Change Agents: The Reality of Change
Planning ahead for a transformation project, looking at resource, and considering the people, technology and cost elements, are always good starting points. But what happens when you are deep in the weeds of a change project? How do you maintain momentum, drive the project forward, and most importantly, keep capturing the interest of stakeholders and the wider business?
THE RELAY RACE OF CHANGE
For leaders who often jump from one great new idea to the next, a lengthy transformation project can often fail to excite. For those constantly in pursuit of the ‘shiny new toy’, the urge to move on to the next thing often means missing the chance to see the full benefits of the previous ‘shiny new toy’ play out. It is also common to see a significant drop in engagement from leadership stakeholders, as ideas are passed to Change Agents to action, while leadership move on to the next idea or strategy. This breeds an endless catch-up game, a relay race or objective passing, that fails to recognise achievements and outcomes. This is why change initiatives fail to deliver.
Leaders need to understand how individuals process change differently and allow the time for this to be realised.
To lead an organisation successfully through change, there are some common pitfalls to avoid:
- THE EXCITEMENT FACTOR
It is easy to assume that everyone within an organisation is as excited as the leadership when it comes to change, and this can overlook the need for others to go through their individual change process, understanding and buy-in to the importance of the change
- THE TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT
Leaders think faster than their people can implement. Too many changes become after-thoughts because they aren’t given sufficient space to succeed.
- ASSUMING IT WILL BE SIMPLE
Leaders often overestimate the ease of a transition. When a change decision is made, the leader sees the exciting new feature and believes that it can happen faster than is realistic. Not allowing sufficient time for a transition leads to changes that don’t deliver value nor achieve the goals that were originally intended.
So, how do you avoid this ‘relay race’ effect?
- BE REALISTIC
Be realistic about the time it takes to implement change, and the capacity available to you, in order to do it successfully. Stay connected to the progress of change, and understand where optimism might be at odds with reality.
- SLOW DOWN
Consider whether the exciting new idea will add value in the context of all the other changes going on. Slowing down to speed up can be a good approach, like a racing driver taking a corner more slowly, to avoid a crash. Many leaders believe they are in a race against time, but speed is not the always the solution and just like in racing, it needs to be applied at the right time. Leaders must slow down and prioritise the changes to ‘win’ the race of successful change.
- RESPECT THE PROCESS
Respect the change process, and acknowledge that people need time to recognise and adopt new ideas. People want to get on, and perform well in their roles, and constant change can create frustrations, as they face the challenge of trying to complete one task before the next change begins. It is not about stopping the change, it is about creating space to be successful – allowing the project to breathe.
THE FEAR, UNCERTAINTY AND DOUBT FACTOR
Whether undergoing large-scale transformation, or more localised change, it is easy to see how the changes can trigger uncertainty for your teams. This can be challenging to manage, even for individuals: fear of the unknown, uncertainty around you position and doubt about the decisions being made, and the proposed goals for the project.
We have no doubt all experienced the broad ranging consequences stress can wreak on individuals and the wider workforce, including drops in productivity and poor communication. When it comes to change projects, this is no different – the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt Factor plays an enormous role in defining the success of a transformation project. The greater the ‘FUD Factor’, the less receptive people are to the change, paralysing the transformation process.
So how do you create an environment where change can flourish, and transform a culture of fear into a culture of innovation? The first step can seem the simplest:
Understanding and Awareness
Communication can oil the wheels of an organisation and help ensure the success of a project. Help your team understand the change that is about the happen, and how this may impact their day-today. It always helps to communicate what stands to be gained by action, rather than focusing on what might be lost by inaction.
Explain how uncertainty can impair thinking and promote resilience during transformation. A mistake is not the same as a failure, as long as you can learn from it.
Building ‘certainty’ for your team is not about having all the answers, but rather laying out a way forward and providing clarity around the impact of the change. Set clear expectations around what could happen as a result of the change, and the benefits that will reach each business area. Build a team of ‘Change Champions’, people who understand end goals and can help explain these in more details.
Most importantly, break the complex change down into smaller steps to create certainty about what’s happening next. When leaders build trust within their team, this can encourage people to look beyond their own immediate needs, and work towards longer term rewards.
A good way to get employees thinking about a change is to evaluate the success by measuring collective learning and the quality of decision-making processes, as well as the eventual project outcomes. This can inspire greater teamwork, seeing how far people have come, their stronger capabilities and problem-solving abilities.
Pay attention to the ‘FUD Factor’ and take action to minimise it for your team. The more that an individual can manage the FUD Factor, the more productive they can be and the more successful you can be as the Change Agent leading them through the change.
In reality, change is always more of a gradual evolution than an instant switch up. It is vital to remember the human element of change, and how people may be impacted on an individual level. People are the drivers of change, and equally have the power to seriously hinder any developments or innovation measures. Communication is also crucial. Leadership aims may get lost in translation as goals are shared around the organisation – making sure your wider teams are fully on the same page can make the difference between success and failure.