We don't know what's next for business - but what we do know is how to help you be ready. This blog is all about anticipating the future and positioning you for success.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Change Takes More Than a Great Idea

Have you seen the movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen? It’s a British romantic comedy based on a book written by Paul Torday.

I recently rented the movie having heard very little about it. Imagine my delight when, in the end, the movie reveals itself as a leadership training video, disguised as a comedy. Who would have expected a lesson for leaders on organization development and the process of successful change? Organization Development (OD), as you know if you’ve been reading this forum for any length of time, includes methodologies for working with planned change at the individual, team and organization level. Organization has a broad definition and includes individuals, teams, businesses, and social/economic communities of people (i.e., Yemen).

So without giving away too much of the plot and the ending, let me share the overview of the story from a leadership perspective. We all know that leaders are responsible for bringing about change. The change can be specifically focused on improving profits, streamlining processes, introducing new technologies, and building teams. It can be as intense as improving economic conditions or creating opportunities for dialogues about world peace.

Often leaders with a vision - an aha moment - see solutions and possibilities and get so excited about these newly discovered opportunities that they totally forget to think about what steps are necessary to ensure a successful change. Can you see where I’m going with this?

It doesn’t matter if your vision is to bring salmon fishing to the desert or to modernize your manufacturing plant with robots. And, it doesn’t matter if you have all the money required to pull off a wild new idea. What does matter is understanding that visionary decisions involving change require appropriate planning and ownership by more than just the leader.

Transition and Communication Plans

It doesn’t automatically happen that a leader has a brilliant idea and all the stakeholders required for success immediately jump on board. In fact, human nature is more likely to cause stakeholders to resist change more often than to embrace it. That’s an important point to keep in mind. Stakeholders need to understand, participate, and own the change.

As a result of this need, the participation of an OD consultant on the change leadership team is invaluable to the change leader, as the consultant (internal or external) will assist the leader in understanding and clarifying the current "As Is" opinions, perceptions and expectations of stakeholders. Armed with an appreciation of where stakeholders currently are in their thinking, the leader is better positioned to design the planning and communications strategies for how to navigate the organization and all its stakeholders from the "As Is" state to the desired new state of "To Be."

A typical Transition Plan will include activities such as:
  • Interviews and surveys to gather appropriate data from stakeholders
  • Invitations to stakeholders to participate in facilitated events to share information and brainstorm about what is required to support successful change
  • Identification of short and long-term risks and techniques for mitigating each situation
  • Development of a reasonable change pace, including schedules for data collection and analysis, identification of themes and recommendations for strategic interventions
  • Ideas on mitigating risk
  • Clarification of goals including responsibilities, accountabilities, tasks and metrics for recognizing success
One note about the pace of change – if the organization goes too fast, stakeholders may have a problem catching up. If the change is occurring too slowly, momentum may be difficult to establish and sustain. Gauging the right pace is an important element of understanding the "As Is" environment.

A Communications Plan is a second critical tool to ensure that the right stakeholders are receiving the right information through the right medium, at the right frequency. Not everyone needs to know, or wants to know, all the details of the change. Not everyone wants to participate at the same level. It’s the leader’s responsibility to clearly understand stakeholder needs and to accommodate them in a respectful, inclusive partnership for change.

You’ve heard it before: communicate, communicate, communicate. You can’t communicate too often. Individuals translate messages differently. Utilizing a variety of methods for getting the word out, opening up the two-way dialogues, and keeping everyone informed is not a small task. Plan for and utilize the skills of a good change communicator to provide stakeholders with up-to-date information. Without these avenues, human nature will have stakeholders guessing at how to fill in the blanks, and usually the results are not with upbeat, positive messages, but more than likely rumors grounded in doomsday, negative, doubtful messages.

So What’s Next?

I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, so let’s just end with a formula for positive, successful change:
Proper Project Speed

Economists continue to stress that US businesses are sitting on a lot of money, waiting to see what will happen with employment regulations and of course, the election in November. I caution business leaders about the dangers of leaping to invest and update business strategies too quickly before having a Plan of Action. Change can be an exciting journey if you’ve been involved in the planning and decision making. On the other hand, without appropriate information and participation, change can result in extreme behaviors grounded in fear and mistrust, blocking progress and innovation. And as we’ve seen in some situations, fears can go so far as to invite behaviors that sabotage any future change efforts by the leader.

So what’s next? If you’re a business leader and think that change is in the future of your organization, don’t wait until you’re ready to roll out the initiatives to realize you need to plan. If you’re not in a leadership position, encourage your leaders to take the time now to get the right people involved in understanding the vision, as well as helping to chart the course for a successful business shift. The first element to good project management is planning.

As always, I welcome your comments to my posting. Please share your thoughts below. If you found this article helpful, I’m very happy for you to pass it along to others. Have a great week.

This article was written by Deborah A King, SPHR, CEO and Organizational Effectiveness Consultant with Evolution Management, Inc. Debbie and her team are energized about changing individual and workplace practices and can help you navigate a plan for successful change. Contact Debbie for more information: Debbie@evolutionmgt.com or 770.587.9032.

EMI is a certified woman-owned, small business and recently receive SBA certification into the 8(a) Business Development program.