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Ingredients for change management success

This post is the first in a two-part series on change management.


Last month, I was honoured to present a workshop on change management at an Australian Government conference in Sydney. It provided me with an opportunity to distil some of the key lessons I’ve learned in my experience consulting to the public sector over the past 15 years.


The one message that runs throughout all these lessons is that organisational change is hard. After all, organisations are comprised of individuals, which makes it a form of large scale personal change. And look how many personal resolutions are recycled from one New Year to the next!


Change in government organisations can also be particularly challenging, because the driver of change is often unclear and there can be a long-standing cultural resistance.


Although there isn’t one change management model that always works (anyone who tells you otherwise is kidding themselves—or you), there are some key ingredients you can add to the mix which will help.


1. Explain the pressure for change

We must be able to answer the fundamental question: why are we embarking on the change? What is the problem we are trying to solve? It’s hard to build the momentum for change if we don’t understand why. Too often we see government agencies launching into a major change program without explaining the rationale, if indeed there is one.


Oops! Forgot this ingredient? You’ll know this ingredient is missing if your project doesn’t get off the ground.


2. Have a clear vision

In order to get where we need to be, we need to know where we are heading! This sounds obvious, but knowing what success looks like is important part of change management. It’s also important to define your destination in plain English, not corporate jargon. Abstract language is the enemy of effective communication and can not only confuse your audience, but alienate them.


Storytelling is a most effective way of communicating strategy and change. Our friends at Anecdote shared this Steve Jobs video with us, as a great example of how to communicate change. In this case, it was Apple’s launch of iCloud. It follows a basic four-step model:


  1. Describe how you used to do things and why
  2. Outline the pressure for change, or what happened to demand a new approach
  3. How you solved this problem
  4. The benefits of this change to your audience


Oops! Forgot this ingredient? You’ll know this ingredient is missing if your project fizzles after a quick start.


3. Involve staff at all levels of the organisation

Nexus recently worked with a major government agency to design processes and systems that would underpin a new way of working. We established teams to drive the design of the project, deliberately choosing a mix of supporters (believers), opponents (atheists) and those in between (agnostics).


This method can be more time consuming and sometimes frustrating, but it draws on the experience of those directly involved in the work and results in a more effective change management plan.


Oops! Forgot this ingredient? You’ll know this ingredient is missing if your project is mandated by the executive team but fails to take root at lower levels of the organisation.


4. Build the capacity to change

It’s all very well to involve people at all levels of the organisation, but you need to give them the skills, tools and resources to implement change before you throw them in the deep end. Many executive teams ask staff to go above and beyond the responsibilities of their full-time job, without understanding the amount of time that is required to implement a change management plan.


One approach we have used successfully is to take a small number of people offline to focus on the project, while drawing on the expertise of others who can continue doing their job. This allows you to transfer skills and knowledge across the organisation and ensure the team is actively involved at every stage of the process.


Oops! Forgot this ingredient? You’ll know this ingredient is missing if people are making a haphazard effort at change in your organisation.


Our leadership program provides you with the tools and techniques to collaborate and implement change in your organisation. Next month we’ll provide more ingredients for change management success.


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