The past two years have tested our capacity to adapt and shift on a dime.
When it comes to the change we face as businesses, we often forget that organizational change is the collective result of individual change. At Differly, we help leaders define why, when, and how to implement tech and data. But we know that the gap between a solution and the enablement of that solution is people doing something differently.
I recently had a series of fantastic conversations with Ilana, one of our change strategists and below is the summary of our exchange.
Isabelle: Ilana, you know I’m not a fan of the term 'change management.' This term sometimes feels too 'big'; too 'loaded'. It carries a lot of expectations. What do you think? Is it useful?
Ilana: Your question reminds me of another type of 'management' question that came up a lot early in my tech career: "Project Management." "Why do we need to pay for project management? Isn’t it the responsibility of the team to see projects through to completion? It seems like a lot of added overhead and expense…."
Today, we rarely question the need for project management. We recognize the specific skill set and the value of that focus and intentionality around managing the project from concept through execution and delivery.
In an ideal world, we manage change as the ordinary course of operations. In most organizations, we are not yet at that ideal.
Isabelle: In your view, then, change management is that specific skill set providing the value of focus and intentionality around managing the human side of the project impact, the change.
Ilana: Exactly. And the motivation to make change always begins with the 'why.' The challenge, however, is to recognize that within a company or organization, the 'why' is not always the same for every role or level.
For example, at an individual level, people will often ask:
How will this impact my work day-to-day?
How will it affect my ability to execute my job or my performance?
Will I have time to learn this new way while still doing it the old way??
At the organizational leadership level, executives and managers are asking:
Why are we doing this exactly?
What’s the reason and the impact on the business?
How does this change impact my team or my department’s objectives?
What are the risks if we don’t do this?
Change happens more readily when it answers the compelling 'why’s' across the organization. So, the first step is always to bring sharp focus to the reasons and impact of any new project, pivot, or strategy.
Change requires a lot of effort on everyone’s part. Knowing what the ROI is across the organization becomes your north star.
Isabelle: Creating awareness of the need for change doesn’t necessarily mean there will be an instant desire for it, though, correct? What are some of the strategies that you recommend as a next step?
Ilana: I think of it this way: We all know we need to eat better and exercise more. Many of us set it as an intention every January 1st. We buy the treadmill and stock the fridge with kale full of optimism and motivation. But as we know all too well, in most cases, we’re back to our old ways by February. Those few who adapt to healthier habits generally have a concrete plan for making the behavioural changes needed to make these new habits stick. The same goes for companies and organizations embarking on digital transformation or other major shifts. Often, they adopt the standard approach, focusing on the timelines, milestones, and budgets of the deliverable – the system, the process, the new ‘what’, forgetting the human element, the people who will need to do something differently than what they do today.
The 'what,' as well as the 'who,' and the 'how' of making change must be fully integrated into any successful plan within an iterative framework that expects and allows for feedback and continual learning. People, Process and Technology.
Isabelle: Throughout our careers, we’ve both witnessed examples where a digital solution was implemented flawlessly but still failed because it is not achieving the desired outcomes. For example, it could be the implementation of a CRM, new project management tools or business intelligence platforms. Why do you think the people/human element is often underestimated or disregarded when adopting new digital solutions?
Ilana: In our work with clients, it is prevalent to come across examples of past ‘shelved’ digital projects or examples where employees have created ‘work arounds’ to avoid using existing or new technology to get their jobs done.
The initial investment in the technology or a digital solution has been made, so even more money and more time might be spent trying to ‘right the project.’ Let’s do more training, implement more features, and do more promotion. Still not where we need to be? Okay… let’s re-train, modify some parts, and promote the new tool again. And that’s not even including the cost of all those meetings to discuss ‘why aren’t people using the new “what”?’, brainstorming recursive steps or actions.
Here’s are a few examples of what I hear when we talk about the people/human element of implementing digital change:
It’s too complicated.
Isn’t this the job of the Project Manager?
Our culture is already people-focused.
The budget is too tight.
We don’t have time.
As with most things, the degree of return you get on your investment is directly proportional to how wisely you diversify that investment.
Isabelle: So true. Organizations don’t instantly become digitally adept with the implementation of technology, but rather it must be approached as a commitment to increase digital maturity across the organization over time. I think we’ve repeatedly seen that people learn best by doing. They tackle the ‘how’ of change much more quickly when directly integrated with a specific ‘what'.
Ilana: Agreed. I love baking – cookies, muffins, cupcakes, cinnamon buns if I want to be fancy. I bake cookies so much that over the years, I don’t even have to measure the ingredients; I can look at what I’m putting in the bowl and know whether it’s enough or if I need to add more. I would say I have developed a relatively solid cookie baking competency! The specific ingredients or measurements may change, but the core recipe is the same.
This is how I think about change competency and its value to project-specific change. Essentially, that competency provides you with the base recipe that you will leverage, with or without some specific modifications for a particular project. The more you use the skill, not only do you become better at it, but it becomes more natural, more automatic.
Isabelle: Great analogy. No matter what we call it, agility, resiliency, change competency, it is undeniable that the last two years have put a premium on an organization’s ability to be flexible, adaptable, and responsive to market demands and changing consumer behaviour. Coupled with that is organizations’ immense dependency on their staff to enable change rapidly.
Leaders who flex their 'change' muscles strategically over and over with each new initiative begin to mould the company culture.
They develop skills that lead to competency in supporting lasting change, and employees begin to see that part of their job is navigating change because there will always be more of it.
I want to let you have the parting words, Ilana – As we continue in this era of accelerated connectedness and digitization, how can we continue to put humans and human outcomes first?
Ilana: Ultimately, it’s about leaders being on-board and ‘walking the talk.’ All successful organizational shifts, digital or otherwise, need leaders who support the change and actively and visibly participate in it. But most importantly, be clear on WHY you are changing and WHAT is changing. Without that clarity, we are missing the foundational blocks for success.
Isabelle: Thank you, Ilana. I feel we’re ending where we started: technology doesn’t disrupt, people do!
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