I was talking about change management to a friend yesterday, and my mind wandered to the last two change management efforts I undertook. The first one failed, and the second one was successful, and I think I failed the first time because I had an extreme focus on the idea, but not so much on the players involved.
The second time around I was much more focused on the players involved and change management, and realized that building consensus was as important as developing the idea into a product.
Does that mean I think both ideas were equally good? Absolutely not, but a lot of people (including myself) have a strong tendency to focus on the idea at the expense of the players involved, and forgetting that it will take real people to implement their idea.
With that in mind, I’ll talk about some things that I saw work, and some things on the people aspect of change management.
Know the playing eleven: I had a secret one page document which had a chart with two axes. X was “Good Idea”, and Y was “Good Consultant”. And on this chart, I placed all the active stakeholders in one of the four quadrants. The chart looked like the image below; the circles are initials of team members and the size reflects their relative power in the organization.
I had learned that in addition to the objection to the idea itself, there were a few people who questioned whether I could carry out this initiative or not. I was surprised to learn this because obviously I had no doubt that I could carry this out, and the big thing I learned from this is the value of actively engaging people in understanding their objections.
Before I created this chart, and a plan around this line of thinking, I was sweating a bit because the loudest and most powerful person was opposed to the idea and was drowning other’s voices.
Assessing the objections, and the people who didn’t have the objections greatly helped in talking next steps, and making progress without getting bogged down in convincing the naysayers.
Avoid Strength, Attack Weakness: Straight out of Sun Tzu’s manual — you want to focus on the people who are most favorable on your quest.
You want to avoid strong opponents in the beginning, and see how you can proceed so you can build momentum and work with people who will champion your cause so that you can make progress, and show that as proof to the naysayers. More and more people will come round to your cause with due time, and the key is to remember that the easiest path to victory is the best path to victory.
Consensus is not built in meeting rooms: If you’re planning to call seven people to a meeting room to demo an idea for the first time, and hope that they will go along with it then good luck to you.
It is virtually impossible to get a group together in a room, have them hear about your idea for the first time, and then expect them to bless it. The alternative, which is tedious, but vastly more effective is to meet everyone one-on-one, and talk about your idea with them beforehand. This will help you gauge what sort of questions people ask, who is for it, who is against it, and more importantly not throwing something at people who don’t have any clue about it. Ideally, you should be able to build consensus before presenting the idea to the wider group in a meeting room.
No one likes bad surprises, but some people don’t even like good surprises: I think we are just wired to be wary of surprises, and no one likes it when they feel they have not been fully informed or their neighbor knows more than they do. It is hard work to keep everyone on equal footing, and not even desirable, but it is important to keep your main stakeholders fully informed of everything, so they never feel left out, and abandon something just because the surprise left a bad taste in their mouth. As much as possible, prime people about what you are going to tell them.
I can’t win, but we will: You know you’re going to win when others talk about your ideas as their own. When people start saying we want it this way, or we thought that won’t work — that’s when you know that other people are taking ownership of the idea, and it is picking up steam.
That’s also when you know that you’re not alone in this and you have help, and now more people are vested in making it a success. The goal is to reach this situation and you can only reach this stage by aligning with a core of people who really want this to see light of day, and taking their advice, and opinion into sincere consideration, and by making a concerted effort to win allies.
These are all the things I wanted to address in this post, and I’m keen to hear your experiences and advice on how you dealt with change management in your projects.