Q&A: Making Change Management Real

Business leaders at any level agree: Managing change is critical for success in any improvement or transformation effort. For many leaders, managers and supervisors, though, “change management” appears to be amorphous. What is change management exactly and how do you do it? To tackle these questions, former Lean Methods Group Senior Client Partner Bob Norris sat down for a Q&A session. With a background in driving enterprise-wide initiatives at a variety of organizations, Bob has experienced his share of change—and he’s here to tell us how to make change management real.

Q: What do you think companies can do to address this challenge of change seeming amorphous?
To help demystify change, it is critical to develop tangible programs aligned to strategy. The key is to promote positive behavior that motivates employees to welcome change or, in other words, rapidly lowers employees’ resistance to change.

Over the years, I have effectively utilized a formula that makes change real and manageable: Vc + Ia + Se > R. The effort starts with establishing a vision joined with communications, plus incentives focused on accountability, plus the right skill enhancement—all of which will be greater than the energy for resistance (to change). Programs that comprise each part of this change formula will overcome any resistance to change that employees may have and will encourage positive behavior.

Vc + Ia + Se > R

Vision | Communication + Incentive | Accountability + Skill Enhancement > Resistance

What is successful about this formula compared to other change approaches is that it provides definitive ways for the “how” of making change purposeful. The “how” is defined by implementation of key programs, efforts and initiatives, all with a focus on lowering resistance to change.

Q: Can you explain the first step of the equation—vision?
Vision is an essential part when leaders create strategy. It is this statement of the “True North” that aligns sales, operations and infrastructure to the strategic breakthrough objectives. It also establishes a line-of-sight for all employees to see how what they do on a daily basis impacts the accomplishment of the breakthrough objectives for the organization.

Q: How can leaders ensure that their vision is supported by the full organization?
As futurist Joel Barker said, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” The action necessary for vision to be realized focuses on how leaders engage the community they serve to fully understand the direction they want to take the organization and then to ultimately gain buy-in from the community to motivate them to execute.

Q: How can leaders engage their community and ultimately gain buy-in on the vision?
To engage the community, the vision has to be systematically communicated to the organization. Effective communication starts with the development of a communication plan that includes:

  • Selecting the audience.
  • Identifying two to three critical messages.
  • Choosing different vehicles to present the messages to the audience.
  • Determining the frequency of the messaging.

An important note, when executing a communications plan, it is necessary to fully understand the communication “Rule of 3.” Leaders need to effectively communicate messages at least three times. The first time, the audience becomes aware of the message and the context surrounding it. The second time, they understand the nature of message and its importance. The third time, they’re prepared to integrate the message into what they do by having their residual questions answered and concerns addressed.

Q: How do leaders successfully execute their communication plan?
To successfully execute, those delivering the messages need to be seen—be visible to their employees—and actively get out into the organization to deliver the message. This personal contact is vitally important for the employees to feel the leader’s passion and commitment to the vision. It provides the employees a sense of confidence, a license to implement their tasks and activities they feel are important to move towards the vision.

Q: Should it always be the leaders themselves who communicate the vision throughout the organization, or can someone else be the messenger?
Communication surveys consistently indicate that employees value hearing the message from their direct supervisors the most. Therefore, the next critical action step in the vision’s communication plan is to provide all supervisors with the necessary coaching. This coaching involves:

  • Scripting the messages.
  • Reviewing the key points to be delivered.
  • Recognizing the appropriate delivery “voice.”
  • Identifying specific business related examples.
  • Developing a statement of what results should be expected.

Q: Let’s take a look at the second part of your change equation—incentives.
The second element of the change formula is around creating the incentives for change to happen and the positive reinforcements necessary to sustain that change. Most people think incentives are just about the rewards and recognition that are provided when positive results are achieved. While these are important, behavioral theory indicates that these primarily act as a lagging reinforcement for the change.

The most important move here is to first create accountability to execute programs for change, and establish the parameters that determine the realization of the “victory.” Additionally, leaders must explicitly define the consequences when action and success do not happen.

Q: When you talk about creating accountability, the concept seems easy enough, but how do leaders truly follow through on this?
That’s true, we all know how to set accountabilities, basically determining who needs to take responsibility to ensure that the right actions are executed to drive results. What is usually not executed well is documenting who has the accountability and making sure this responsibility is communicated to all those involved.

A great tool to execute better on accountability is a RACI chart, which stands for:

  • R: Who is responsible for the action?
  • A: Who is accountable to ensure action happens?
  • C: Who needs to be consulted about the action and can help coach to increase probability of success?
  • I: Who needs to be informed of the actions and their timelines?

This RACI chart can be used to establish key roles in the execution of the change required. Of course, the RACI chart needs be communicated to those involved to ensure they fully understand what is expected of them. This builds understanding and clarity for action.

Incentives to Change: Establishing Accountability through RACI

Successful change management requires creating incentives through accountability. Senior Client Partner Bob Norris talks about applying a RACI chart and managing through measurement to establish accountability to win.

Q: You mentioned the “realization of victory” earlier. What does that mean?
Another important aspect of this part of the equation is devising a way to visibly measure performance to evaluate effectiveness. However, most people, by nature, almost always resist measurement. This is because we like to avoid the potential for failure. Once individuals know actions will be measured—and the metrics are visible—they will do what is necessary to make results happen to drive success.

Like a scoreboard at a sports event, if everyone knows the score and where they are in the game, performance will be enhanced to make sure the desired results are achieved. In my experience, leaders underestimate the importance of having regular, visible metrics that are reviewed at frequent intervals to help implement corrective action when needed.

Q: We’ve talked about the first two parts of the change equation—vision and incentives—let’s talk about the third element—skill enhancement.
The final part of the change formula is to determine the enhancement of skills needed for individuals so they feel confident that they can execute the procedures, actions, tasks and activities required for the change to occur successfully. This might include skill assessments and a gap analysis, training and education programs to practice the execution of requirements, and coaching and mentoring sessions. When running such programs, the frequency of these training/education efforts is hugely important as is the evaluation of what was learned so it can be replicated and repeated.

Q: It sounds like a lot of resources are needed for this step in the equation. Is that true?
Yes, the skills enhancement element of the change formula requires the most in terms of resources, including time and money. If you expect a machine to operate at peak performance, you invest money in preventive maintenance and tune-ups. Why would you not invest in your people for the same reasons?

It is my experience that leaders do not provide sufficient funds in the budget nor the time necessary to ensure the people most involved in the change efforts receive the training and skills enhancement required of them. Without enhanced performance to execute the change, the expected results are almost never achieved.

Q: In summary, how do you view change?
Change efforts will be successful when an organization’s leaders make it controllable, actionable and realizable. To do this, they must execute on each area of the change formula—the organization’s vision statement, incentives for change and employee skill enhancements to prepare everyone for the change that is needed and the confidence that it will create a difference for them. In the end the change needs to address the WIIFM (What’s In It for Me) for the employee so he or she can make the change needed to realize the strategy the organization has set for success.

Bob Norris was a senior client partner with the Lean Methods Group. A change expert and Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, he has extensive experience in driving enterprise-wide change and improvement initiatives.