Any major change initiative requires effort to bring people along and get them committed. The keys to doing so are stakeholder involvement, communication, and involvement.
A few years ago, we were asked by a large pharmaceutical manufacturing company to help transition ten of its fifteen plants to a just-in-time inventory system. The technical aspect of change was led by another consulting firm. But as the “go live” date approached, senior leaders realized that front-line operators weren’t as committed to the new system as those who had been involved in the analysis.
We weren’t surprised by this finding for two reasons. First, not everyone can participate in the scoping, diagnosis, planning, and design phases of such a large project. Diagnosis and design teams are often formed with representatives to ensure perspective from across the organization. But those not asked to participate can feel left out, confused, or even unaware of the change.
Second, because of the complexity of the technical change to processes and systems, very little resource had been allocated towards the human side of the change. There was a video in the lunchroom streaming information about the project in two different languages. But it felt more like a sales pitch than an interactive dissemination of information that operators needed.
When we were hired, they were only six weeks from “go live.” Not enough time to get real commitment from so many employees. Ultimately it took another six months to get the commitment necessary before any significant change could happen.
The ability to accelerate organizational change is arguably the most important role of a leader, yet one of the least understood. While the leaders at the pharmaceutical company had a long-range strategy and were executing on their short-term plans, few had mastered the art of getting people to change the way they would need to approach their new jobs.
Great leaders of change positively impact business performance by making change part of their leadership agenda. During this process, we were reminded of the importance of three simple yet effective tools in enabling change—tools that if used consistently will change how leaders lead change.
Stakeholder Analysis and Engagement
Stakeholder analysis includes identifying (typically on a bell curve) the natural distribution of innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards, and immovables. It also maps stakeholder groups by name and summarizes their needs. Without detailing everything involved in stakeholder analysis and engagement, we recommend the following three activities at a minimum:
- Identify all stakeholders
- Predict the impact of the change on each stakeholder group
- Determine actions necessary to secure stakeholder commitment
We discovered in our work at the pharmaceutical manufacturing company that 5 of the 10 plants would be more impacted than the others. Assuming that all the plants were the same originally led us to underestimate the resistance to the proposed change. Not until a careful analysis of how each group of employees would be impacted did we understand why employees were dragging their feet.
Communication Planning and Events
A lot has been written about communication, and we encourage you to study the literature. At the basic level, smart leaders of change communicate with employees in a way that resembles open, transparent, person-to-person conversation rather than a series of directives.
To start and maintain a friendly dialogue about change, leaders need a strong communication plan, which includes deadlines and milestones. During our time trying to implement the just-in-time system, we discovered that certain stakeholders needed even more information than we had put into our communication plan. So we put one of the senior project leaders on a plane to talk face-to-face with employees at the five plants most affected. To help, we created a consistent message using a simple tool called the 3-30-3-30 method. The idea is that your communication should have four formats with uniform messaging:
- 3-second message—typically 3 words
- 30-second message—typically 3 sentences that describe the 3 words
- 3-minute message—typically 3 paragraphs that expound on the 3 sentences
- 30-minute message—typically a PowerPoint presentation that includes all the details of the change plan
Not only did this tool help our project leader better explain the change message, but it was a great leave behind for others leaders to reinforce the change after we left. Because we had so much success with this tool at this company, we now use it with all of our clients.
You’ve heard the saying “No involvement, no commitment.” Consequently, we use a number of strategies to involve as many people as we can at each phase of the project. We use surveys, focus groups, and interviews. We hold town hall meetings, place people on assessment and change teams, and have “war room” review sessions. If you can’t formally involve as many people as you want in your change initiative, at least find a way to ask them the following questions:
- What are you most afraid of?
- What will it take to get the change implemented?
- What will get in your way?
- How can we make it as painless as possible?
Philip Stanhope, the Earl of Chesterfield said: “Many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request.” This is the same with change. The golden rule of change is “Don’t do to them what you wouldn’t want done to you!” Giving people voice helps them feel involved so that they don’t feel like the change is being “done to them.”
In our research over the last ten years while working with Fortune 500 companies and smaller startups, we have discovered over and over again that to change a team or a business it requires both an inside-out human approach (thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors) and an outside-in technical approach (process, structure, and systems). Research shows that less than 30% of change efforts succeed. In any other profession, a 70% failure rate would be unacceptable. It’s time we make it so in the professional ranks of leadership. Leaders can change how they change when they consistently work to engage the human side of employees while they are also improving the technical aspects of the business.
Kendall Lyman and Tony C. Daloisio are authors of Change the Way You Change: 5 Roles of Leaders Who Accelerate Business Performance (CLICK HERE to get your copy). Lyman is a founding principal of The Highlands Group. Daloisio is founder and CEO of Charter Oak Consulting and a principal of The Highlands Group. Please visit www.ChangeTheWayYouChange.com for more information.
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