Supporting change may be similar to a ballet: the more rigorous and detailed the preparation is, the more smooth and natural the result is. Here is a method in 8 steps, and tools adapted to the most common situations, to structure this preparation.
This method may apply to any type of change. Let me take the example of the domestication of fire.
Let’s imagine we are in 400,000 BC. The Hazel tribe has just discovered fire. Problem: all those who try to use it get burnt. The consequences are severe: numerous warrior hunters become unfit for fighting. Meanwhile, the neighboring Chestnut tribe has domesticated fire. It is dangerously extending its territory and threatening that of the Hazels.
The Hazels must urgently domesticate fire. Let’s see how a « Paleolithic change manager » would prepare its tribe for living and accepting this change.
1. Understand the transformation
First of all the change manager must understand what motivates its customer’s request. The aim is to distinguish between «what» and «why». The applicant will indeed tend to express the result he expects rather than the reason pushing him to carry out this transformation.
Here the head of the Hazels wants that his tribe members stop getting burnt. This is the expected result. But the prime motivation, the «why», is the threat that the expansion of the adverse tribe represents.
2. Describe the transformation
Once the motivation understood, it is necessary to provide clear feedback to the collaborators. A brief and punchy storytelling will be the best way to promote a common language and avoid misunderstandings. It also aims at embarking the teams and creating momentum in view of the next steps.
For our tribe, the speech could be: « Fire makes us strong but it is far too dangerous today. Let’s learn how to master it so that the Hazels are the most powerful of the plain. »
Notice that the transformation is not the arrival of fire but the actual learning of how to master it.
3. List the changes
The next step consists in identifying all changes. A collective workshop will help to identify all changes and prioritize them.
Important: the role of the change manager is not to select what changes must occur. The exercise must relate to an inventory.
We can imagine that the Hazels have identified 2 main changes to carry out:
- « Fire managers » must be appointed. They will be the only ones in charge of all fire-related tasks;
- Everybody must be sensitized to security rules.
4. Map resistances
Not all collaborators will be impacted. They also don’t react to change in the same way. The change manager must then question his staff, throughout all levels of the company, to address their level of understanding and adherence.
We still find 3 profiles and similar reasons for support or reluctance to change:
- The detractors: they correctly understand the changes implied by the project but are not in favor of it. Commonly, they are those who are afraid of losing power, responsibilities, or benefits.
- The allies: they precisely understand the gains that the project will bring, to them or the group. Those among them who wish to become a driving force of this transformation become the true ambassadors of the project.
- The « neutral ones »: they generally represent most of the staff. They have not understood the whole project and do not feel directly concerned.
5. Qualify the impacts
After having understood who is in favor of change or not, comes the time for identifying, in an objective way, who is impacted by the transformation. You must not confuse reluctance with impact. Someone may be totally refractory to a situation that does not affect him/her directly. However, another may not be reluctant because he/she does not realize the turmoil that will occur.
Let’s see how 3 populations of our tribe will be impacted actually:
|Population||Perceived impact||Feeling towards change / level of adherence||Real impact|
|Female cooks||None. Today, those who come close to the fire and get burnt are men||Not concerned. «Neutral» adherence||Very strong. The meals (therefore their work) will change to include cooked products.|
|Village chief||Very high. Fears that the « fire managers» weaken his authority||Strong reluctance||Low. Actually, nothing should change in his role.|
|Young boys (“teenagers”)||High. They have quickly understood that they were stronger if they ate cooked meat.||Strong adherence||Weak. They already eat cooked meat and are too young to come close to the fire.|
To identify the impacts, the Gap Analysis is a very efficient tool. Describing the situation before and after the change for each of the persons’ groups allows for comparison.
Analyzing impact and reluctance may seem time-consuming. Nevertheless, these methods have the merit of illustrating what was intangible until then. The teams develop a comprehensive view of the whole transformation.
6. Design solutions
Once the studies are completed, it is time to design change management solutions. I advise any change manager to start with a creative thinking session with the volunteer employees among the impacted people. The Design Thinking method is ideal for defining the considerations.
In our tribe,
- The very enthusiastic teenagers may share their experience of cooked meat at the warriors’ council.
- The female cooks may become fire managers.
7. Prioritize the actions
After this creative phase, it is time to make the ideas tangible. Before all, you must assess, sort, and prioritize the actions to be taken. For this purpose, the change manager will review the initial analyzes and will associate them with the offered solutions. The more benefits the solution brings to a population strongly impacted by a change, the more urgent it will be to implement it.
Contrary to common beliefs, the aim is not to address the most reluctant people first. The priority is mostly to walk the « neutrals » to adhesion.
At the Hazels’, priority would be given then to offers involving the female cooks. The teenagers’ sharing of experience would be deprioritized. Very time-consuming, its outcome is uncertain, the warriors being skeptical despite their knowledge of the benefits of fire.
8. Validate the change plan
As of now, all the actions to be carried out have been identified and validated by the project sponsor. The change manager will then create his change management plan in the form of a detailed planning. This planning will be delivered with a file per action listing the needs and prerequisites to conduct it.
If the change manager may conduct the implementation, this is nevertheless not a necessity. The added value of the change manager emerges more during framing than in the production phase. A project manager may be then appointed internally.
However, I advise the change manager to come regularly to review progress. It will also be about updating the mapping of resistances to ensure that the « neutrals » join more and more the project. The plan will be adjusted then if necessary.
Framing change management is essential to the success of any transformation project. Throughout this method in 8 steps, the project sponsor will have at his disposal all the keys to conduct change as smoothly as possible. By distinctively reviewing objectives and impacts, by identifying supports and reluctances, and by collaboratively creating a transformation plan, he will make sure that the teams essential to the transformation are involved.