The Forgotten Ones

For good nurture and education implant good constitutions.” —Plato

A few years ago, I was an executive owner for a large-scale transformation. The stakes were high, and I knew the effort was larger than anything I had ever managed. It was also clear that getting organizational buy-in on this particular change wouldn’t be an easy task.

I hired a “change expert” to provide additional support. Her first step in the process was to interview key stakeholders throughout the company to assess the change readiness of each impacted department. It took a few weeks to complete the field work, and I was anxious to review the findings.

When we finally met for the readout, I remember pulling up my chair to the table and saying, “I can’t wait to know who is going to block this big change. I’m ready to personally work with them to ensure they’re ready!” The expert had my full and undivided attention. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Will Finance get in the way? What about Operations? Or perhaps it’ll be HR that will drag their feet?”

The change expert cleared her throat and awkwardly stumbled through the first few sentences of her presentation. She finally worked up the courage to say, “Chris, to summarize my work … the department that is least ready for this transformation is … your department, IT.” I was shocked. How could this be? Honestly, my pride blocked me from initially absorbing the truth.

She went on to explain that no one on my team had any experience with the new technology platforms they were going to implement. And since the “new stuff” was going to replace the “old stuff,” there was fear and resistance stemming from skill gaps and job security.

It seemed so contrary to my intuitions. I thought IT people were supposed to be change agents! I mean when we get out of bed everyday, it is understood that change is on the agenda. And, I thought that because I was focused on transformation for the company, my team was naturally getting the coaching they needed to be successful. Turns out, I was wrong … way wrong!

Fast forward to today. My firm supports organizations who are driving change and transformation. Getting buy-in and overcoming resistance is key to their success. In this work,  we often observe the same truth: the change pushers are often not ready. This causes a weaker than needed constitution—and their stakeholders can sense it.

So, what can executive and project leaders do to ensure the people pushing the change feel nurtured, supported and ready, too? The punchline: change pushers need time to cycle through Awareness, Understanding and Preference. That is, it’s important for the implementation team to build knowledge (awareness), skills (understanding), and comfort (preference). And, this strategy requires tactics beyond a memo or mandate from a CEO or executive leader. Which means this important work needs to be accounted for in the project schedule.

Yes, one-way Communications can build knowledge ... if they’re clear and come from an important voice. But to build skills, team members have to be activated through Learning. This requires offering a safe place to fail, an opportunity to develop mastery, and a way to share best practices with peers. Finally, to build comfort, executive and project leaders have to listen to feedback provided by their execution teams and—must take demonstrable action on that input. If the people pushing change think they’re on a dead end road, they’ll be less confident when working with stakeholders. And it’s never good when a project team members says something like, “Yeah, I’m not sure this [change] is going to work,” to a future end-user in the break room.

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For more: these strategies are detailed in Chris Laping's book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem. His firm also hosts team workshops called the People Lab, which help teams prepare for change. To learn more, click here. Both the public and private versions receive rave reviews! Feel free to email Chris anytime: chris@peoplebeforethings.co (not .com).