Change management: simplifying change projects

I used to get asked to do “change management” on projects that were not change management projects.

This is annoying if, like me, you really love doing change management projects, and there are so few opportunities to do really proper change management like those you read about in change management books.

The projects I was asked to work on were often the very opposite of change management projects, they were projects designed to minimise change while something disruptive happened. They were business continuity projects with the aim of avoiding the impact of changes happening elsewhere.

The most common example I was involved in was an office relocation, where you want the impact of the move to have minimal impact on the operation. You might want to take advantage of an office move to improve some things about how you work together, but the point is that they are peripheral, you are not changing how people work in order to improve your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and therefore, although it’s a bit change-management-y, it isn’t really driving transformation of the organisation.

If we look at an organisation’s performance over time (using the KPIs as the performance measure) then a successful organisation will probably be happily motoring around the amber/green lines most of the time.

The purpose of this type of “change management” (i.e. business continuity management) is to keep the Organisational Performance (OP) line as consistent as possible despite being buffeted about by disconnected external factors (i.e. disconnected from the KPIs, and so not central to the performance of the organisation).

In short, we’re trying to avoid this:

In our fun change taxonomy, I call this Type Zero Change.

Type Zero Change is a business continuity effort that attempts to minimise the impact on the organisation’s KPIs of disconnected external change

Proper Change Management

For the other two types of change, I can lean on some proper academic sources for backup. Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch in their book Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution define two types of change that they call “first-order” and “second-order”:

First-order change is the change within a system, second-order change is change to the system itself

Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch

Type One Change

Their “first order” change is what I call Type One Change.

Type One Change is a change where the people must change how they deliver in their roles in order to succeed

This type of change management is in response to a loss in performance, and is fairly easy to communicate.

If the aggregated KPI graph, with further visuals showing how individual KPIs are performing, are displayed all over the organisation with flashing red lights when things go south, then it helps to create a “sense of urgency” (Kotter), to “unfreeze” (Lewin), to create “disconfirmation” (Schein) and to build “awareness and desire” of the need to change (the A and D from the ADKAR model by PROSCI) … if you get this right, the people should be demanding change!

A graph leading to Type One Change might look a bit like this:

The other key point to note about Type One Change is that the solution usually involves changes in how people deliver in their roles, or changes to processes and systems, such as new branding, websites, customer experience, or improved efficiencies – it does not require a change in mindset … changing how people do things is not easy, but changing how people think, the assumptions they make and the cultural environment in which they operate, that’s a whole different ballgame …

Type Two Change

… and this is where things get really tasty.

Here is my attempt at a definition:

Type Two Change is a change where the people must change their mindsets in order to succeed. That is change their assumptions and the culture of the organisation

Or, in Watzlawick et al’s lingo:

[S]econd-order change is always in the nature of a discontinuity or a logical jump

Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch

The key thing is that this cannot be shown on the KPI chart because the KPIs are wrong. The OP line may be fine, or it may be nonsensical, but the point is that the organisation’s financial position is tanking and this is not visible using the current measures.

Type Two Change is not about responding to a neat visible downward trend that everyone can understand, it is changing the axes of the graph themselves!

This is the key insight of this approach to change management.

If Type One change is more likely to succeed because it’s easier to do, and easier for people to understand the need to change, then the best way to make Type Two more likely to succeed is to turn it into a Type One change project!

The way to do this is to rethink the KPIs so that the OP line once again correlates with the organisation’s revenue – or profit or fundraising or whatever is key to your organisation’s successful performance. Watzlawick and the other guys think of Type One (First Order) as changing how you play the game – changing your tactics – but Type Two (Second Order) is changing the rules of the game itself.

You are not going to win the game if you’re still playing football but someone just picked up the ball and now the scoreboard is responding to the rules of rugby.

If the game for the organisation is trying to get the lines on the KPI chart to stay healthily in the green territory, then the rules we need to change are how we calculate the Y-axis measures (the KPIs) so that the OP line is again tracking the factors that contribute directly to the organisation’s success.

If we can explain this to people, and show the new graphs, and then collectively think through what we need to do to influence each KPI to send it off in a positive direction, we’ve turned a Type Two change (focused on mindset and attitude) into a Type One change (focused on actions).

Yes but …

Yes, I know, I know, a lot of change projects are not really found in the KPIs.

For example you might want to improve the line management culture, or work more collectively as “one team”, or be more customer-service focused … or countless other so-called “soft” changes that you don’t really measure exactly, and don’t really directly impact the KPIs, but you want to change them anyway …

These changes are more difficult because they are less clear and probably less necessary, but the same principles apply:

First, work out why you think this is a problem that needs fixing? In the above examples, it was obvious, we could see it on the graph or on the financial statements. In these more ambiguous examples, it’s not going to be so easy to spot, so ask yourself: what evidence do you have that there are management problems, or that people are not working together as “one team” in the way that you’d like, or that your organisation is not as customer-service-y as you want … why do you think this? Show us the evidence!

I call this approach The Tree of Truth, and will write about it a future post that I will link to here.

Once you have your evidence, you have your measures, and you can then use these instead of the KPIs.

This is not to say that it will then all be easy, rather it is a method to turn Type Two Change (the attitude/mindset thing) into a much more tangible Type One Change.

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