A KEY TO GUIDING BIG CHANGE
One of my current change management projects is especially complex—a thousand people; many stakeholder groups, each with different agendas; several layers of “change guide teams” with whom I work. The project’s complexity has given me ample opportunity to reflect on key aspects of guiding people through change. Here’s my conclusion.
Fundamentally, going through change involves a lot of learning. Leaders can facilitate people’s learning by considering their needs in a systematic way—as a hierarchy of needs.
That’s it. People have a hierarchy of learning needs during periods of change—somewhat like Maslow’s hierarchy. These needs are expressed well in the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM), which I have adapted to “on the ground” conditions I encounter in my work.
• In the first two stages of need, people want to know how the
impending change concerns them (what does this mean for me?) and they
hunger for basic information about the change.
They want sensory, concrete experiences of what
their work life will be after the change. What will be different for me
and for us? What will be the same? In the project I’ve been working on,
the change involves a major work space redesign. We sent out photographs
of the new work spaces. A sister organization that had been through the
changes hosted a question and answer session and a tour so employees
could learn what it was like to work there.
At the same time, be mindful that different kinds
of minds need different information. People with a bent for logical and
analytical thinking want evidence that the change has been objectively
studied and has worked elsewhere. In our big project, we provided
research findings and first-hand information from organizations that had
undergone similar changes. (Incidentally, such information supports and
reifies leaders’ business case and vision for change.)
What you expect people to learn and know needs to
be conveyed in timely, frequent, and various ways. For a certain
project, I write a weekly newsletter that features tips for managing
change, practices and ideas people are trying out, and successes.
Internal leaders hold all-staff informational meetings and write
frequent memos. We have given workshops and use a webpage to post all
kinds of information.
- They want sensory, concrete experiences of what their work life will be after the change. What will be different for me and for us? What will be the same? In the project I’ve been working on, the change involves a major work space redesign. We sent out photographs of the new work spaces. A sister organization that had been through the changes hosted a question and answer session and a tour so employees could learn what it was like to work there.
• Climbing higher on the hierarchy of employee needs, people need to
learn how they will manage after the change. They want to know how to
manage time, work flow, and relationships. What new behavior is needed?
How do you expect people to do (or create) new work processes? What are
new kinds of interactions among people? Before the change happens and
throughout the planning and phase-in, leaders should give information
that answers the question, “how will you do your work after the change?”
- • At the top of the learning-needs hierarchy, people need to know that your organization will support them through their (typically three to six-month) learning curve. In two projects I’m working on this year, we identified skill sets we know people need in their new environments, and we have suggested skill building modules that the organization should provide.
The learning that is so fundamental in a change process is, of course, a conversation. You give information, ask, and listen—and learn together. Throughout this year, savvy leaders organized cross-functional planning and implementation teams, involved people at all levels, and encouraged supervisors and managers to be open to questions, feedback, and ideas. They held open houses and cross-departmental lunches to swap challenges and ideas. One senior leader “manages by walking around,” asking, “what’s on your mind?” An HR manager convenes small groups of supervisors to hear what they are experiencing and hearing. Partly because of the large number of people involved in the change, we are also doing employee surveys shortly after the change and again in about six months.
Use this hierarchy of employee needs to plan the ways you will facilitate employee learning during a period of change.