Friday 10 July 2015

Where to Invest Your Change Resources: Building Awareness, Capability or Sustainability?

One of the key decisions in planning a big change initiative is where to place resources (people, time and money). Given limited resources, you need to decide where they are best placed. Knowing how people take on new ways of working that enable successful change will help you make the best choice.

People adopt changes through a three phased process: Awareness, Capability and Sustainability.

Awareness: Understanding what the change is and why it is needed, what will be different for them and how it will impact their roles 

Capability: Practicing new routines (either before or after the change), establishing new relationships and making adjustments to optimize their new ways of working

Sustainability: Having new ways of working integrated into regular operations through formal role changes, new goals, monitoring effectiveness and receiving feedback, and achieving rewards for taking on new mindsets, actions and behaviours.

Most organizations focus the majority of their resources on the first phase, building awareness of the change before it is made. This 'big bang' approach gets attention and builds excitement and support for the change.

This approach to change is easy to do because a mandate for the change has freshly been set, leaders are engaged and resources are available. Demonstrating importance and commitment makes sense and a quorum of leaders are on board.  

The problem with this front-loaded approach is that it doesn't build enough capability or integrate new ways of working into day-to-day practices. Like a fire built mostly of paper, it burns brightly for a few minutes and dies out quickly. 

Often, this approach becomes a progressively negative element of an organization's culture as every change is managed this way. It doesn't take long for people to become skeptical of change when it doesn't stick. They take on a "wait and see" approach to adopting new ways of working. Without a critical mass of support, the change doesn't take hold and it fails. A self-fulfilling prophecy is created as the skeptics say "I told you so." 

It only gets worse with time. Leaders begin to face credibility issues because people notice that early commitments and promises are not delivered. The employees who initially believed what leaders say in townhall meetings and email often  become the most cautious when the next change is announced. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me" becomes their armour against future disappointments. 

A better approach is to divide resources more evenly across the three phases of adoption. There still is an initial drive to communicate the change, yet it is followed and supported by an equal drive to build skills and integrate new ways of working into regular operations.

Investing in capability building and assimilation will increase people's confidence in the change and encourage them to take on new activities, relationships and behaviours--when you do things well you tend to own and support them more

This approach also establish a winning foundation for future changes. It increases leaders' credibility and reputations for "walking the talk" and being change agents .Future changes are viewed with more optimism and confidence. Also, an expertise in change develops that becomes a positive part of an organization's culture--"We rock change." 

Most benefits are realized after change is made by well-skilled people who take on new ways of working that are supported by their organization. Investing resources across awareness, capability and sustainability activities greatly increases your probability of success. It makes sense and it feels good too.


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