Change - Too Much of a Good Thing?

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Agile. Continuous Improvement. The Virtuous Cycle. It’s true - change is necessary, and we all need to get better at adapting to change at an ever-more rapid pace. The increase in the pace of change in today’s world is exponential.

No one wants to get stuck in analysis-paralysis while the competition moves on without us, and there’s nothing wrong with experimentation and trying new things. However, it does sometime seem that changes are made for the wrong reasons, and not driven by pro-active, intentional movement towards goals. We’ve all seen decisions made without the necessary due diligence, and often those are compounded over and over as companies shoot from the hip, reactively trying to fix (or cover) their original mistake.

In this article, we’ll look at some questions an organization can ask to make sure the changes they are making are driven by good decision-making practices. Answering these questions doesn’t take a lot of time. We’re simply taking a step back, much as reporters do to ensure they have the facts. Having answered these questions can increase the odds that the change is moving things forward and adding to the general goodness of things, and not creating more chaos in an already chaotic world.

The 5 Ws (and an H…)

Who Will Be Impacted?

An impact assessment, even an educated guess at who will be impacted and what it’s going to mean to them, is worth its weight in gold. How many people will feel this change, and what are their roles?  How many are being asked to actively change what they do, as opposed to how many will simply see the results of the change? Do people need training, job aids, and supervision during the first days/weeks/month of the change, or just communication about what’s about to happen? It’s important to know whose world you are about to turn upside down, and to what extent.

What’s the Problem?

Another important consideration is to make sure the change is truly driving to stated goals. Is there a clear definition of the problem that is being solved? Is the change that’s being made the solution to that problem? An organization should always be able to articulate the  problem statement and how the change will solve it: “We are changing X because it will solve Y problem in this way.” If that can’t be done, dig for more information. Maybe the change is someone’s idea of “cool”, or it’s the solution to a non-problem, and is going to cost the organization more than it’s worth

Why This and Not That?

What alternatives were developed and considered?  Why were they rejected, and why was this picked as opposed to another idea? One hallmark of a good decision is that someone considered alternatives and chose the one that met the requirements. This doesn’t have to be a strict, formal process, but there should be some rigor put towards thinking through a variety of solutions to the stated problem, establishing criteria to choose among them, and selecting the one most suitable to the situation.

When Do We Start?

What’s the timeline allowed for the change? How long before it starts, how long is the transition expected to take, and when is the end state expected to be achieved? Make sure enough time has been factored in to communicate to all stakeholders, develop and provide training that’s needed, and socialize the idea among those who will feel the greatest impact. Some changes are urgent and need to be made immediately, of course. However, where time is taken to roll out a change properly the resistance factor will reduce considerably.

Where’s Plan?

Even small changes benefit from a communication plan. Changes may impact  people who need to change how they do what they do, where they will find what they need, or what they must, should, or can do – and they need to know in time to digest and incorporate those changes (see “When Do We Start?”) People are resistant. But a great deal of that resistance can be minimized if people are informed, consulted, and bought into the process. They need time absorb, reject, rebel, discuss, and finally integrate the change into their daily life. Give people time to go through the stages of accepting a change, or there is a high risk of sabotage, be it intentional or unintentional.

How Was It Decided?

Understanding and communicating the how the organization decided to make a change is a way to build confidence among those impacted. When the logic and reasoning used is exposed, even stakeholders who weren’t involved in the actual decision making will feel more involved and engaged than if a change is mandated from above, seemingly “just because.”

Recap

There is a right way to manage change within an organization, but before employing change management, make sure the change is necessary in the first place. Once that’s confirmed, and you’re sure that you’re making the right change, it is far more likely to succeed.

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