A Change Journey: Avoid the Pitfalls

by / Friday, 07 February 2014 / Published in Change Management
Are you on a “change journey”? Are you leading a project that asks employees to change how they do things? 

Read on to avoid the common pitfalls of change journeys…

Not Knowing your Destination

Know your project vision.  Perhaps a scheduling project’s vision is to deliver on time to customers.   With no vision of the future, people are unclear on why you are asking them to join you on the road trip.

Not Knowing the Route to your Destination

Without a clear route to get to the vision, employees may feel the destination is not achievable.  Define the route and people will more easily signup.  Perhaps step one is to list all the late deliveries.  What is the next mile marker on the journey?  And the next?

Making the Route Progress Markers too far apart

If the change journey feels too big, it will feel too hard.  Employees will more easily support the next step when it feels achievable.  Perhaps the next step is to determine what caused each late delivery. Jumping to defining the new scheduling system is too big a leap.

A journey of a thousand miles is easier when we are only aiming for the first coffee break, the next lunch stop or even a good night’s sleep.  Clearly defined tasks make the journey feel a little smaller at each mile marker and progress feels good.

Misunderstanding the Destination

The destination is when new behaviours become second nature; not when training is complete.  Perhaps the destination is when orders are consistently entered on time; it is not when training is complete.

Determining Destination in Isolation

Get people involved, ask questions, get input, listen carefully and do it at the start of the journey.  Ask those that need to arrive at the destination with you. Perhaps ask sales and customer service to analyze why deliveries are late.

Forgetting the Progress Markers

It feels good to make progress so celebrate it.  Perhaps when you find the top 10 causes of late deliveries you give all involved a “Master Sleuth” certificate.  Perhaps whenever someone enters all orders on time, you send a personal email to thank them for their role in Keeping the On Time Promise.

Great Leadership, but not enough Followership

On some journeys, we begin to inspire others to want to follow us to the destination.  Strong leaders help enormously, but getting people to follow others on the journey is key.  Perhaps you identify those in your company that others trust, bring them into the project to help them become early adopters.

Not Measuring the Behaviours of the Destination

Incentive based motivation is common and works well – base incentives on the new behaviours, not the old.  Perhaps set new bonus targets for all sales representatives who enter orders on time.  Remember incentives do not always change behaviour – they do help us have the right conversations at performance review time.

Focusing on Fear

The “burning platform” concept can be misguided.  It is a story about people choosing between staying on a burning oilrig or jumping into a sea of burning oil.  That fear-based analogy is not how you want employees to feel.  Try to create a sense of urgency without it feeling like an emergency.

Perhaps instead of the threat of closing down the business due to competition, you inspire people to be the market leader, create a sense of pride in being the best and measure and celebrate each step to getting there.

Failing to Communicate

No destination? No path to get there? No information about why the destination is a good place to go?   Without the clarity, people may not trust the information they do receive; worse yet, they will likely assume the worst.   Perhaps add an update on the On Time Promise project to team meeting agendas, newsletters, intranets, posters and leadership talks – not just in project team meetings. Ask people for input and listen intently for ways to improve.

Failure to Train

Letting people learn as they go will not guarantee they reach their destination.  Your destination is defined in terms of specific new behaviours, train on that and repeat to make it a habit.  Training goes beyond the classroom, it is about making the new ways part of the day to day.

Perhaps the On Time Promise is kept when all employees follow new processes and stop the old way; train on the new, reinforce it by measuring adherence, constant feedback and a support team that can guide people to the new destination.

Missing the Emotional Connection

Rational solutions only take us so far, an emotional connection can help people arrive at the destination in first class style.   Invoke emotions through story telling or by some friendly competition. Perhaps post the top three results of employees “Keeping the Promise” and provide a simple gift card reward.

Perhaps seek inspiring stories from your customers on how getting the product on time had a profound impact, such as “A small fire crippled our operations, costing $500,000 per day in losses.  We asked for a rush order on the replacement product. You delivered on time and we began production again ahead of plan.”

Resisting Resistance

Understand that it takes time for people to change. Understand that resistance is coming soon to a change journey near you.  “Are we there yet?”, “Let’s go back, the journey is too long.”, “We made it halfway, this is good enough, I’m tired and don’t want to go further.”

Why do people give up?  Because it is hard to change our ways… we call it a comfort zone for a reason.  When you pull me out of it, I just want to go back to the comfort.

The natural behaviour is to hope the change goes away.  When it does not go away, it feels uncomfortable; and continues to feel uncomfortable until it starts to feel comfortable again.  When we feel uncomfortable we are moody, less focused, less trusting and we complain a lot.  As a leader, you might think your project is doomed when morale sinks, but if you are not resisting resistance you will know things are progressing normally.

Focus on how to bring the comfort of the new way sooner.

    • Define the Destination
    • Plan the Route
    • Celebrate the progress
    • Tell stories
    • Train in and out of the classroom
    • Encourage new habits

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