t be one way, there must be dialogue.
  1. Figure out who has the power to make the change
    The most important thing at the beginning of any workplace change project is to understand who has what power to drive the behavioral and cultural change. Without power it simply won’t happen. In the world of workplace behavior change, that power rarely rests with Corporate Real Estate or FM – it lives within the core business leadership. CRE/FM can make the physical, technological and spatial changes, but they simply don’t have the power or influence to drive or lead the behavioral change – that which brings real value to the outcome.If you don’t have the power in your organization – find out who does and start building relationships with stakeholders and influencers of those people with the power.
  1. Change isn’t the sole responsibility of the change manager
    Making changes in the workplace requires all the project team to understand they have a role in the change. There is a need for patient listening and the provision of information and follow up to ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and are empathetic to those going through the change.Saying (or even thinking) “Don’t they realize this is happening whether they get on board or not?” really doesn’t help anyone.
  1. Change management is an action sport!
    When done well, it requires a lot of extra activities to make the change happen. In workplace change management, running a workshop doesn’t cut it any more than providing collaboration space causes collaboration to happen. A large gap exists between the vision / desired cultural shift, and the space, technology and services designed to support it.Providing one doesn’t make the other happen by magic – i.e. If you build it, they will only come if they understand why and it makes sense to them.
  1. Without leadership, you’re probably wasting your time
    As my colleague put it – if the leadership aren’t interested, it’s a hell of a job to get everyone else into it! And I really agree – experience shows the change is an uphill battle without vocal and evident support from those that people look to for leadership, guidance and reinforcement that getting involved is the right thing to do.
  1. It’s all about COMMUNICATION
    What we see so often is that people find it exceptionally difficult to have the conversations (often difficult ones) that enable real change to happen. Without someone taking the lead in having those conversations, the change, if it happens at all, will be superficial. Often people (a lot of leaders in our experience) are not just conflict averse, but conversation averse – they won’t let themselves explore what the new world could look like.As change agents, our role is to facilitate conversations, rather than managing change. To support and give people confidence to go to the scary place – the one it’s too easy to avoid by simply saying “we don’t have time for that, let’s just make it happen”. The critical aspect is understanding the “why” – why are we making this change and facilitating the understanding for all levels of the organization, enabling voices to be heard and new behaviors to be learned.
  1. Find a way to measure change
    In our experience, senior leaders see change as a response to addressing short term financial and market pressures. They have achieved their own positions through driving change aggressively at speed and are rewarded by shareholder value. Transitional change which seeks continual improvement over the longer term (and is progressively incremental), does not generally interest them and is seen as addressing issues that they have not experienced in their careers. The problem is compounded by the difficulty in measuring the performance improvement that results from the changes.The lack of clarity about what is expected from workplace change means that clear, quantitative performance measures are nigh on impossible to come up with. Tackling measurement is a tricky topic, but Stacey Barr provides suggestions and food for thought about evaluating change management.

This blog is the last in a series of observations about behavioral change which we hope have provided readers with a good understanding of what is needed to help people change.  This is based on 25 years’ experience supporting clients making a change to new ways of working and my thanks go to my colleagues for their contribution to this blog – Andrew Mawson, Anne Balle, Chris Hood, Claire Arnold, Graham Jervis, Helen Guest, Lisa Whited, Marty Anderson, Matthew Atkin, Pete Tilley and Susan Thomas.

Want to read this Workplace Change Management Series again? Start from the beginning and read our blog “What is Change Management?“.