Managing change: One transformation at a time (please)

Type: CW Observer Blog
Topic: Crisis and Change
By Kim Hanson, ABC
13 March 2015

concept of choices of a businessmanMy dad makes an excellent cold antipasto—it’s chock-full of Italian smoked meats, imported cheeses, marinated artichoke hearts, red peppers, three kinds of olives and even an anchovy or two. It is a Thanksgiving classic—something everyone in our family looks forward to—as we start our holiday meal with that special course.

The problem is that he has now begun making it for every holiday—Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Easter—he even assembled one for our Labor Day picnic this year. And because we now see it so often, it has become less special. He doesn’t understand why he isn’t getting the same amount of praise and exclaims of delight every time he puts one on the table.

It reminds me of how some of us view change and transformation initiatives. They used to be exciting; it was an honor, or at least a career challenge, to be put on a change management team. The projects gave everyone new roles, new challenges, new experiences, new ways of looking at processes and procedures. It was about making things new and great.

Now it seems as though every company is going through some kind of significant change. And if they aren’t, they are worried about it. There are special projects, new initiatives and transformational teams sprouting up everywhere. And that’s not always a good thing. In fact, some of these change initiatives run out of steam or funding before their goals are accomplished, leaving team members exhausted and wondering what happened as activities grind to a halt.

A colleague recently told me that she was on 12 new initiative teams—12! And she still was expected to perform her “day job.” No wonder everyone is exhausted—I was exhausted just thinking about it, and I’m the communication consultant. It is my job to help bring the enthusiasm, the perspective, the underlying philosophy that change, the newness, is a good thing; that the extra effort will pay off for everyone. But that’s hard to do when, like my dad’s antipasto, every time you turn around there is another one on your desk. We are not feeling special. And it shows.

I am often asked: When is a project transformational? When it is it truly a change management project, versus the normal amount of “everyday” change that a healthy company needs in order to evolve and grow?

My recommendation is to ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Will this new change impact at least 70 percent of your target audience (whether that is the entire company, an entire country or region, or an entire function or department)?
  2. Will it impact a major workflow or process within that segment, e.g., hiring, payroll, accounts payable or receivable, manufacturing of your key product, or will it change your product mix significantly?
  3. Are you replacing the top person in your company, country, region, department or function?

If your answer is yes to any one of these three questions, then your initiative is a change management project; if your answer is yes to two or more of these questions, it’s a major transformation.

If you cannot answer any of these questions affirmatively, then the change you are undergoing is an everyday change, the types of changes that are typical to all companies—a new product (versus a new product line), a new vendor for a key process (without that process changing significantly), the installment of a new piece of software or a new Salesforce tool. And in those cases, the work should be undertaken within the department or function experiencing the change. You can (and may need to) hire some outside resources to get the work done, but it is not a major transformational change. It’s still important, but it doesn’t need a theme song or a logo. Just some elbow grease and more than a little esprit de corps to get it accomplished.

Don’t get me wrong; change management is important. It is also one of my primary areas of expertise, so I understand and appreciate the true needs. But if we label every change at a company as significant and overuse that word “transformation,” the only thing we will truly transform will be the position of employees’ eyes as they roll back in their heads. And that doesn’t help move anything forward.

Kim Hanson, ABC Kim A. Hanson, ABC, is a business communication consultant with expertise in change management, employee engagement, IT and operational communication, as well as leadership communication and training. She is a senior consultant with On the Same Page, a certified Woman Owned Business which specializes in developing communication strategies that support positive business outcomes through effective employee engagement, efficient change management and proactive leadership communication. You can reach her at kim@on-the-same-page.com.

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