Warning: the change analogies below are not for wimps.
Even if we start change management late in a project, some change management is better than no change management. It’s about the “people” side of change.
Here’s the scenario in the battle for change: you get deployed to foreign territory, you hit an IED, suffer a sucking chest wound, lose an arm and a leg on the battlefield, are triaged and evac’d to a first-line hospital, then Walter Reed in DC, then get discharged to go on about your life at home.
What really happens next? You have to learn to live without an arm and a leg, with a portable O2 tank and post-traumatic stress, and without the assistance of the VA or the leaders who sent you there in the first place because they thought it was a good idea.
To do this, you will need a surgeon, a nurse, a respiratory therapist, a physical and occupational therapist, a psychotherapist, an in-home caregiver, a prosthetist, an incredibly strong family, an unlimited supply of tissues, and the personal patience of a saint, as a start.
So what is the analogy to change projects? The “IED” is a business imperative – a change proposition (new system/process/tool) with such a high value that failing to implement it is potential suicide for your business if you don’t succeed. The “sucking chest wound and amputations” are poorly implemented/behind schedule/over budget system and/or process changes you’ve been implementing for months or years now with marginal success and lots of pain points. The “triage” is the team of consultants who come in to help implement and deploy the new system and/or process, focusing on the action of pushing the buttons and not the people who have to do it. “Walter Reed” is the training that you get on taking the meds and changing the dressings as part of the implementation. “Home” is the reality that you are faced with once all the consultants have gone away and left you with new and improved systems that aren’t fully understood or functional. It can be a dark and lonely place. Those decision-makers who put you on the battlefield in the first place are far away and have moved on to yet another good idea that they won’t be personally involved in.
That’s how many change projects play out, so how do you avoid this scenario? By being a Sponsor and learning how to motivate and inspire the troops so they understand and continue to invest in the end game, all the way home.
“Sponsor” is an active role, not simply a title.
Being a Sponsor is about shifting individual attitudes and behaviors—all the way down the chain—to successfully effect change. When you don’t pay attention to the people side of change—you know, the ones who have to actually push the buttons—resistance prevails and project success is jeopardized.
Resistance, at an individual level, may come from a combination of five sources and can show up anywhere, anytime as fear, cynicism, laziness, bad habits, or arrogance. You know, the ones who were afraid to sign up but got drafted; the ones who think we’ll never even make it to the battle; the ones who don’t care if we get there as long as the chow line stays open; the ones who are lucky they don’t shoot themselves in the foot with their poor skills; and the ones who commissioned in from ROTC and know it all before boot camp even starts though they’ve never set foot outside of … you get the idea.
You can counter that resistance with Sponsorship, Communication, and Accountability.
Middle managers, similar to drill instructors and platoon leaders, are crucial allies in times of change and in preparing everyone for what may come. They are the closest to the employees who are impacted by the change, and can positively influence the speed at which employees adopt the change, the amount of employees who buy into the change, and how proficient employees are in performing in their new roles. If a manager has not been provided with the tools and resources needed to become a great change leader, speed of adoption, ultimate utilization and proficiency will suffer, therefore directly compromising business objectives and ROI.
Successful Sponsors have five distinct roles to take on during times of change:
• To those who lack awareness
• To those displaying greater resistance to the change
• To ensure everyone follows the example set by the manager
• To ensure everyone sees the change as important
• For those who may struggle during the transition
• For those who may experience a decline in productivity
4. Resistance manager
• For those who need an outlet for surfacing objections
• For those whose resistance may persist
• To ensure the Project team has an accurate view of impact on employees
• To ensure that everyone knows how effectively the change is being implemented
Insufficiently preparing people to fulfill each of their roles in change can lead to negative outcomes and create challenges to successful implementation of the change, i.e., you will lose the battle and the war in the long run. These risks can be avoided if people are given the leadership they need in the form of sustained sponsorship and we continue to recognize their potential to be great participants in the change. And don’t forget to give them recognition (leave) after a hard battle!
Five Tips for Being an Effective Sponsor
1. Make sponsorship requests to your management chain concrete – provide specific direction and action steps you need from them: “I need you to have a one-on-one with this resistant senior manager/manager/employee, I need you to do a 15-minute kickoff for this group, I need you to send an email with these three points to this group.”
2. Make it as easy as possible for them – get them on appropriate meeting calendars, write the emails, create the presentations, capture the talking points, etc. The easier you make it for someone to be a sponsor, the more likely you are to get the level of sponsorship you need to drive project success and outcomes.
3. Communication matters, especially during the uncertainty of change. An effective change message tells the right story by considering the audience, their needs, how they are affected by the change, their past experiences with change, the relevant stage of the project and the most effective communication channel for the audience. Furthermore, change messages need to be timely – meaning they arrive when the content is most relevant for the recipient.
4. Effective communications also should come from the right “sender.” Depending on the message content, employees may want to hear messages from either their immediate supervisor or from someone at the top. Employees do NOT prefer to receive change messages from the project manager, the project leader, a communications specialist, an HR representative or the change management professional supporting the project. The preferred and most effective sender is someone who is either close to employees, or is trusted by employees due to their position or relationship with employees.
5. Remember that it’s all about accountability. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. Walk the walk so they can emulate you. Help them understand the consequences of not participating in the change, and be sure to communicate and celebrate success.
It is important to focus on topics such as the reasons for the change, why employees should want to participate, and how the change will impact employees on an individual level ? the “WIIFM”. Effective sponsors should answer the questions employees have about the change. Focus on what employees want to know instead of what the project team is doing. Communicate to more people, more often, to more levels within the organization, using more targeted messages, more face-to-face interactions, and more relevant information. If they see you leading the charge on the battlefield, they will follow you.
The idea is not to leave casualties in the wake of change. The idea is to make sure no one is left behind and we all get there and back intact.
by Gemma Maddock