Change Is Hard - Here's a Tool to Help. Seriously.
Written by Hans Dittmar
The BEST (Universal) Tool for Managing Change
There are few things that are certain over the long term in business. With arguably very few businesses able to sustain the same model for many years, decades or even centuries one of the inevitable things businesses face is change.
Change is not easy. It is hard for a company’s most important asset – its people – to easily accept change. People get comfortable. It’s human nature.
Changes vary immensely. Sometimes transitions end in a shift in associates, sometimes it involves physical moves, sometimes it’s a reporting structure. Sometimes it’s a change in a specific department or position’s requirements or expectations.
Whatever the change, a business needs to make sure that it is viewed as a positive internally; commonly a daunting task, especially in the instances of major company-wide change.
Regardless of the variations in the severity of changes, the basic elements that comprise a change are extremely similar. We’ve all heard the influential leaders of innovative companies talk of speed to market, minimum viable products and the importance of a productive staff. Sounds simple – but the fact is that companies that are fast-moving, innovative companies are built to change. It’s in the DNA. Processes and procedures are built for that. It is generally much more challenging to implement change in an existing business, especially one that has been around awhile.
Elon Musk – certainly a creator of innovative companies by any measure – talks about acting quickly to solve problems fast. He encourages everyone to do what they need to do to get the problem solved and move on to the next issue. He encourages change because he knows it leads to the company’s betterment. Here’s a snippet from a company-wide email he sent to everyone at Tesla that really discusses the criticality of fast, frequent change:
"Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager's manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept., you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else's permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well. We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size, so we must do so with intelligence and agility.”
This is easiest when a company is young and/or small. You can very quickly assess situations, decide on a common approach and go solve the problem. This gets harder and harder as the company grows and the organizational chart gets more layered. The increased layers are a necessary evil, but also comes with a variety of potential setbacks.
So what’s the point of all this?
When you break down change, whether major or minor, at a huge company or a small one, the single most critical component of any successful change is precisely the same – buy-in from the participants.
The elements that need to be evaluated for any successful change are:
- Vision/Objective of the change needs to be understood by all.
- Skills to accomplish the various parts of the change need to be internal or available.
- Benefits need to be understood – and may vary from person-to-person or department-to-department.
- Resources to accomplish the task need to be sufficient, again either internally or externally.
- Action Plan (Implementation) needs to be laid out, including a validation after the change has been implemented. This may take some time, since results may not be immediate.
Everyone on the team needs to understand the literal vision – the desired outcome – of the change that is being implemented. Further, everyone needs to know why this outcome is important. This messaging needs to be articulated in a thoughtful way to ensure that your audience (your entire staff) understands it completely. The result of not assembling and communicating the vision properly – even if all the other elements are there – is confusion.
You can’t generally ask a salesperson to calculate the requirements for mechanical strength requirements of a technically challenging engineering project; it’s important that the people who are being asked to execute portions of the change either have (or have access to) the skills they will need to feel like valid participants. If people do not have the skills needed – or are unsure they have access to them – the result is anxiety.
This is also very likely different between different people, departments, divisions or some other separation. Each area, team or person needs to understand the benefits they will realize directly. This general rule should be applied to the degree possible. Sometimes the benefit will be more nebulous for certain people or departments, but there should be a direct benefit expressed individually for everyone. That is what will get the entire team working harder together; the idea that they can each make their own situation better. If they do not understand the benefits clearly, that runs the risk of creating an environment of resistance.
Just like asking someone to do something they are not capable of (see Skills) you also cannot ask someone who is already extremely busy to execute their part of the implementation if they have no available time. People who are overworked tend to be more resistive to change – especially if they feel that their load is bigger than others and they are already too busy. If resources are not clearly available or made available, individuals will express frustration.
This is listed last by design. The action plan is all too often the baseline for companies that are changing. The assumption almost always is along the lines of ‘as long as we tell people what they need to do, and track progress, the change will go well’. While the action plan is critical, it should not be the focus. If there is not a clear path to implement the change, in the form of an action plan, it will cause false starts.
What happens when you are missing multiple elements
The above scenarios describe what the risks are when each individual element is missing and all others are well executed. If you are weak on more than one element, you will see a mixture of the risks appear in your teams’ response. This can be a bit more daunting to figure out, but over time it becomes second nature.
And now for the tool.
When you roll all the above elements together, you end up with a matrix. The matrix below has appeared across businesses and online in various form for years. Sometime the verbiage and terminology are varied, but the essence remains the same and is very accurate.
This chart can be used across virtually any change; things that include personal family matters, changes in a career (use the chart on yourself), dealing with difficult coworkers and a multitude of other situations. Any type of change. If you apply it to changes that haven’t gone well for you, chances are high that you will identify the problem and have an ‘aha’ moment.
So… here is the chart as it's been adapted:
As a final reminder, this chart can be applied to a myriad of situations. Try it out on past problems you’ve had with change, and you will most likely find the answer to what went wrong. Was it not a purposeful change? Were there participants not included? Were the necessary resources not available?
As a suggestion, this chart in some form or another should become part of daily thinking in all aspects of life. It’s a very handy tool that can be used any time if you have grasped and absorbed the basic concepts. You can also adjust it to accommodate what you do in your business or life; just keep the elements generally the same and it will be beneficial.
Here’s to hoping you find it as useful as so many others have!