The world's quickest course in business change management

Employees don't naturally resist change. They do, however, naturally resist changes they expect to be unpleasant

Dear Bob ...

A while back you posted "The world's quickest course in project management," (Advice Line, 7/20/2009). I'm managing a project right now, following your Bare Bones approach, and everything is going well.

[ Also on InfoWorld: "The world's quickest course in project management" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

Or it was, until the business sponsor asked me what I'm doing to manage resistance to change.

Any chance you have a "quickest course" for that?

- Tap Dancing

Dear Dancer ...

Well, OK, but I'm not making a nickel on this, and as I'm sure you know, there are lots of consultants out there who charge lots of money on this subject. Sadly, most of them start out headed in exactly the wrong direction.

Here's the starting point: Some business change management consultants start with the premise that employees resist change because they're just naturally stupid, failing to understand that "all change is good."

I rarely make absolute statements. I'm going to here: Employees resist change because they're smart. Decades of business change have taught them that business change means layoffs, more work for not any more pay, the invalidation of hard-won skills, and frequently the de-enrichment of the jobs that are left.

That's what they've been taught to expect through hard experience. You're managing a project, projects are about making change happen, and unless you take this expectation into account throughout the design, implementation, and rollout phases of your effort, they'll expect your project to be just another change effort that's good for the shareholders and bad for them.

The solution? Do everything you can so that your project results in job enrichment. Do what you can so that its goal isn't layoffs, and if the goal is layoffs, do what you can so that the employees who support the change are the ones who do well as a result of it.

That's the core. Beyond that, a business change management plan has six elements to it: a stakeholder analysis, involvement plan, metrics plan, training plan, culture change plan, and communications plan.

The stakeholder analysis looks at each of the major stakeholders and stakeholder groups to try to anticipate whether they're likely to be change supporters, agnostics, or resisters. Then, separately for each stakeholder, it looks at the factors that either made them resisters or might turn them into resisters. Finally, it leads to a plan for each stakeholder group to keep supporters as supporters, turn agnostics into supporters, and either turn resisters into agnostics or to neutralize their impact on the change.

The involvement plan lists the major tasks that have to be undertaken and decisions that have to be made during the course of the project, and tries to assign responsibility and authority for at least one to each of the major stakeholders and stakeholder groups. You do this for two reasons: First, they're the experts in at least one key subject area, and second, by doing so, you help make it their project instead of a project that happens to them.

The metrics plan isn't necessarily about numbers. It's the answer to the question, "How will we know whether or not the planned change is achieving its goals?" and includes both the indicators you'll be looking at, and the means through which you'll collect the data you'll need.

The training plan is -- as the name implies -- what you need to do so that employees are confident of their ability to do their jobs the new way. One key here: If your training program teaches employees how to operate the software, it's a bad training program. It should show them how to do their jobs the new way using the new software.

Significant business change often requires a change in culture. The culture change plan clarifies exactly what this change in attitudes and behaviors should look like, and -- very important -- it makes clear how business leaders need to behave differently so as to encourage the change in the organization.

And, last but not least, you need to create a communications plan that includes the key messages you want everyone to know about the project, its goals, its progress, and so on. Most important for success: Sell the problem, not the solution. Next most important: Tailor your communications to the specific interests of each stakeholder group. One more thing: Schedule communications, both periodically and to follow major milestones.

[ Want more help than I can offer in Advice Line? You know who to contact. Send me an e-mail and we'll discuss whether our business change management methodology is a good fit for your situation. -- Bob ]

As you can see, business change management isn't a spare-time activity. It involves real work, and its tasks should be built into the project plan.

Also as you can see, there's a lot more to say on the subject that I can squeeze into a format like this.

With luck, this will at least point you in the right direction.

- Bob

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.