Bridging the Chasm of Change

A New IT Infrastructure

Let us assume we are putting in a new IT infrastructure to unify several businesses brought together through a series of acquisitions. The technical solution can be one of several options each with slightly different business benefits and costs. We systematically evaluate options, we look at the business case, we calculate the return on investment, we select the best option and then we action the change.

Typically a project team is formed and the watch word is always ‘implementation’. We concentrate on delivering the project and we carefully track deliverables and costs against specifications, timescales and budgets.

Let us assume that despite technical and resourcing challenges the project is a resounding success. It stays within budget and every element of the technical solution is implemented on time and after extensive testing the solution is rolled out across the businesses and then from a prescribed and duly communicated day transition to the new system commences. The project team get recognition, the project manager gets his bonus and all is good… or is it?

People Abhor Change

We are creatures of habit, we abhor change. Any change implies movement and movement leads to friction which is painful.

The problem is that the business case at the board level was compelling, there would be savings which would ripple through to the bottom line, there would be better harmonisation across the businesses, there would be great career development opportunities for moving people between the companies since the systems would be unified.

Change Management Tools

Now let us assume that this company understands change resistance so they use the tools of change management to help embed the change and deliver the business benefits early on. The change management tools they might use are:

  • Communications and messaging
  • The use of advocates or change agents
  • Training provided
  • Transition assistance – people on hand to support the technical change (floor walkers)
  • Feedback welcomed

The 2nd Dimension

If you are going to make a journey of change it stands to reason that you need to take your people with you. This doesn’t just mean explaining the benefits of the change and training them. People will always say ‘the old way was better’ because the change is being imposed upon them.

Look at the simple 4 pane model below (Click on the image to enlarge it). On the vertical axis I have plotted the transition from the ‘old system’ to the ‘new system’ and this is the dimension that most implementations concentrate on. Laterally I have included a behavioural transition, on the left typical ‘default behaviours’ and on the right ‘collaborative behaviours’. I have then plotted a few points to give you a feel for what it feels like in each of the four panes.

The difficulty is that most business embarking on this type of change will inherit ‘default behaviours’ however the business case that was signed off to deliver the programme and its benefits almost universally ignores the fact that some people will be actively disrupting the change, overtly or not and tends to assume the behaviours on the right will be present.

The implementation task then is typically to move from ‘bottom left’ to ‘top right’ whereas most implementation plans will only consider the vertical task they are therefore ‘one dimensional’ with a ‘two dimensional’ problem space.

collaborative teams

The 2nd Dimension

Bridging the Chasm of Change

Just as rivers and chasms separated our ancestors from the better pastures and hunting grounds on the other side so behaviours separate us from perfect implementations. I have said before in other posts ‘people make your business succeed’ it stands to reason that the opposite is also true.

As with rivers and chasms the best way to get to the other side is not to make a leap of faith but to build a bridge. Furthermore the bridge has to be robust enough to take everyone across not just the agile few.

Look at the diagram below and you will see I have shown a bridge from the present (now) to the future across the ‘Chasm of Change’.

The Bridge of Change

The Bridge of Change

You will also see that I have labelled 4 very important bridge supports:

  1. Large Teams
  2. Diverse Skills
  3. Virtual Working
  4. Professionals

To build the bridge you will need to employ these four elements.

  • In an implementation such as this there will be large teams involved, not just the implementation project team but all of the stakeholders and users, they all need to be communicated with and because the team is large there is scope for misinterpretation and dissenters.
  • The programme will leverage from diverse sets of skills who will each see the problem and solution from a different perspective and this needs to be taken into account.
  • Large teams, businesses brought together through acquisition and the shortage of budget and time to meet physically will necessitate virtual working so the tools for this need to be in place and working for the project to be successful.
  • Professionals will be required to deliver this programme, they are highly skilled in a narrow discipline and will be very confident, if they don’t see that the solution considers their perspective they will react against it in an eloquent and influential way

Interestingly these 4 essential supports are also likely to be the top 4 things blamed for the failure of a project of this type so this reinforces their importance.

7 Steps to Crossing the Bridge Collaboratively

Once the bridge is in place and we are sure that its up to the job there are some other things we need to ensure that we get everyone to the other side.

  1. We need to have the right skills in the right place at the right time otherwise people feel put upon
  2. The executive team need to walk the talk, they need to be seen to act collaboratively between themselves
  3. There needs to be a sense of community, ‘the blitz spirit’ we are all in this together and have a common goal and we share news and information
  4. Team leaders need to be good at relationships not just a task focus but they do need both and they need to know when to switch focus
  5. People need to know that what is being asked is possible, implausible or impossible tasks will quickly alienate people
  6. People need to have sufficient ‘wiggle room’ to allow them to inject their creativity into a task or process, if its too prescriptive they will baulk at it
  7. Roles need to be clear, duplication or overlapping of roles is inefficient and disrespectful and will undermine the process
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