Author Archives: stacyaaron

Assumptions Can Lead to Failure

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You share information and assume others will share it. You describe a new process that needs adopted and assume employees will adopt it. You think an idea is best for the business and assume others will think so too. When you assume, you are hoping for the best but should expect the worst. Assuming others will think and act like you do is a bad assumption. You should assume the opposite. They won’t share the information. They won’t adopt a new process just because you ask and they won’t agree that the idea is the best thing. Only when you assume the worst, can you take proper steps to impact communication and behavior change.

These are not bad people who ignore you or disagree. These are your friends, trusted colleagues, co-workers. In fact, it’s probably not even their fault. If you are trying to influence others, the onus is on you to provide the needed direction for that to happen. Maybe you didn’t hand them talking points and give them a deadline to share the information with their team. Maybe you didn’t provide support materials that describe how the process works and how it is different from the old process. Maybe you didn’t listen to what the other leaders think and offer your support to them.

To be successful implementing an idea or project, you must influence others. Nothing can be done alone.  “I assumed she would tell them,” my client said. I hear that a lot. I always reply with, “don’t assume” and “what can we do to make it as easy as possible for this person to support us.” Sometimes I get push back like, “those managers should know what to say,” or “those leaders should know what to do.” That’s not really the point. Maybe they should know what to say or what to do. The point is, in most cases, they aren’t saying what we want and they aren’t doing what we want.

Influencing others takes a thoughtful, proactive approach that requires effort. Your effort gets rewarded with results. When we assume, results usually aren’t achieved. When it comes to influencing others, providing the needed guidance and tools can make all the difference.

We have a tool called a “leadership involvement plan”. It’s a very simple idea. You have the leader’s name at the top. You have activities you’d like that leader to do – for example, 1) show up at a meeting and voice support (using talking points provided), 2) provide a resource by a certain date to help with process mapping, 3) talk to a peer leader that has concerns about the project. These are simple things that probably wouldn’t happen unless we explicitly asked and made it a plan. Leaders, if you can get in front of them, are usually receptive to this and even may add items to their lists. If you are trying to push positive change for the business, leaders should understand that their involvement is important.

So, next time you find yourself assuming someone will say something or do something to move your project along, don’t. Ask yourself, what can I do to help them support me?

Five Signs You Need Change Management (Signs 4 & 5)

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This blog rounds up my top five signs that indicate you need change management on your project.  Here’s a quick review of what I covered in the previous 2 blog posts:

  1. Sign #1  Leaders aren’t visibly supporting your project
  2. Sign #2 Employees don’t have a clue about what’s going to change
  3. Sign #3 When people talk about the project, you think, “Why are they saying THAT?” 

Sign #4 is  No one’s talking about stakeholder strategies.  True learning, commitment and understanding come from involvement and hands-on participation. The more people are involved in change, the less negative their inevitable reaction will be. People naturally support what they help create. Truly involving others takes time, the ability to select the right people and the ability to delegate and manage diverse groups. Identifying various audiences and involving others the right way takes prioritization, inclusiveness and empowerment. The payoff for this approach is employee buy-in and commitment to the new strategy or goal.

Change managers document impacts by stakeholder and create specific transition strategies so workers are well prepared. These strategies include activities that help promote understanding and commitment to working differently.

Last but not least, sign #5 is  HR is not included in the planning.  Support and reinforcement are critical for making changes stick.  Sometimes, some of the old ways of hiring, developing and compensating people will work just fine in the new world.  But often, the reinforcing systems in the organization are misaligned with the new behaviors.  Without reinforcing new behaviors, people naturally revert back to old ways of working. To sustain change, the organization needs to have the right infrastructure in place to reinforce the change. 

This is where HR comes in. They bring additional perspective on how these systems should and can be changed. They usually play an important role in the training that takes place before go live as well. The sooner HR can understand the impact to the employees, the sooner they can start working on ensuring these supporting eliminates are aligned with the new business goals.

The Change Manager’s role includes connecting communication, leadership, HR and project activities so they are consistent and coordinated in terms of transitioning the workers.

Change Managers work on the People Strategy. This is a critical element when driving organizational change. After all, it’s the people who will do the new process, use the new system or have to work with a new team every day.

Five Signs You Need Change Management (Signs 2 & 3)

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So, from the previous post, we discussed how  if Leaders aren’t visibly supporting your project, you need Change Management. People take their ques from leaders to figure out what’s important and what’s not. But what else signals the need for Change Management activities?

Sign number 2 is when Employees don’t have a clue about what’s going to change.  Good communication takes strategy and planning. It takes organization, consistency and a continuous improvement mindset.  Sound easy? Most organizations don’t do it. They underestimate what it takes to communicate effectively. Although it takes effort, effective communication is worth it…and is a key element to successful organizational change.

The Change Manager drives a proactive, communication strategy aligned with the project and organization’s vision. This strategy considers messages and vehicles for large audiences as well as specific, targeted strategies for the different stakeholder communities. Often, different stakeholder groups have different needs for information. Vehicle effectiveness varies by audience as well. A change manager has the experience to understand how to communicate during change which is different from communicating during times of status quo.

Sign #3? When people talk about the project, you think, “Why are they saying THAT?”  For change to be possible, people have to believe that the change is worth doing. The idea of change can be a hard sell if the people believe everything is great just as it is. Perception is reality.

In this situation, the employees’ perceptions must be changed before their actions will change. To create this change, the current situation must be reframed in a way that gets the employees’ attention. This reframing will get people unstuck, get them to pay attention and, most importantly, get them to care about new ideas. Reframing also helps employees recognize there is room for improvement and change is a top priority. To change their perceptions, employees need new information, new cues and new messages.

A Change Manager knows how to reframe the situation, help create a sense of urgency and develop a case for change that resonates with the audience.

If you are on a project, where, leaders aren’t visibly and consistently supporting the effort, if you are on a project where stakeholders don’t understand the change and/or don’t think there is a need for the change, you need to add a member to your team with Change Management skills.

We’ve all seen projects fail. Recognizing these red flags and adding change management activities to the project plan, will absolutely increase the chances of project success. Stay tuned for signals 4 and 5 coming soon…

Five Signs You Need Change Management (Sign #1)

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Many companies staff skilled Project Managers on projects yet miss the boat on staffing projects with skilled Change Managers. Organizational Change  Management skills are complimentary but different than Project Management skills. Change managers focus on communication, engagement, transition, support and reinforcement strategies. You need someone on your team with change management skills if…

1)  Leaders aren’t visibly supporting your project.  People watch
what leaders do and say and then filter that information to figure out if they should support a change or not.  Talking the talk is useless if walking the walk doesn’t follow. During times of major change, leaders are watched with even more scrutiny than usual. I don’t want to make leaders paranoid but they usually underestimate how much importance is placed on even one action. Importance can even be placed on inaction. For example, not showing up to participate in a meeting sends a signal to those attending.

When leaders are aligned and supportive of a change, there is success.
When leaders are not aligned and supportive, there is failure (“Best
Practices in Change Management,” Prosci 2002, 2005). Change Managers coach
leaders on their role. They provide direction, recommend actions and even write
leadership talking points. The Change manager connects the project to the
leaders in a way that influences others to support the change.

If your leadership is not visibly supporting your project, you need to add someone with change management skills to your team.

To be continued…

How do they do that? Preparing Employees to Change

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Can your company adapt quickly to change? Successful companies have a repeatable process that helps employees through transitions. They create an environment that prepares employees to think and work in new ways. These companies make sure employees are ready, willing and able to make whatever change is needed to achieve business goals.

How do they do that?  First – communication and involvement. Employees are ready when they understand the status quo is no longer enough. They understand why the change is necessary for the survival of the company. They see it’s a priority by how leaders act. They hear it’s a priority by what leaders say. Benchmarking, sharing data and company goals help make the case for change. Companies good at preparing employees also create temporary work groups and empower employees to make some of the decisions that will affect them.

Second, employees are willing when they are motivated to work in new ways. They’re job has been redesigned and they see how it fits into the new plan. They are recognized and rewarded for adopting the new processes.  They are
willing when they are evaluated based on the new business goals and measures.

Employees are able when they have been educated and trained to support the new way of working. For example, do they know how to measure and track quality? Do they have the tools and skills to work as a team?  Employees are able when the organization structure supports the business goals, whether it’s working in teams or cross functional task forces.

Competition and environmental forces will continue to drive businesses to change. Creating an environment where employees are ready, willing and able is hard work; however, companies that are good at transitioning their employees will adapt quickly and have a competitive advantage.