Been a rise recently — well, somewhat — in ideas around change management, which would logically require some type of change management plan. Let’s ignore one obvious thing for this post: most “senior decision-makers” in orgs regularly confuse “strategy” (i.e. a change management plan) with “operations” (i.e. the logistics of what that plan would look like). This is often why “strategic road maps” might as well be written on toilet paper, but again, let’s avoid this rabbit hole for a bit.
The first thing you need to realize when considering a change management plan is, well, what work is. We pound our chests a lot about work, for good and bad, but there are some undeniable truths out there. For example:
- The quest for relevance is real
- We want to be seen as competent and contributing
- Hopefully a few superiors respect us
- The whole deal is extremely tied to self-worth
- We adore us some workaholics
- To many, it’s more important to be busy than productive
What happens at this complicated six-way intersection? Well, your change management plan starts producing a hell of a lot of anxiety.
Change management plan: It has to begin with psychology (and “why”)
I can keep this section pretty short.
First off: work is emotional. We want it to be logical, but it’s made up of people. People have feelings, contexts, backstories, families, and other stuff in their lives. The result? Work is emotional. We cannot — absolutely cannot — strip that from any discussion around what our “plans” for a given thing are, i.e. a change management plan. Think about succession planning, right? You’re basically telling an executive who just spent three decades in this industry “Hey, someday you won’t be here anymore.” You think that’s not emotional? I got some HR software I can sell you, and a bridge in Brooklyn.
So first up: everything needs to be rooted in the psychology of the moment. This is hard for companies, who like to root things in the balance sheet of the minute.
Second: why. Simon Sinek me, baby! But seriously: why are you trying to change? Why do you need a change management plan? For many execs, the answer is (blubbering) “a consultant told me to do it…” That’s not a good reason. That consultant is chasing the cheddar, not actually trying to help you. He’s probably proposed the same change management plan to 10 other orgs, to be honest. Is it because you fear disruption? Alright, that’s a legit (possibly) reason for a change management plan — but can you show me some data or competitors on how you’re getting disrupted and from where?
You need the human psychology and the “why” for any change management plan to actually work. Otherwise you’re just gonna run all your people in circles chasing threads for about six months, then abandon it.
Change management plan: Let’s hit a few targets with Wharton
Good article here on “The Age of Megachange,” which again would seem to imply the potential need for a change management plan of some sort. Here’s a money quote:
Organizations and businesses have to understand that this is a period of large-scale change and lots of disruption, so people need to adjust their expectations. A lot of our memories are actually pretty short term. People have civic memories of maybe 20 or 25 years, so I argue in the book we need to pay more attention to history — and organizations need to pay more attention to history — because if we’re looking for parallels to understand the current situation, it may not be anything that has happened in the last 25 or even 50 years, it may be something that happened 100 years ago, or 250 years ago. For some of the global developments in terms of the rise of ISIS, you really have to go back almost 500 years to find something like that organization.
Yep. Here’s the problem with most businesses. A lot of them are quarterly, and the people that run them literally cannot think about anything apart from “the last three months” and “the next three months,” because OMG SO MUCH IS HAPPENING and OH SHIT I’M CHASING A BONUS. But like, have you heard that data might be the new oil? Or AI might be the new currency of the modern age? There are some enterprise companies whose websites aren’t fucking mobile-friendly yet — in a time with more mobile devices on Earth than people — and now we’re gonna add AI into this mix? Good Lord. Get me some consultants and let’s put together a change management plan, STAT!
Change management plan: So where are we now?
Here is what we’ve learned:
- Any change management plan is going to be deeply psychological.
- It needs to be rooted in why it’s happening.
- You need to look for clarity and context beyond just your spreadsheets and quarterly reporting systems.
- Something something ISIS something something.
So what should a change management plan look like?
If I was a breathless thought leader, I’d open this section with “… input is needed from all levels.” Indeed, it is. But let’s be real: that’s bullshit. No executive is going to let some rank and file in on a plan that might shift revenue streams. (And let’s be real Version II: if you think an executive is chasing data in this situation as opposed to their gut, again, I have a bridge I can sell you.)
First step, then: realize the limitations of your senior decision-makers, including the inherent variability in their processes. Bring in a third party. Yes, yes: consultants.
Second step: sit down and make a list of what needs to change and why. What’s the end goal? Look internal and external. This conversation cannot just be “Money needs to be made more more more.” It has to be bigger than that.
I try to think about work in different ways, and I also try to call out some managerial BS we’ve all experienced. If that kinda sorta interests you, I do a newsletter every Thursday. Feel free to join up.
Third: start thinking about how people can be moved around in better ways. This is what “business transformation” is actually about, even though we think it means “buying new software.”
Fourth: start piecing together a change management plan. How will people move? Will reporting structures change? Who’s doing what? What are the priorities?
Fifth: realize this is anxiety-producing. Douse the fire in your hair with water.
Sixth: how can this change management plan be communicated to others?
The change management plan and communication
Communication at work is a massively-flawed enterprise despite how important it actually is. The essential problem? Executives say tons of shit, but clearly only mean 1–2 things. Those 1–2 things are usually “Get out of my way as I make money and chase a bonus” and/or “You better prove value to me, or I’ll shit-can your ass faster than you can say employee improvement plan.” So when an executive gets up and talks about “disruption” and a “change management plan,” it all seems like more bullshit. In three months, will we still be discussing this? No. We’ll probably be promoting Leonard up to Chief Strategy Officer, because Leonard plays golf a lot with the current CFO. Meanwhile, Leonard spends most of his days at work sucking his thumb under his desk. I digress.
So look, if you’re going to have a change management plan, you gotta communicate it. Something like:
Hey employees. At the highest levels here, we’ve been thinking about our business model and how we could improve it — and better the lives of our customers. We realized that there are some internal issues that are preventing that. No, no! We’re not firing anyone! But we have a change management plan we’d like to try out. It will be a little anxiety-producing and there will be ups and downs, to be sure. It will likely evolve a few times before we get it right. But here’s Iteration №1. Your manager is a good point of contact, but any of us are also available.
Nice, right? I’m slick. Here’s what it would actually sound like:
Buzzword buzzword buzzword audible fart noise buzzword buzzword buzzword vomits in mouth buzzword buzzword if you have questions don’t ask me I’ll be on vacation the next two weeks.
See the difference? If you got a change management plan, communicate it. Speak to the anxiety. Acknowledge the fear.
What else you got on the idea of a change management plan?