Making Change and Fishing Tackle

Ok, ignore what I said last week. So much for making an executive decision to skip this part of the continuous improvement cycle. That is definitely taking the easy way out, which is something I don’t often do.

You see, what I was trying to avoid was the whole subject of cultural change – but I can’t do that forever. You see, a key question for any project that involves the documentation of business know-how (including policies and procedures) is how the documentation will be maintained post project. Stakeholders want to know that they are having input into something worthwhile and useful. So here we go… Let’s open this can of worms and sort through the wiggly critters for once and for all.

Change… Hmmm… Yes, well everyone knows this is a hard one. I think the only way I can tackle this matter in a meaningful way is to break it down into bits again and then try to talk through the way I would approach the issues for each bit. Trying to tackle this topic in one big bite makes me visualise a nest of tangled fishing lines in the bottom of a boat. So how do we start? Let’s break it down like this: the human face of change, the organisational face of change, the paper face of change, and the physical face of change. If necessary next week we will take a look at how to make the change stick. This is making my brain hurt already!

I guess I could have gone back to Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge in choosing these faces. That would probably be a good move. If I go back to the text from Scholtes’ ‘The Leader’s Handbook’, these ‘New Leadership Competencies’ might prove helpful. These are taken directly from page 21 of the text:

  1. “The ability to think in terms of systems and knowing how to lead systems.”
  2. “The ability to understand the variability of work in planning and problem solving.”
  3. “Understanding how we learn, develop, and improve, and leading true learning and improvement.”
  4. “Understanding people and why they behave as they do.”
  5. “Understanding the interdependence and interaction between systems, variation, learning, and human behaviour. Knowing how each affects the others.”
  6. “Giving vision, meaning, direction, and focus to the organization.”

But really I think we cover off on them anyway. These competencies are what the leader needs to master in order to address the faces we are looking at today. I think the faces of people; the broader organisation (and its systems); the paper side of things (ie documentation of the system, vision, meaning, direction, focus and embedded learning and improvement opportunities in a way that recognises how variability can and cannot be addressed), and the actual components of the systems together tick off on all the issues Deming’s list implies.

The organisational face of change (changing organisational / cultural behaviour)

The organisational face of change is – depending on the size of the organisation – complex or unbelievably complex. This is where not only how the organisation operates, history, culture, historical attempts at change, implicit and explicit expectations around behaviour, attitudes toward risk and innovation and personal politics (and probably other aspects too) all mesh together. I would say that your capacity and ability in terms of making organisational change mostly comes down to how well you understand these things in your own personal organisation and what knowledge you have of how similar change has been attempted in other organisational settings. However, I think that at a high level there are some overarching comments that can be made about what needs to be addressed at an organisational level.

1. Organisational context. I wish I didn’t need to put this down, but I think it is important. You need to be able to demonstrate exactly how change will be occurring in the context of what is happening in the rest of the organisation. This means that you need to be clear on how the project you are working on is using the same / similar / a different approach to other projects in the organisation, as well as how your project will be delivered in a way that slots into the broader organisation. If you cannot demonstrate the broader applicability, relevance and/or benefits of your change, you are going to struggle to bring big groups of stakeholders together and get executive support for the change.

2. Change principles. You might also want to establish some principles or even pseudo-rules for how the change will be implemented (how the specific change project is delivered). These are what will guide the involvement of many people in an organisational context and would be complementary to the tasks set out in the project plan. This might be things like ‘regular communications with stakeholders’, honesty, transparency and a certain level of involvement or consensus building among stakeholders. It gives everyone who is involved in the change an understanding of what the change is really about and how the organisational culture is being taken into account in its delivery. Generally, I think it is a gesture of goodwill and expectation setting for the many stakeholders who may be involved.

3. Executive support. I keep puzzling over this one and wondering whether you can deliver real change using a bottom-up rather than top-down approach but I think it would be very difficult except in instances where the change is so necessary that it almost happens of its own volition. Support at the highest level of the unit/s that the change will impact on is very important in enforcing the scope of the change, the involvement of reluctant stakeholders and seeing the change through to completion. Depending on the nature of the change we are talking about, this executive support would be akin to effective project sponsorship or an effective project steering committee.

Ideally, as well as having executive support, you would have ground level support as well – this starts to be more about individual stakeholders, rather than organisation motives. If successful though, it means that you are implementing the change two ways at once – from the top down, as well as the bottom up. I am pretty sure that this does not mean the change happens twice as fast, but I am sure it does help.

In this context though it is worth taking a look at how the adoption of change by people within an organisation can be conceptualised. Below is a diagram of how Everett Rogers perceived it. (Image in the public domain and adapted from Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA by Hvassing for Wikipedia.)

Rogers Diffusion of Ideas

This is a pretty widely known bell curve of how changes are adopted by people, and it makes it pretty clear that within an organisation you are going to have to deal with some ‘laggards’ who resist any type of change and the majority who will follow the pack, as well as the innovators and change enthusiasts. Which is a nice segue into….

The human face of change (changing individual behaviour)

Most people don’t enthusiastically embrace change. Whether you put it down to a fear of the unknown, laziness, the additional power mongering that some may perceive is required, plain old inertia, valid concerns about whether the end product or the change process itself is worth the effort and cost, or (deep breath to finish the sentence) a mix of two or more of them, it is often a hard ask to get the majority of people to embrace change.

Your first step in trying to address the human factor of change is to actually develop an understanding of who you are working with. There are a variety of stakeholder analysis frameworks you could use, but my current favourite would have to be the following table which has been adapted from Scholtes’ ‘The Leader’s Handbook’ again.

Stakeholder Analysis 1 Table

This provides a template into which you can classify the stakeholders of the change and prioritise where you are going to invest your powers of persuasion. Someone with a low level of influence who will be minimally affected by the proposed change is obviously not a big player that you need to get 100% on board with your approach – especially if you recognise that you will NEVER make everyone happy. However, people with a high influence obviously need to be considered of higher priority. Do not make the mistake of thinking that ‘high influence’ directly equates to ‘high salary’. There are people who may have a high influence over the success of the project – for example, someone who has a lot of capacity to help deliver the project and who is well regarded by other people – may indeed be in your high influence category.

Now you have worked out the importance of each stakeholder in implementing the change, it is worth identifying how each of these stakeholders is best engaged with. The RACI framework is useful for this in that it enables classification of stakeholders according to whether they are Responsible (ie need to be kept closely involved in the project), Accountable (ie need to be reported to), Consulted or Informed in relation to a project. However, I don’t see why you couldn’t adapt to fit your own engagement model and use the classifications of (for example) report to, include in briefings, include in working group, include in steering committee, include in email update, regularly meet up with…. You get the gist. Just use as many categories you need to best capture the different methods for getting the most out of your relationships. I think the key phrase here is ‘establishing a mutually beneficial relationship’.

Next up is actually identifying the individual drivers for key stakeholders. Why might people resist change? Why might they want to adopt it? What are the issues they have? If the change you are proposing is minor then this might be overkill, but for a complicated project, this stakeholder management analysis and planning process might be the best use of time EVER! For important people to your change, it might even be worth actually meeting with them and having a chat about how they feel about the change to elicit these drivers.

By this point, you should have an extremely good understanding of your stakeholders and the strategy required to get them on board. Scholtes (again in his ‘The Leader’s Handbook’) talks about use a step approach to actually addressing people’s issues and gradually getting them on board with the change. It involves time and a lot of patience and is essentially about first identifying one of the stakeholder’s current problems and then showing how the change you are proposing is a solution to that problem. You may not immediately have them on board, but over time as you gradually step them through how so many of their own problems are being helped out by the proposed changed they will become more comfortable with it – and hopefully become a project champion too! (Not to mention it double checks that the change you are delivering actually has the right benefits.)

Stepping through the change

You get the idea. If you are like me and tend to be impatient to get on with doing things, it is a very different way of looking at things, but it actually seems quite logical. I am still working on it though!

The paper face of change (changing the documentation)

This is what this blog is all about. Providing a simple, user friendly framework with supporting practices, to enable relatively easy documentation of what the change is so that everyone is on the same page. Of course this face can be difficult to address when people do not know what and how they are supposed to be documenting and how it relates to everyone else’s documentation. And high level documentation without implementable detail or, conversely, detailed procedures without articulation of the high-level purpose and goals also do not help organisational change along. I am hoping that the information on this site goes some way toward making this the easy bit though!

The physical face of change (changing the infrastructure, instruments and systems)

This really is a matter of implementing the plan we discussed in last week’s post. Spinning off from the planning stage into however many small projects are required to change infrastructure, other instruments (eg legislation or accreditation requirements) and IT systems. Let’s be honest, how successful a project is or is deemed to be will usually come down to its stakeholders. So maybe this is the bit we really can skim over and I just refer you back up to the human and organisational faces.


So here is what it boils down to for me. You need these four faces of change happy for it to actually happen. Maybe this is what should be built into the project plan we talked about last week – how each element of the planned change contributes to addressing each of these faces of change, and from the other side, how you are going to address each face of change. If you don’t have one covered then you are going to struggle to get the other bits to happen.

So that’s where we’re at this week. That’s some considerations for how you implement change.

What do you think?

Are there any other faces of change to be aware of? What are your theories on how you make change actually happen?

What do you think?