No matter how detailed and passionate someone describes his vacation to you, nothing compares to being there. The same holds true for assessing change and moving it forward: nothing compares to being there . . . there meaning with the people who are actually implementing the change.
Following up, repeating instructions, goals and reasons and allowing employees to experience us are vital techniques in moving our change effort forward. We can summarize all of these under “management by walking around” (MBWA – [detailed PDF]). As the analogy above implies, we cannot delegate ourselves to others.
Erwin Rommel, a World War II German general, was famous for touring and operating near the front lines so he could see the success and pace of his orders. As Rommel said:
A man must observe and learn for himself, since reports from second-hand sources cannot be relied upon as a base for important military decisions.
This becomes even more important if we personify the change, if employees view us as the initiators of the change. This means, via MBWA, employees will think change merely when seeing us; we need no words.
For example, at one presentation, a community banker said her President was visiting newly acquired branches in an acquisition about an hour’s drive away, but they were still experiencing problems changing the culture. By questioning her definition of visiting, I discovered he was only visiting once a quarter. He needed to be there at least every two to three weeks. How can employees change when they don’t even see their new leader?
MBWA requires patience but results will follow if we apply relentlessly, tap our full personal power and employ the other tactics in this series. Change does not move forward from our offices but rather from the front lines.
A owner of a top-flight commercial painting company once said to me, “Mike, prepping the surface is 90% of the paint job.” When we rely on ideas or vision, and the presentation of “pros and cons” and “what’s in it for me” to breach the challenges involved in moving an organization’s culture toward change, we are essentially just slapping new paint over old without cleaning, scraping or sanding the surface.
In addition to relationships, setting the mood is part of prepping. Here, understanding the 40-year-old Velten Mood Induction (MI) procedure is helpful.
Very simply, Velten MI puts people in a positive mood by having them say positive things. Over time the procedure came to include other moods. Researchers use MI very often to see how mood’s change our thoughts and behaviors. For example, subjects reading violent things tend to then have aggressive moods. We often experience MI when we watch movies and plays or listen to music; happy ones will tend to put us in a happy mood, sad ones in sad moods. We see politicians using MI to prep a nation for war or major legislation change (i.e. civil rights, healthcare).
Additionally, MI has very specific, business applications too. For example, we can put people in a more goal-oriented mood simply by talking about goals, outcomes and results. MI can also help us establish a more cooperative, collaborative culture. Thus, using it we can set the mood for change through regular communications and interactions over time. It doesn’t mean presenting specific plans; it means positioning – in a general sense – that change is necessary.
MI works because people tend to become more comfortable with change as they think and discuss it. It’s also why we don’t want to spring change on people as a surprise.
Managers delegate to their people; sometimes they empower them. Regardless, managers have a tendency to dump. Dumping occurs when managers feel the need to clean their plates. Sometimes this occurs just to demonstrate they acted upon a task assigned to them by saying, “Yes, I’ve assigned it to Mike.” Other times it occurs because some managers just need to feel part of the “clean plate” club or to scratch something off their “To Do List.”
However, when dumping occurs it’s often demoralizing to employees for three main reasons:
- Employees usually have other assignments; new ones disrupt priorities
- The tasks often are process improvements, better ways of doing current work; too many introduced at once can imply employees weren’t performing well
- If current tasks already overwhelm employees, the addition of excess new ones injects frustration and helplessness into the mix
No matter how urgent the tasks or how good the ideas, dumping too many on employees at once are akin to watering plants too much . . . they drown. Thus, to avoid dumping, managers should give employees three things:
- Help prioritizing the new tasks with the old
- Only a few new tasks at a time, saving the rest for later so employees have a chance to integrate new ones in stages
- Time to get the old and new tasks done; tying them up in meetings and discussions about new tasks and changes doesn’t allow them to do their work
After a settling period, managers can introduce the next wave of new tasks or changes. While this might be unsettling for managers who like to announce that they’ve “done” something about a task, for effectiveness sake, they need to be vigilant, disciplined wards of their people’s time.
The Hot Spotters, by Atul Gawande in the January 24, 2011 issue of The New Yorker spoke primarily to minimizing medical costs but had much relevancy to my experiences in effecting change. It covered five tactics. This is the fifth and final part of that series.
Many times we teach people the change we want. We even repeat that training. However, we often don’t ask them to demonstrate the change at later times to see if they’ve learned from the training. Three important reasons exist for this.
First, we need to observe how they integrate the change with their other activities so we can advise them on prioritization. Frequently people say, “I don’t have enough time.” It’s only through observing them integrating the change that we will ways to save time on other aspects of their jobs.
Second, as any physical therapist will attest, people have difficulty doing therapy at home, alone. That’s why it’s important for the therapist to observe them doing the activities. This will ensure that the patient will pick up the habit correctly. Eventually, they won’t need the therapist.
Third, and more subtly, we emphasize the importance of the change by investing our time to ask for demonstrations of the change. The more we invest ourselves in encouraging the change, the more our people will see it as important. These interactions also give us the opportunity to resell the change and address any objections.
The key to making this work is ensuring we break the change down into small, simple observable steps. If we are experiencing difficulty with employees modeling the change, it will most likely be a result of not having the change broken down finely enough.
The Hot Spotters, by Atul Gawande in the January 24, 2011 issue of The New Yorker spoke primarily to minimizing medical costs but had much relevancy to my experiences in effecting change. It covered five tactics. This is the fourth of a five part series.
One of the biggest problems we have in promoting change is the assumption that people are light switches. We expect to say something once, and they will change. Advertisers learned long ago that running an advertisement just once doesn’t encourage behaviors of consumers and build brands inside their heads. Repetitively encouraging people to adopt change is a natural part of the change management process. Generally, we should expect to have to instruct and model the change three to four times, maybe more.
The problem is that we often position this more as following up to ensure people do what we told them. Typically, we code this as accountability in our business jargon. It’s better to position this repetitiveness more as a normal part of the instructional and modeling process; it’s a natural part of the change management process. We can do this by saying something like:
I don’t expect you to learn and perform these changes well overnight. There will be challenges. Therefore, I will commit to being available to you on a regular basis so we can help one another make these changes as easy and natural as possible for all of us.
This language establishes an expectation that our follow up is normal and not punitive. It indicates we’re in this together. Otherwise, they could easily construe our actions as micromanagement. The actual frequency of our repetitive instruction and modeling will depend upon the nature and scope of the change.
The Hot Spotters, by Atul Gawande in the January 24, 2011 issue of The New Yorker spoke primarily to minimizing medical costs but had much relevancy to my experiences in effecting change. It covered five tactics. This is the third of a five part series.
Tactic #3 involves breaking down and delivering change in very small, simple steps. For organization-wide change, every manager has responsibility for detailing this for every one of his employees. This is difficult. Usually, there are two problems:
- Failing to uncover some important details
- Seeing only one step where there are two or more
Unfortunately, the difference between too little and too much detail isn’t clear. Generally, it’s better to err on the latter; while keeping in mind timing and the threat of over planning, and accepting that we will always overlook some details.
When we bring the change to the individual level, it’s extremely important that we break down the change into small bites and deliver them one at a time. Emotionally, the change is too daunting if we show someone all of it at once.
Often, the worse person to detail these steps is someone who performs them well because they come naturally to her. Thus, what she sees as one step could easily be five to ten. In these cases, someone with a project or process management orientation is helpful. He can observe and work with the model to detail the steps. If the change is dramatically new and lacks a model, he can jointly work with the expert on the new process and those affected employees to detail the new steps.
Once detailed, someone with a training attribute can help organize them into a developmental plan for the manager’s use with his employees.
Related article: Are We Being Short Changed?
Even though it spoke primarily to minimizing medical costs, the article, The Hot Spotters, by Atul Gawande in the January 24, 2011 issue of The New Yorker had much relevancy to change management. It covered five tactics to do so and crystallized many of my experiences. This post covers one tactic. Four future posts will cover the others.
The first tactic is picking the right moment. Everything has its time. You don’t paint when it’s raining, for instance. Effecting change is no different. As discussed previously, crises are excellent opportunities for effecting change. In another post, research indicated failure a better teacher than success. Teachable moments are a more moderate and individual form of this.
In organizations, divisions and teams, picking the right moment is more difficult. Here are a few:
- A particularly good or bad performance
- The gain or loss of a large account or piece of business
- Acquisition or sell-off
- Integration of new technology
- Layoffs and budget cuts
- Good or bad press
- Other game changing events
However, these events usually generate much activity in the form of capitalizing on or minimizing these situations. So, we miss tons of opportunities to effect change when we need to be asking:
- “What freshness can we add to keep the momentum going (or minimize the downturn)?”
- “What new actions can we take?”
- “What new ideas can we employ?”
Yes, people will likely squawk about having a lot on their plate, but remember change is about motion. Activity creates motion we can use. You can’t change the direction of something that’s not moving. That’s why you can’t wait for “slow time” to effect change. Besides, it’s usually too late by then.