Five Not-So-Radical Ideas For Nurturing Change

When everything around is constantly changing, it is easy to:

  • Get carried away by latest fads, best practices etc.
  • Execute changes that may not be significant in shifting results to positive direction
  • Implement solutions to half-baked problem statements
  • Isolate people affected by change in a rush to just change things
  • Get confused between change and transformation initiatives

We often see this happening all around us. There is so much conversation going on about change and transformation that it is easy to get carried away when the “Big WHY” of change is not clear.

In this context, I read Paul Taylor’s latest post titled “Three Simple Ideas To Stop Change Failing” where he offers not so radical ideas to ensure that change does not fail. He emphasizes on importance of mindset, getting influence devolved to people closest to change, change through small experimentation and not initiating change without a clear problem statement and some evidence that proposed solution will result in net positive business outcome.

These are simple ideas, but powerful ones. Simplicity after all is not all that flashy and it takes far more thinking and work to simplify things. Which is probably why we take the easier route of adding complexity, heh!

Here are a few excerpts from Paul’s post:

change is best served when we devolve power, and the institutions and hierarchy get out of the way

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Our change programmes rarely answer the question “Why are we changing?” in a truly coherent way.

This – combined with our cultural bias for execution over problem definition – is why change often fails. We may solve a problem – just not the right one.

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And here’s a quick sketch note summary of key ideas from the post:

Related Posts on Managing Change

Sketch Note: 6 Rules of Change by Esther Derby

Esther Derby is a highly respected voice in building up agile environments, organizations and teams for success. As a quality consultant and organization development enthusiast, I have been following her work since last many years.

Recently, Esther shared her insights (video) on the topic “Six Rules of Change” at LeanUX2015 and offered practical wisdom on driving large scale changes in the organization.

Here is a sketch note version that covers the essence of the talk. I highly recommend seeing the video for a full context on these 6 rules.

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A Note of Gratitude:

  • Thanks to Sunder Ramachandran for using my sketch note on Leadership in one of his team meetings.
  • Thanks to Jesse Lyn Stoner for sharing the sketch note version of her post “How to Influence without Authority” on her blog.
  • Thanks t many friends and followers on Twitter who encouraged by sharing and using these sketch notes in various ways. I remain grateful.
  • Thanks to Mike Rohde, author of “The Sketchnote Handbook” for encouragement on Twitter. Special thanks to Abhijit Bhaduri for getting me started through his post on Sketch Notes.

Great Quotes: Luc de Brabandere on Change, Innovation and Perceptions

When we encounter a change, we first perceive ourselves in a changed situation. So, our perception of the changed situation actually precedes the actual change and shapes our response.

In the same context, I read two quotes by Luc de Brabandere. The first quote comes from Forbes India article by NS Ramnath about N. R. Narayana Murthy being re-instated as Infosys Executive Chairman, where he quotes Luc:

“We believe that to really make change happen, changing the reality is of course necessary – this involves developing novel ideas for change, and the implementation of those ideas via project management and measurement, templates and the like. But changing reality is not sufficient – we must also change peoples’ perceptions .

This happens on much more of an individual basis; each stakeholder’s needs and biases must be taken into account. This can only be done through careful preparation and communication. So to really make change happen, we must change twice – reality and perception.”

Second quote comes from Luc’s 2011 interview with Boston Consulting Group, where he shares story of how Philips, a traditional electronics company,  executed “new box” thinking to realize a new world of possibilities. He concludes the interview with this thought:

That’s why I have completely changed my mind about brainstorming. I don’t think a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which a new concept suddenly arises. Rather, a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which an existing concept suddenly makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.

This really boils down to what Peter Senge defines as a mental model – our thought process about how something works in real world. When we change our perceptions, we may end up realizing that most of the constraints that we see may not be existent in the real world, except in our minds.

In 100 Words: Epitome of Change

Each time I pass through that huge building, I think of its past glory. It was one of the first multiplexes of the country, a trend setter of the sorts. Today, it stands empty with a warning on its walls, “Under Demolition”.

I see that building as an epitome of change. How can a pioneer go down in less than 10 years? How can they fail at responding to change when their aggressive competitors were innovating in delivering superior consumer experience?

Tom Peters says, “DISTINCT or EXTINCT.” What are you doing to distinguish yourself, raise the bar and relentlessly improve?

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What We Need The Most in 2012?

Business ecosystem is rapidly changing – and as a student of personal and organizational change, I recently re-read Dr. John Kotter’s book (published in 2008) titled “A Sense of Urgency”. I have read it before and somehow felt the need to read it again. In the book, Dr. Kotter argues that single biggest reason most change efforts fail is because we fail to create high enough sense of urgency to set the stage for making challenging leap into a new direction.

Sense of urgency does not mean frantic activity, an endless list of exhausting activities or running anxiously from meeting to meeting. Activity without purpose or meaning is a waste, a false sense of urgency. As Dr. Kotter explains,

“When people have a true sense of urgency, they think that the action on critical issues is needed now, not eventually, not when when it fits easily into a schedule. Now means making real progress every single day. Critically important means challenges that are central to success or survival, winning or losing. A sense of urgency is not an attitude that I must have a project team meeting today, but that meeting must accomplish something important today.”

I would add that “critically important” in today’s world also means challenges that give us joy, happiness and make a difference to the world in whatever way.

Dr. Kotter also goes on to explain that our major issue is not complacency – but a lot of false sense of urgency. This is a point where we mistake activity with productivity. Sense of urgency, according to Dr. Kotter, is a positive and focused force because it naturally directs you to be truly alert to what’s really happening; it rarely leads to a race to deal with the trivial.

A new year is a time when most of us reflect on personal/organizational changes we seek in the coming year. My submission: when you think of a change, also think about making it happen. If you have ideas, give it a life. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Develop a discipline to execute your art regularly.That is the only way I know to achieve excellence.

Last year, I wrote about “excellence” as a worthy goal to chase. It still is. But to achieve that, we need a compelling vision of future for ourselves and our organizations accompanied with real sense of urgency – pro-activity and desire to make a difference. We need a commitment to execute.

On that note, wish you an “excellent” 2012.

Change: From Vision to Execution

Leaders establish a lofty vision for a large scale change initiative and then strategize to align the team. Sometimes, the team gets over-excited by this grand vision and get stuck. They cannot define a strategy or a plan of action that takes them closer to that grand vision.

Planning for a change is a tricky thing. Vision is broad,  actions have to be specific, team needs to remain motivated throughout and uncertainties have to be managed.

Based on personal experience, here are some of the broad strategies that helps when planning and executing a change:

  1. Shorter “plan-do” cycles: Linear planning with long list of activities is almost dead. Long linear plan can bog the team down and doesn’t help in keeping all aligned. Shorter plan-do-feedback cycles help in executing work in smaller chunks and collect data/feedback that can help in further planning.
  2. Keep the plan simple: Every change initiative will face a lot of uncertainties and will get messy at some point. When smallest of details are planned, these uncertainties will throw you out of track. Planning for change has to be simple, with key milestones and broad activities. It gives a lot of space to the team in managing uncertain situations.
  3. Involve team in planning: Simple yet very effective strategy, that ensures buy-in from team and gives them a broader roadmap to execute.
  4. Plan early and often: In long-term change initiatives, constantly planning/re-planning is important. Milestones have to be moved and activities have to be re-prioritized. Review the plan at the end of every sprint and realign team’s focus.
  5. Keep communication clear: When plans change, it is important to keep communication lines clear. Teams and stakeholders need to know the impacts and risks.

I have felt that implementing large scale/strategic changes is like walking through a forest. You know where you want to go, but the road/map to reach there is not clear. This is also true for significant personal change (like switching to a new career, starting a business etc).

The critical part: You need to be constantly on top of your plan, learn and re-align.

The fun part: The quest to find the best route and eventually, if done right, the joy of reaching there!

8 Pointers On Balancing Improvement and Efficiency

When leaders undertake process improvement/change initiative, they walk on a tight rope.

On one hand, they have to improve the processes to deliver positive business outcomes. On the other, they have to ensure that improvement/change initiative does not slow down the current work and bring the overall efficiencies down.

Both are crucial and striking the right balance between improvement and business efficiency, between standardization and evolution is a big leadership challenge. Based on my recent experiences in implementing large scale changes, here are a few lessons I would like to share:

  • Avoid Big Bang implementation of major changes. When it comes to processes and changing habits of people, there are no direct cut-overs. People (and culture) need time to change.
  • Improve Incrementally by implementing high priority (and high value) changes first. When people start seeing value in those changes, implement a few more.
  • Have a Strong Purpose behind each change being implemented. People will not subscribe to change unless the purpose of the improvement initiative is clear. People want to know how improvements will help them do a better job.
  • Keep Communication Tight during the change implementation. On going trainings, one to one facilitations, interactive audio/video based training go a long way in ensuring that people are aligned.
  • Focus on “Value Delivered” when looking at a change/improvement. There is a lot to improve, but focus on improvements that have direct impact in value delivered to the organization/customers.
  • Understand People because effective change implementation is not possible without understanding how people operate. With this understanding, managing resistance becomes a little easier.
  • Innovate In Process itself, without getting fixated on best practices. The “wow” customer experiences delivered are always a combination of remarkable people and innovative (yet simple) processes that makes customer’s life easier.
  • Look For “Exceptions” because they are the opportunities for improving and simplifying. When people don’t follow a process consistently, it may be a process problem.

Additionally, here are 5 things a leader should avoid when implementing any significant change. Read more about insights on managing process improvements and change.

Join in the conversation:

What have been your lessons in implementing change? What best practices would you like to share when it comes to balancing improvement and business efficiency?

Managing Process Changes and Disruption

Two things we know about change:

  • Resistance is our natural reaction to any change that disrupts our current way of working.
  • Things only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of remaining in current state.

Ability to foresee, plan and implement change for better alignment to the market and generate better outcomes is a huge competitive advantage.

Over at Harvard Business Review Blogs, I read the post (and the comments) “Overcoming The Disruption of Process Change” by Brad Power with great interest. Any one who is trying to improve the processes by implementing meaningful changes must read the post. Here’s what I learned.

Involving people in process innovation is critical to ensure that improvements are driven by practitioners and it generates better buy-in as well. However, leaders have to allow people to experiment, fail and learn. In his post, Brad says:

To overcome objections to the expense and riskiness of process innovation, it should be advanced through fast, inexpensive, and flexible experiments. The focus shouldn’t be on permission for resources but rather permission to behave differently. Failure and iterative learning should be built into the improvement process.

I wrote earlier about treating resistance and criticism as an opportunity to learn. Every change is an opportunity to learn as well. Consider the following:

Toyota selects its people for their openness to learning, and then develops their work habits through practice after they are hired. All managers are expected to be involved in process improvement and adaptation. Problems are welcomed as ways to help understand why things go wrong.

Finally, every change must have a significant positive impact on the organization – be it higher customer satisfaction or improved productivity. The post reinforces:

Leaders need to demonstrate that they value high customer satisfaction. The gap between current performance and what is needed to win must be always visible to everyone.

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Join in the conversation: What other ideas have worked for you when implementing significant changes?

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Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

15 Key Lessons On Managing Change

Change, they say, is the only constant. With rapid globalization and advent of technology, the rate of change in society and in organizations has just multiplied.

We may not be ‘change management experts’, but having a set of thumb rules always helps when dealing with change (because at some point, we have to face/manage/lead a change). Based on my experience in implementing organizational change through processes and people, here are a few key lessons I have derived:

  1. Change is difficult because it pulls us out of our comfort. Change challenges us to do things differently. Any meaningful change always comes with a set of associated pains. 
  2. Every change has its settling time and that depends on you/your organization/your context.
  3. Change eliminates (on a long run) those who don’t adapt. Remember what Charles Darwin said?
  4. Changes are driven by external factors (e.g. market forces) and internal ones (e.g. internal re-organizations, initiative to change etc.)
  5. We have to be conscious enough to identify, assess and trigger internally driven changes. (because a lot of progress depends on that)
  6. It is always more fun to change ourselves (internally driven) than to be forced to change by external triggers.
  7. That means, even when everything is seemingly going great, you need to watch out for signs of change.
  8. Change can be a great learning experience if we know when and how to align ourselves (and our mindsets).
  9. Ability to change, readiness to realignment and agility in mindset are the new competitive advantages.
  10. To implement change, you can either preach tactics to change, or you can drive change through a compelling purpose and value. (so that people ‘want’ to change)
  11. Because the fact is, people only change when "they want to change’.
  12. In organizational context, constant training and support on change is essential to remove barriers for people who are impacted by the change.
  13. Trying to change everything at once is a sure recipe for failure. Let change be gradual. Change a few most critical things. Changes need to be prioritized.
  14. You can be a ‘victim’ of change, ‘manage’ a change, or lead it through. You create maximum impact when you ‘lead’ the change. (Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”)

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Change Management Essentials – 5 Things To Avoid

Most organizational/team improvement initiatives we undertake involve change – from current state of affairs to desired state. Change is hard and painful and necessary for growth/survival. Process improvement is all about managing change – and in my view, change (and its respective benefits) does not happen when you:

  • Keep thinking big without starting small: It is easy to get overwhelmed by the large goals you have set for improvement. But remember – the best way to eat an elephant is one piece at a time. Focus on big, but start small. Think about a few key things you can do now, that will take you one step nearer to your goal. You don’t make things better by thinking about it, but by doing something about it.
  • You focus solely on “enforce” rather than “enable” and “educate”: Changing habits and hence culture is a long term thing. Unless there is enough buy-in for a change, it does not happen. Best way to implement change is to educate people, enable them and hence empower them. Enforcement only results in dispassionate compliance.
  • Think too much about things you cannot change: There are things you just can’t do anything about. Worrying too much about them means loosing focus on what is in your control. I remember a prayer which says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Be wise!
  • You think change is all about processes: Its not. Change is all about people and their habits. Processes are merely tools that guides them through the change process. Process acts as a compass, but people follow it. Lot of process consultants overly focus on compliance, standards and processes. Focus on people instead, and processes will not only be adhered to, but also improved upon by the same set of people.
  • Are a “sole warrior” in improvement/change initiative: If you are the only one who wants change in an organization, it doesn’t happen. All improvement initiative needs sponsorship from the top. People observe people at the top and emulate behaviors. Setting right examples and taking improvement initiative seriously goes a long way in building a constantly improving culture.

But why do we change, you may ask! This quote (I read it somewhere on Twitter) answers your question: “We change when the pain to change is less than the pain to remain as we are.

Have a Wonderful Wednesday!

Improvement, Leadership and “Status quo Defenders”

‘Status quo’ means ‘existing state of affairs’. Status quo is popular because it has worked so far – and hence has many defenders. At workplace, people constantly defend the status-quo because as humans – we fear change. We don’t like uncertainty that comes with change. We love comfort.

A few years back, when I was working on a process improvement initiative, I heard a senior leader saying, “We are too small for having rigorous processes in place. And, our clients have never asked for such processes”. I was amazed at the confidence with which status quo was being defended. When senior leaders model such behaviors, the teams only follow/comply.

In pursuit of improvement, it is important to identify “status quo defenders”. Watch out for these statements that they often dish out:

  • “You know, we tried this before. It didn’t work.”
  • “This is how we have been doing this so far.”
  • “This has always worked for us.”
  • “It can’t be done. It is too costly for us to do it.”
  • “We are time-constrained to do it.”
  • “We are too small for doing that.”
  • “But why do we want to change it? It is working OK!”
  • “Top Management will never agree for it”
  • “We have never done it before”
  • “Let’s park it for now. We will revisit it later.”
  • “Our clients/people will not accept this.”
  • “Check with accounts if they have budgeted it.”
  • “We are not in that league.”
  • “It will create unnecessary overhead.”
  • “We have too many constraints”

Leadership plays a crucial role. If senior leaders within the organization keep defending status quo (or allow people to do that), they are setting wrong example. Accepting that there is a problem is first step of any improvement initiative. Transformational leaders challenge the status quo because they know – if we keep doing things the way we have always been doing, we will only be as good as we currently are. Leaders also need to build a culture where people know that it is fine to challenge the normal.

Unfortunately, marketplace does not wait for you to change. Instead, it forces you to change. It is therefore, a sound strategy to keep improving your practices and stay comfortable with change.

Have you heard these defending statements before? I have.

Thoughts on Change Management

Being into process management, and often responsible for implementing change, I can vouch for the fact that implementing change is difficult. While some change management initiatives succeed, most of them fail – because people often see change as a threat which will pull them out of their comfort zone and make them vulnerable. Yet, change is inevitable.

Some ideas on change management, via Harvard Business Review’s brief on “Change through Persuasion”

“Conduct a four-stage persuasion campaign:

1) Prepare your organization’s cultural “soil” months before setting your turnaround plan in concrete—by convincing employees that your company can survive only through radical change.

 2) Present your plan—explaining in detail its purpose and expected impact.

3) After executing the plan, manage employees’ emotions by acknowledging the pain of change—while keeping people focused on the hard work ahead.

4) As the turnaround starts generating results, reinforce desired behavioral changes to prevent backsliding.”

Change management has to be done painstakingly – and with a little more care and persuasion, the resistance to change can be controlled.

As Mike Kanazawa says “People Don’t Hate Change, They Hate How You’re Trying to Change Them.”

(Thanks to Rajesh Shetty for pointing to Mike’s ChangeThis Manifesto).