Rethink Change Justification: Common Mistakes & Essential Steps

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We tend to believe that change can be ordered or delivered on demand. If that is the case, we are often mistaken. We ask others to invest in modifying their habits, or their use of systems we provide them with, we explain change in the light of a series of carefully prepared rationales and justifications. Advocating based on adopting the results of change is essential but unfortunately insufficient. In fact, the efficiency of change communication rationales is mostly hindered through sheer, simple haste.

 

Hastefully engaging into communication under the misguided notion that our arguments being, in our eyes, rational and well founded, and that they will also seem that way to others, is a fatal mistake. Repeating our rationales to stakeholder, to the point of swamping them in our attempt to convince them, only creates further damage. To be clear, I am not arguing that we should not ensure our rationales are well developed, nor that they should not be repeated. I am arguing, however that we must not rush into things and ensure we allow enough time to first go through a few essentials steps.

 

The first step is to have a comprehensive and detailed map of the stakeholders and tailor specific rationales to their needs and perception. Stakeholders can be change advocates, change averse, or even negotiators. Based on their influence on the results of the change process, rationales and messages need to match each participant’s profile. This is, if anything, the most subtle aspect of change management, which will surely test your understanding of organizational ‘politics’.

 

The second essential step is to further explore human nature and the wide range of reactions to change rationales, especially in the context of group dynamics. Several research works have gone into creating models of the processes governing individual changes occurring within a group. Kurt Lewin, for one, likens the behavior of people within a group to a sort of balance of forces pushing towards a will for change and those forces pushing to keep things as they are, maintaining the status quo. These findings confirm a wider pattern where it is much more efficient to start by convincing your targets that their status quo is not tenable instead of focusing exclusively on the merits of the targets of change. Building on moderation rather than injunction mechanisms, the aim is to encourage their train of thought to measure the risks of not changing rather than pushing the advantages of change. In initiating change, the imperative of convincing your audience that the current situation is not tenable is more important than arguing for the benefits of change. This argumentation, this rationale, becomes more important once appropriate distance has been taken from the norms and habits which create inertia.

 

The third essential task is to be able to self-criticize the quality of rationales for change, on a on-going, almost permanent basis. The arguments developed in the initial stages of change conduct may very well become obsolete a few weeks or months from launch. We invest important amounts of time in designing communications tools but spend comparatively little attention evaluating their long term pertinence or validity over time. This imbalance also contributes to the haste I mentioned earlier. It is essential to know how to evaluate your rationales through analytical approaches based on specific and weighed criteria. Personally, on mission, I tend to use the following criteria: ease of use of suggested systems, economies of scale provided by these, their performance among others …

 

Beyond these three essential steps, I would also like to insist on another factor which heavily influences how relevant a rationale will be within a transformational context. It is the care and attention we apply to ourselves as change leaders or change managers. Indeed, we must bear in mind that stakeholders have the same needs as us. We all need to be understood, reassured and supported before being won over. Once these considerations are incorporated in your operating procedures, the engineering of change argumentation will have every chance of success.

Learn to tell yourself No!

Choices

At the beginning of our career, the scope of our objectives and ambition means that we concentrate mostly on diversifying our activities and commitments. Diversification is generally the watchword and can also become a philosophy guiding our professional career, which is not counterproductive in itself. But, in wanting to do everything, do we not end up doing nothing or doing badly?

We often believe that we should never put all our eggs in the same basket. The problem is often that we look for more baskets or better baskets instead of taking care of our eggs, and end up damaging our eggs instead of transporting or storing them properly. The pitfall of diversification is succumbing to opportunity or greed instead of focusing exclusively on our tasks and their absolute, intrinsic value.

We often let our attention wander despite our limited time, concentration, energy, and motivation, and as we progress in our careers, we realize that we can not do everything. Sooner or later, scattered attention creates a definite unease: Thoughts become dispersed over several priorities or multiple projects leading to only a few being brought to conclusion or wanting to attend every meeting and to participate in every decision-making process; these are some of the behaviours and feelings symptoms of a spiral of destructive scattering.
Understanding whether our attention is focused on our long-term goals should be an ongoing, everyday effort, even and especially in the face of a constant deluge of information, recommendations and choices that we offer ourselves or that are offered to us all day long. This observation is not specific to our times, but distraction today is more intense than before when you consider the digitization of our professional interactions and our personal life.

To avoid scattering our efforts, we should know how to finish what we started, we must have the patience to learn from our mistakes and continue our progress, and we must above all know not to be distracted by a multitude of choices and concentrate on execution. Of course, challenging ourselves at regular intervals, requesting feedback, and involving others are keys to adaptation. Nonetheless, we also have to give ourselves the time to execute cleanly and fully, and concentrate on achieving ‘sprints’ which tolerate no disturbance or distractions.
It is quite important to recognize that the more our strike force and efforts are spread out, the less powerful it becomes. Moreover, focusing this strike force towards a selected number of precise objectives provides an incredibly mobilizing advantage of intensity. The key to success becomes our ability to manage the choices to which we constantly have access.

We have to remember that more choice leads to wrong choices and reduce our perception of happiness. Groundbreaking research has been done by Barry Schwartz to argue and prove this in his book ‘The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less or -Why the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction’, HarperCollins. Above all, we must say no, even and especially to ourselves, when we have too many choices. In fact, refusing a choice or an option may seem disruptive but it is scientifically valid. Freedom lies not in the multiplicity of choices but in their quality. It is essential to focus on achieving a limited number of alternatives as the key to successful change and transformations.

Drive change for successful project management !

Drive change for successful project management

Successful transformation and change efforts require more than resources qualified to execute and deliver projects on time, on cost and on target. It is well known that the success of projects intimately depends on the ability to integrate deliverables into the organizational environment, not just boasting about of the perfection of your project preparedness, planning, execution, control and closure capabilities. Many projects unfortunately can not think beyond deliverables, instead of pursuing how the product could properly be exploited or how to beat resistance, inertia and opposition. The consequence of this short-sightedness is the very high rate of failure and underperformance of projects, standing close to 85% according to the famous Standish Group’ Chaos Report.

Awareness of what we have just discussed must be the beginning of a deep reflection among project governance bodies to think and act beyond normative project management schemes to integrate more global considerations, geared towards instantaneous and agile value creation when it comes to expectations and desires of both customers and stakeholders.This is the ability to understand what customers expect from our products, what their customers expect as well, and most importantly, what might prevent them from using these products properly in their operating environment. The products might be procedures, systems, or even labour organizations, exploited by stakeholders who will need to be influenced before, during and after the process of conducting change.

Project management has many components that are very useful to the conduct of change, which need to be addressed in a configuration integrating both disciplines.From team motivation to communication techniques to stakeholder expectations and risk management, all these areas are often addressed in both disciplines, but in a different way.The major difference is that project management directs these disciplines towards the realization of each project phase, whereas conduct of change focuses on the twin levers of adhesion reinforcement (aka buy-in) and resistance management.

As we have just seen, and thereby adding to project management, the conduct of change provides added value by enhancing the chances of success of transformation projects.Assessing return on investment in change management is a very important step to take at the beginning of each transformation project. This approach allows us to understand the benefits of these efforts, if only in terms of other benefits at risk if these efforts are not undertaken. In this sense, one of the most credible assessment methods at the international level is the ESSEC Chair of Change shows that 5% investment in change management can prevent up to 20% of delays in project delivery. This means that your investment in change management provides you with up to 15% return on total investment. These figures allow you explain budgets allocated to change management and to be able to size and deploy project diagnostics, engage tactical and strategic levers, as well as monitor transformations.

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