Monday, 22 December 2008

Keep the change

Managing change well can result in stronger, better teams. Managing it badly just produces a box of bad or bitter apples, with many good apples falling out along the way.

Leading people through change is always tricky. Whilst there will usually be around ten percent who are positive, there will always be another ten percent who are negative.

This latter group – the ‘mood hoovers’ – need skilful handling, including the judgement on when not to waste any more time on them. This is especially true when one of the aims of the process of change might be to shed this ten percent.

But it is the remaining 80% who need most careful handling.

When it’s all over, you need them to hit the track sprinting.

My thanks to performance coach Struan Robertson for what follows. I was lucky enough to be coached by Struan for a couple of years.

To emerge from change with your 80% intact, you need to start with a plan.

And your plan needs to fill in some blanks. It needs to fill in the blanks in people’s heads.

When change begins, everyone has questions. But the answers are blank – unless you are ready to fill them in for them.

If you don’t, the mood hoovers will be only too pleased to help.

The questions people have can be summarised with five Ps:
  • Picture
  • Purpose
  • Process
  • Payoff
  • Part I play

Your people – let’s call them changelings – appreciate knowing what’s going on. It is incredibly stressful to be in the midst of something over which you have little control and about which you know nothing. You won’t be able to tell them everything, sure, but you can convey that you are telling them as much as possible.

Changelings need to see where this is going.

Why? Why is this happening? Why are things changing?

People are amazing. If they can see why something’s happening, they can adjust much more quickly than you’d imagine.

Changelings need to know.

If you’re restructuring or merging with another organisation – or simply introducing a new procedure – your changelings will react much better if they know roughly what will happen when.

They will also stick with you through the various stages if they know how things fit together.

Will it be worth it?

Or if I run with you through this process, if I back you on this, will I regret it?

In many ways, changelings need to answer this for themselves, but you need to give them enough to go on. And it needs to be more than empty reassurance.

Changelings aren’t daft.

Part I play
This is the most important P.

If I can’t see how I might influence the outcome, I will start to switch off.

Changelings need to feel involved, and as with Payoff, they should be able to fill this one in themselves. You have to make it clear that they need to engage.

And this leads nicely onto another dimension of managing change: coaching staff through it. For the mathematically minded, the following equation states an immutable law of change…


A changeling [often] has no control over the EVENT.

But they have 100% control over their RESPONSE.

A simplistic but insightful analogy is that of the brown bug.

A brown bug lived in a brown field, and everything was familiar. The brown bug was good at being brown – surviving and thriving.

One day the field turned green. Being a brown bug in a green field was not good. Predators were drawn to her and potential mates avoided her.

So the brown bug had a choice: leave and find another brown field or stay and become a green bug.

She decided to stay and embrace the change. And as it turned out, things were much better in the green field. Food was much more plentiful – and happily, potential mates were very fit indeed.

A little trivial for most business changes, but the principle is sound: each person can choose how they respond, and if they respond as ‘change agents’, i.e. actively and positively engaged, you have a great team.

In summary, it really boils down to conveying three things to your teams:
  1. that they have been considered
  2. that they are appreciated
  3. that you want them to be onboard

Go on! Lead people through change.


Kimberley MacKenzie said...

GREAT! Thank you. Loved this one. Not to simple at all. I think we often make things too hard so we appear smart and complex. Life is simple really.

Also loved the story about instincts, hiring and almost dieing. So glad to have discovered your blog.

Matt Parkes said...

Thanks Kimberley.

You're right. Sometimes the simplest solutions, the ones that are easy to overlook, are the best.