Not All Change Is Created Equal

June 24, 2015

change isn't equal

Not all change is created equal. Major changes may visibly impact the daily lives of thousands. Others, while still important, happen largely behind the scenes and are hardly noticeable.

Companies that fail to recognize how this distinction fits into their measurement strategy and dive straight into dedicating significant time, energy, and financial resources to a seemingly endless list of tasks will soon find themselves facing disastrous results.

The future-ready executive will focus energy early on calibrating critical actions and milestones needed to take the change from diffusion to adoption. Of course, successful change comes with a sense of urgency, but execution done in isolation of its true impact and de-coupled from measurable progress is like shooting in the dark: you most certainly will miss your target.

Understanding the Change Risk Equation

To varying degrees, all changes alter people’s habits. Companies planning an institutional change should look at this in two ways: how much will it affect an individual or group’s way of doing business and how important is employee behavior to the success of the effort. The higher the dependency on people, the greater the risk – and the more important to have a way to measure, assess, and adapt along the way.

Not all change is made equal, but every change should be measured equitably. Rather than defining the measurement effort as an allocation of the budget earmarked for the initiative – a common practice – it’s better to take a holistic view of what really will be different. Do you know how many people will actually be affected? Will the change result in drastically different standards of behaviors, or will business processes remain relatively familiar? What is the degree of disruption – will it be sudden or a shift that happens over time?

Answers to these types of questions will give you a general change impact assessment and help you begin to determine how detailed the measurement needs to be. In my experience working with companies across a range of industries and sizes, I’ve found most change initiatives fall into one of three categories – high impact, medium impact, and low impact. Understanding their differences will help determine what is most vital to track along the way.

High change impact

Initiatives in this category affect all employees within a defined population and are highly dependent on near-complete adoption. These are high-stake initiatives; the project will utterly fail if employees aren’t completely on board regardless of how stellar a new vision, strategy, or technology may be. Major corporate restructurings and offshoring entire business processes to a third party fall into this category, as do projects that require employee compliance to new regulatory or safety requirements.

High change impact projects need metrics that track awareness of the reasons and vision of the change, the pace at which people get comfortable with what is required of them, the efficiency and efficacy of the training provided, as well as how well employees consistently demonstrate new desired behaviors.

Medium change impact

Medium change impact projects are reflective of changes that concern some but not all people within a defined population, or certain aspects of a work function but not a wholesale change to a job. For initiatives in this category, the business will continue to realize value from their efforts even if employees do not adopt the change fully. An example of such an initiative would be rolling out a software upgrade that provides additional user functionality. While it would be highly desirable from an efficiency and productivity perspective for as many people as possible to adopt the additional features, it will be a win if simply a good percentage does.

Measuring medium change impact projects should primarily focus on two metrics: measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of training on the new functionality, and tracking which specific functionalities are being adopted and which are not. Both metrics will help identify areas for improvement and to further increase adoption.

Low change impact

Low change impact projects will realize their expected benefit with little to no dependencies on employee usage or adoption. In other words, projects in this category are primarily installations that do not alter current work styles significantly, and that are not disruptive in nature.

An example of such a project would be an IT department changing email server hosting from on premise to the cloud or changing from one telecom provider to another. It is a change, and it may have a high budget associated with it, but the change is not in a significant way altering or disrupting how people go about their work. Measuring this type of project should focus entirely on tracking project management-related milestones.

Define the Change to Measure the Change

Measuring the success of change only after all the work is done is poor planning and limits opportunities to increase the success of the change itself. Unfortunately, when companies dive into the details of execution too fast, this is what often happens,

Instead, define the type of change you’re actually facing first, and develop a scorecard before putting all the efforts into action. Doing so will provide a mechanism for real time updates of progress being made, weaknesses or organizational pressures holding it back, and metrics that track the data you need to tell the complete story.

When change is on the horizon, resist the temptation to get ahead of yourself. Take a step back to assess where you’re trying to go, and then detail the right measurement to create the path you want to take.

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About The Author

Juliane Parsons, a Director at ARRYVE, is a transformation leader with expertise across enterprise, middle-market, and start-up businesses in the technology, gaming, manufacturing, and distribution industries. She has a proven track record of defining key strategic factors for success, executing complex business initiatives, and delivering substantial revenue, productivity and quality improvements. Highly respected and effective at leading diverse and cross-functional teams, Juliane is also passionate about building high-performance organizations.

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