change

When the Kotter change model creates a disconnect for mid-size change

Applying the Kotter eight-step model indiscriminately to project-level initiatives and operational change leads to challenges.

Generating a ‘sense of urgency’ for mid-level changes creates unnecessary competition for share of mind.

In a typical large organisation undergoing transformation, there are likely to be dozens of project-level initiatives and concurrent operational change.

The paradox of change urgency (1)There is a paradox. Urgency at an organisational, strategic level provides momentum for the projects and initiatives that are necessary at the deeper levels of the structure. However, at an operational level, the sense of urgency translates into confusion and an inability to absorb the change impacts.

The underlying need for change at the project or operational level needs to be rolled up to the overall strategic imperative. Creating urgency around the detail of the change creates noise. This manifests itself as an increased request for project branding, change-specific communication channels.

Solutions include:

  • Ensure that the narrative of urgency remains at the enterprise level
  • ‘Bundle’ change impacts across programs
  • Implement at an operational or individual level as rapidly as possible based on the capacity for change

Institute change by designing for action

Consider the broader world beyond organisational life. As citizens and consumers, we conduct all kinds of complex behaviours and transactions ‘online’. The online environment changes constantly. Yet there is no change management plan for ‘the internet.’ Methodologies such at UX and User-Centered Design ensure that (successful) apps or sites or technologies are intuitive and based on making action easy to complete.

These disciplines do not apply only to online and technological change. The ability to design the ‘pointy end’ of change within organisations in a way that enables action at the right time without requiring substantial training or commitment becomes an opportunity for making continual concurrent change something that is easy to digest.

As Bill Quirke writes in Making the Connections, “Organisations are short changing themselves by not seeing communication through to the end – converting awareness into action. The real value of internal communication is to help business ends by enabling employees to turn strategy into action” (Quirke, 2008).

This is an excerpt from my chapter Kotter in context: is the classic change model damaging your mid-size change? in A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, edited by Craig Pearce.

3 Keys to managing multiple change projects in changing contexts

Why change is complex...

Why change is complex…

Writing in Accelerate/XLR8 (2014), Kotter recognised complexity and the shifts in organisational structure and networks, and the need for agile methods of mobilising people within the organisation.

In practice, change at the project level has three qualities that can complicate the effective management and delivery of benefits or the desired outcomes.

Concurrent – there are seldom single projects underway in an organisation. Depending on the degree of internal organisation and prioritisation, these initiatives may or may not be coordinated.

Continuous – while individual projects come to an end (and ideally deliver their targeted benefits), there are typically a sequence of projects being rolled
out. There is no fixed future state, only a series of iterations. The idea of ‘versions’ of the future state is a powerful metaphor for this: change version X.X.

Compound – change impacts from one initiative have flow-on implications for other initiatives. When delivered top-down, the aggregate compound impact of change can be miscalculated. This can be an overestimation of the ability to absorb change at an individual level, or it can be a failure to calculate capacity for the impacts of accumulated incremental change.

In the most effective organisations there is coordination of impacts across the range of concurrent projects. There is strategic value in effective governance that provides alignment of the intention of transformation with the operational reality of the ‘current state’ organisation.

This is an excerpt from my chapter Kotter in context: is the classic change model damaging your mid-size change? in A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, edited by Craig Pearce, a free resource packed with user-friendly and functional insights and advice on how communication contributes to effective change management.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

Response to ‘Is it time to bin the idea of “Change Management”?’

Employees are human, and their response to change will be driven by that

Employees are human, and their response to change will be driven by that

One of the ironies of change management is that practitioners have the capacity to be resistant to change in their own field.

In this post from Stefan Norrvall from January 2015, there is an argument that it is time to say goodbye to attempting to manage change.

Many change management tools and frameworks seem to come from a view that all change is a top down imposed thing that has to be “sold” to employees or it needs “buy in” from key stakeholders. This just furthers the notion that stakeholder have little input into the change itself and need convincing or manipulation to get into agreement.

Entrenched positions present a problem for all participants in change. Should organisations try to continue to manage change formally, from the top down? The idea is repugnant to Norrval and the #responsiveorg tribe.

Yet we are still not at the stage in most organisations to take away the systems and structures of change that evolved to ensure a balance between participation and deliberative action toward the change outcomes a change program seeks to achieve.

I agree with much of Norrval’s position – change is designed poorly. In so many organisations, change is imposed rather than co-created. Poor strategy leads to poor change management. 

But in the revolution, we need to accept that whether they are the targets of change, or the architects, or the collaborative participants, employees and other organisational agents are human, and their response to the approach to change will be driven first by that.

  • If the context is not clear, people will resist.
  • If the systems and processes of change do not match the scale and nature of change, people will resist.
  • And large scale change (whether an aggregate of small change, or major impacts such as role, location, identity) does have the ability to trigger the human response to loss.

We as change practitioners need to make it simpler – not overly rely on systems and models. But in an effort to be more human in our approach to change we also need to ensure that in replacing ‘change systems’ we don’t simply fail to consider the degree of change required to make this approach a success.

Source: Is it time to bin the idea of “Change Management”?

Everything Changes: The new role of communicators in navigating complexity

The Government Communications Conference #GCASYD2015 has been an inspiring collection of great practice.

My messages for communicators is simple.

  • Change isn’t as hard as we make out, except when we stuff it up within organisations.
  • As communicators, we have a responsibility to help our audiences, customers and partners to sense-make.
  • It’s about context.
  • Comms people need a broader toolkit and skills base to help sensemake in complexity.

Time for comms to be flexible, agile and adaptable.

The shorter COMMS plan is one tool for managing the complexity of change.

References and additional information

Why the 70% of change fails stat is BS

Jennifer Frahm, Conversations of Change

http://conversationsofchange.com.au/2013/09/02/70-of-change-projects-fail-bollocks1/

How to apply PEST for strategic planning

http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_09.htm

The digital divide – Australian’s not connected to internet and digital services

https://theconversation.com/au/topics/digital-divide

Hacktivism as a force for good – Gov Hack 2015

http://www.govhack.org

TEDxParramatta

http://tedxparramatta.com

Hyundai’s message to space

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EOAXrTrsOE

The rise of mainstream media directly linking to User Generated Content

http://eyewitnessmediahub.com/research/user-generated-content

What is Bitcoin?

https://bitcoin.org/en/faq

Automated email personalisation

http://www.wired.com/2015/04/write-perfect-email-anyone-creepy-site/

Gartner Hype Cycle Research

http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/hype-cycles/

Gaping Void

http://gapingvoid.com/blog/

Edelman Trust Baromoter

http://www.edelman.com.au/trust/

Austin Kleon, Steal Like and Artist

http://austinkleon.com/steal/

Everything is a remix, by Kirby Ferguson

http://everythingisaremix.info

Roadblock or dead end? Handling setbacks in change communication

A roadblock is a temporary state. A dead end is a point from which one must turn around and go back.

There is a moment in the wonderful Pixar film “A Bug’s Life” which simultaneously parodies the masses of self-help self-talk and provides a very simple mantra for change. A leaf falls into the path of the row of ants who are trying to gather food in time for the bully grasshoppers.

The ants freak out, the trail is broken:
Worker Ant #1: I’m lost! Where’s the line? What do I do?
Worker Ant #2: Help!
Worker Ant #3: We’ll be stuck here forever!
Mr. Soil: Do not panic, do not panic. We are trained professionals. Now, stay calm. We are going around the leaf.

All communication plans – in fact all projects – hit road blocks. There is an art to knowing when a roadblock is a temporary situation that can be addressed, or a true dead end. Even experienced project managers can waste resources – time, money, goodwill and energy by not recognising when a dead end is just that.

How do we recognise a dead end?
The signs are clear – “wrong way, go back”. These signs may be in the language of senior leaders, sponsors or customers. Words like never, can’t, forbid, refuse, may be the verbal equivalent of the dead end, or they may be road blocks, placed in the way because people are yet to understand the change.

“Hang on, doesn’t real change require us to break through and not take ‘no’ for an answer?” I hear you cry. Well, yes and no. Leading, managing and communicating change means that we need to continually search for other ways, and to determine how we go decide when to “go around the leaf” and when to wait for the roadblock to be cleared.

A dead end does not mean that the destination is abandoned. Rather, it means that the route there needs to be different.

A roadblock is a temporary state. #change #meaningbusiness

This post was first published in 2006. It remains totally relevant today!

There is always another way to see things

The colourful dress is a great metaphor for the need to remember that people see the world differently.

The colourful dress is a great metaphor for the need to remember that people see the world differently.

I have known that things aren’t always the way you first see them since I was a child. My rainbow does not look the same as the rainbow that the vast majority of you see. I don’t see the explosion of red when bottlebrush is in season and I am just as likely to be wearing a purple tie thinking it is blue as I am a grey one thinking it is green.

I am colourblind.

For the most part, this colour uncertainty is something curious. The most serious consequences for me included not being able to choose being a pilot, a policeman or an electrical engineer as a career.

During a working bee I once spent half an hour looking for tins of green paint that turned out to be the very same tins of pink paint I had moved aside to commence my search. Other volunteers were dispatched to search for me, and when they arrived, they pointed to the cans that I had placed aside. The look on their face told me they couldn’t understand how I couldn’t see this.

Over the last two days I have found it fascinating to see how people have responded to the #thedress, the phenomenon of the photo of a dress that appears to be different colours depending on the viewer.

Original photo from tumblr user swiked.

What has stood out is the degree that people are ready to become entrenched in their position that the dress either has to be white-gold, or blue-black.

This little internet storm highlights one of the biggest challenges to communication. Everyone who is sure the dress is one colour and not the other (just like the working bee paint rescuer) struggle to accept that there could be another way to see things.

This post from arts and culture site Hyperallergic on the philosophical roots of the reaction to #thedress explores the how these experiences of ‘otherness’ challenge our understanding of the world.

But the gift that I have been given by my other-sightedness is a daily sense that there may be another way. Over the past twenty years, my work as a communicator and change manager is to help leaders, project managers, employees consider that blue might be gold and white might be black.

There is always another way to see something.

It is such a great, simple metaphor for differences in perception. Craig Silverman at Poytner has written a wonderful piece on what the whole episode can teach journalists which I recommend to anyone involved in writing, communicating and change. As Silverman writes:

“The simple truth is our brains process information in ways that can lead us astray. This is something every journalist needs to be aware of and account for in the work we do.”

For the record, I have no opinion either way on the colour of the dress. There are some excellent explainers about the phenomenon from New Scientist and IFLScience.

Change is never a straight line.

Change is never a straight line

Change is never a straight line

This is a helpful mindset whatever the project you may be working on.

When to say no to Kotter-style change leadership

The Kotter model of change leadership is excellent for transformational change, but creates problems for communication in organisations when applied to mid-size change. In this extract from the recent webinar ‘The Art of Communication, the Business of Change‘ I explain why.

Audio courtesy of PRIA.

Communication isn’t just a step in a process

This is an excerpt from a post on 3 things to remember in LEAN and process communication published on LinkedIn Pulse.

Information is the content. Communication is how we make sense of the content.

Information is the content. Communication is how we make sense of the content.

1. Information is not the same thing as communication

Data about production metrics, safety instructions, operating standards: these are kinds of information. Information needs to be available at the right time to be useful to employees and managers.

However, there is a difference between making information available and communicating. Information is the content. Communication is the way we make sense of the content.

Communication is a human act. It is a two-way cycle. It involves listening. Communicating involves providing explanations about why something is important, and how it is relevant to the employee. Sending an instruction about safety on a poster or email is not the same as talking about why safety is important and listening to employee’s views and ideas.

Read the whole post on LinkedIn.

The changing world of change communication

Communication professionals are in the business of change. We design campaigns to understand perceptions and attitudes. At our best, we can contribute to shifting understanding, increasing awareness and influencing intentions.

Intent is key for internal communication. We communicate to create change.

Intent is key for internal communication. We communicate to create change.

And yet, when it comes to the processes of managing change within organisations, the world of communication and the world of change can seem like different planets.

Short-term versus long term

PR – particularly when not in-house- is frequently a short-cycle activity. Communicators get in, understand a problem, an issue or a stance, manage our campaign, and then get out again.

Three years ago, I was facilitating a discussion with communication professionals about the differences between internal communication and external communication, and why specialists in the two fields don’t always see eye to eye. One very experienced practioner summed up the challenge well. At the risk of making broad generalisations, he indicated that external comms practitioners are adept at short cycle communication, deep diving into an issue as required, working with the news cycle and then moving on to the next issue. By contrast, he felt that internal communicators may be used to longer time scales for achieving changes in culture or engagement, looking holistically at the interdependencies and ongoing employee experience.

Historically that may have been correct, but communicators need to be agile when communicating change internally and externally. This means being adaptable and responsive to circumstances that may be constantly evolving. It requires communicators to be active agents of change.

Change agents and Change Agents

Organisational development and transformational change, process change, operational change management: each are different varieties of change that rely on different communication methods and approaches.

There is more to managing (most types of) change than communication alone. Understanding the key steps in the change management process, the different types of organisational change, and the key roles for leadership, communication, training and even HR, helps create the partnerships that lead to effective change.

We explored these ideas and more in the  PRIA webinar, The Business of Change, The Art of Communication on 14 November. PRIA members will ion be able to access the webinar recording, and the slideshare is available.

In the session, we defined and aligned approaches to change communication for in-house practitioners working on major projects, PR and comms professionals who are part of an agency response to change, or even managing changes in your own business.