- Posted by Jayne Bailey
I’m a really strong believer in the role that leaders play in making change happen but consider how tough that role can be when the change has been packaged in a big way. Leaders can in fact give themselves a helping hand by breaking every change they are making down into smaller chunks – little and often. This might seem a little counter intuitive ie. how do can you make a step change if you break the change down into smaller less noticeable lumps, do you end up actually achieving anything? Well the answer is yes. The very fact that you approach it that way can stand you in good stead in delivering lasting benefits.
The issue with step change is that people find it difficult to switch overnight, they may get caught up in the enormity of what you have asked of them or may become overwhelmed by new expectations and more often than not will resist it making the role of leading it even harder. Consider instead a solid program of incremental change that happens under people’s “change radar” and easily within what they believe their capabilities are. You might just achieve that step change you are looking for without anyone realising what’s happened. This is not change by stealth since the objective here is not to be mysterious or underhand about what is changing but rather just to enact it piece by piece. You can still paint the vision but you can communicate the implementation parts of it in digestible chunks and start to build that culture of agility you need.
For example, it can be really tempting to think of a project/program you are delivering as one big implementation or release and therefore to do everything at once. Completely overhauling work processes alone with new systems and procedures can be quite a feat. Add to that some org and role change and you have a recipe for lots of potential emotion, resistance and distraction. The larger the change, the more chance people will get caught up in what is unfolding, become overwhelmed and perhaps not be supported enough by managers or a project team too thinly spread. Not a great place to be if your team’s performance is already going south.
Consider instead looking at all the people components of the change and working through what elements could be broken down into smaller chunks. What can be delivered early or sequenced over a few more months? For example, if you need to set up a new team or realign roles to manage a new system, consider doing it a few months before implementation and getting them focused on their new roles and KPIs before the new system gets implemented. If an org change is required but really isn’t central to the new systems being implemented, consider leaving everyone as they are, designing the processes with the future in mind and getting the new systems in first (perhaps doing so team by team). Any required reorganization could follow once the new system is in and performing how it should. Make the change a series of quick wins rather than a big bang.
Breaking the change down not only helps the people change seem less big it could also decouple many interdependencies and could give you more delivery agility full stop. I recognize it’s not always possible to decouple things. For example, systems projects have much interconnectedness which can make breaking them down challenging. However imagine if you took the change view up front in planning your systems development approach, would you break the technical design and delivery down differently as a result?The test is to think about it from a roll out and people impact perspective to see if you could sequence things in a lower noise and more simple way. Restructures are a classic example of something that can be broken into smaller pieces. Changes can be made team by team in smaller, quicker, defined steps that may not even need that big communication you were planning. You don’t always have to communicate that you are eating the elephant all at once.
In summary, if an adaptive culture is central to your future success or, as a leader, you want to be successful in change you are implementing whilst keeping all the business-as-usual balls in the air, try to break all those large programs of work you have into smaller delivery chunks. Not only are you causing less distraction and impact on the day-to-day each time you make those changes but you are also helping to build change agility for next time. Might be a quicker strategy versus what you’ve been trying to date?
By Jayne Bailey, Director, The Change Place