A quick online search of the question “When do we implement change management?” surfaces the age-old response of “the sooner the better.” It’s common advice that change management efforts should run in tandem with the kickoff of any initiative (or technology launch) to ensure sustainability and return on investment. But in the early stages of a knowledge management project, what does change management look like?
EK’s Integrated Change Management approach consists of three phases: Aligning, Surfacing, and Realizing. During the first phase – Aligning – we work with leadership at the project onset to understand their high-level vision for the organization, and begin to shape the tactical approach for execution. This phase is critical for setting the groundwork for the long-term adoption of the change at hand.
There are 4 Must-Do’s that occur during the Aligning phase. Because the effect of these actions taken together is exponential rather than additive, it’s best to complete all four activities rather than selectively execute only one or two.
Must-Do 1: Establish a Crystal Clear Purpose Statement
Time after time when we ask clients “What is the purpose of this change?,” we hear things like “greater efficiency,” “improved customer experience,” and “culture-shift.” If the change is technology-related, we also hear adjectives about the user experience – phrases such as “one-stop-shop,” “easy to navigate,” “greater search functionality,” and “time-saving.” In both scenarios, while those elements are certainly a part of the change or the platform being launched, the reality is, that kind of language is not clear enough. It is still too “squishy,” and just a jumble of words. While these sentiments are important to capture, they don’t identify a North Star for the project – something every purpose statement should do in the form of a complete statement. A crystal-clear purpose statement should be simple, relevant, and repeatable to generate momentum and widespread trust in the change. It should also act as the judge and jury when the team comes to a crossroads. We should always be able to look to the purpose statement and ask ourselves: “Does this decision move us closer to that direction or further away?” Generating a succinct and easily repeatable purpose statement is a real skill. Your team will move through a few iterations before getting it “right.” Don’t worry and don’t settle. This is important. Make sure you nail it down.
Must-Do 2: Establish a Change Team
EK’s approach to Integrated Change Management is heavily metrics-based. However, before metrics can be collected and analyzed, it is important to have ‘canaries in the coal mine.’ Every organization has its own language, strengths, and sensitive areas, and you need to manage change with those considerations in mind. We’ve had success with establishing a group of 8-10 individuals who can tell us what is percolating in the organization at the moment, how the organization has dealt with change in the past, and who can utilize their social capital to build both trust and supportive engagement for the change. Selecting the right individuals for this team is key. There needs to be a good mix of people with time to do the work, the ability to accurately convey the sentiments of their colleagues, and those who can engage in healthy conflict. It is also absolutely critical that actual business users are on this team to represent the perspectives of those who will be most impacted. This team needs to be able to challenge one another’s ideas and ensure groupthink doesn’t take over this small, but mighty team.
Must-Do 3: Define Success & ROI Metrics
Developing metrics to track the progress of your change efforts is critical to ensuring that everyone involved in the project stays both output- and outcome-driven. In order to understand the value of change though, metrics must be accompanied with context. A way to easily remember this rule is with an alliteration: numbers and narrative. It’s not enough to simply offer up a positive story about the change – your senior leaders will want to see numbers that demonstrate impact. At the same time, numbers without context are not able to convey the significance and meaning of the work that is being accomplished. At EK, we utilize a distinct methodology to capture both numbers and narrative for reporting ROI that resonates with leaders.
Metrics and milestones are also necessary anchor points that will enable you to make more data-driven decisions and adapt your change strategy as necessary. Your Change Team will help identify transition activities to support their colleagues in adapting to new ways of working. To gauge success, there has to be a way to determine whether those transition activities are having the intended impact. Defining corresponding metrics that are tracked on an ongoing basis will position you to adjust your change strategy when it is clear something isn’t working as anticipated, and pivot to try a different approach. When developing your ROI strategy, keep your audience in mind and set yourself up to be adaptable.
Must-Do 4: Get to Know the Status Quo
For better or for worse, the phrase “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets” holds true. When we’re helping a client make a change, we start by understanding why things are the way they are. It’s during the early stages of a project that we’re looking for answers to a lot of questions, and you should be too. We want to know, who is most heavily invested in how things are done today? What is the role of failure and learning in the organization, and what would make people feel safer when taking calculated risks at work? We want to know, quite simply, who can tell others what to do? Who do people listen to? There will be people in your organization who can influence at both a small and large scale, and it will be important to engage these groups or individuals as part of the change. We also ask about how information flows across the organization and top-down to determine what silos exist and look to understand what type of information is made available versus what is released on a need-to-know basis. There are different ways to go about collecting this data, but don’t skip out on asking these important questions. The responses will inform the development of your change strategy as you consider how best to prevent issues from arising as you’re introducing change into people’s day-to-day.
We know that change management can’t be saved for the tail end of the engagement and isn’t something an organization can just mention and hope for the best – the scaffolding has to be set up at the beginning of the initiative and that begins with Aligning. We encourage you to use these 4 Must-Do’s to set up your scaffolding and to be on the lookout for Part 3 of this series, where we’ll discuss the second phase of EK’s integrated change management approach, Surfacing.