July 23, 2019
Communication and persuasion are vital aspects of change management—so much so that it’s easy to focus on these skills almost to exclusion when attempting to facilitate organizational change. However, as important as it is to help people understand the reason for and effects of change and to achieve buy-in, more is needed if the transformation is to be truly successful.
This principle is often at work in daily life. For instance, take a person who wants to learn a musical instrument. No matter how much she learns about the benefits of playing and visualizes how to hold and play the instrument, she’ll never become an expert player until she picks it up and practices.
Just thinking isn’t enough to build competence in the aspiring musician. Action is also essential. Creating change in a company is no different. While it’s always important that people understand the “hows and whys” of change, it’s just as crucial that they be given the means to implement it. Leaders can assist in this process by:
In conventional approaches to change management, these ways of facilitating action are not always given the attention that may be needed to produce great results. My company has found it helpful to look at the entire change process from a different perspective and refer to it as a journey the organization takes. For this reason, rather than “change management,” we’ve come to refer to it as “journey management”—supporting people within an organization to change both their mindset and their actions to effect the desired transformation.
A case study from several years back illustrates why the distinction is so relevant. A large company had decided to implement a new process to manage employee performance. It wanted the change to go smoothly and implemented all conventional change management best practices to support this.
This company did an excellent job of communicating both the reason for the change and the new process. In the beginning, the entire organization was excited about the improvements and the benefits it would bring. Unfortunately, as the new program rolled out, enthusiasm quickly waned.
No one had thought through the practical implications of the change journey to ascertain what changes would need to happen with the people and technology, and how best to support those changes. Managers had no idea what they were supposed to do to enable the change, and little effort had gone into determining how data would be collected and analyzed.
In a last-minute scramble for tools to help implement the new performance management program, this corporation resorted to a quickly devised spreadsheet that proved to be an ineffective solution. Without defined roles or effective technology to support the process, things fell apart. The project—which originally had received strong support and could have resulted in significant benefits for the organization—was abandoned.
The interesting thing about this incident was that from a traditional change management perspective, the company did nothing wrong. It had communicated well and achieved overwhelming buy-in. Yet, the change attempt still failed because it lacked the more comprehensive understanding of what needed to happen that a journey management perspective would have given them.
If you were planning a family trip, you would never just hand everyone an itinerary and say, “We’re going on vacation, it’s going to be great,” and expect to get there with everyone smiling and prepared. Instead, you supplement your planning and communication with the many necessary little action steps it takes to get safely to your destination: buying tickets, packing, driving to the airport, and getting on the plane. It’s no different with change management.
Just like preparing for a journey, the communication around organizational change must go hand in hand with action if the change is to be successful. This requires thinking through these key questions:
Notice that each of the questions is split into two phases. These reflect the journey management mentality: considering both earlier and later stages of a transition. A “yes” answer to the second question in each set is an indication that the change project is succeeding. By managing the entire process through to its conclusion, the journey management approach is far more likely to result in the desired outcome.