Friday 12 February 2016

How to Engage the Whole Person in Change

How many people do you know who are completely focused on their work and never get distracted by things going on in the rest of their life? Not many? Me either.

People bring their whole selves to work as they do to other parts of their life. They are a collection of their many roles (partner, friend, coach, volunteer, etc.) and accountabilities that go with them. 

Evidence of people juggling their lives at work is easy to see  shopping online at their desk; leaving a meeting when their phone rings, saying, "I have to get this," not answering a question that is asked of them, lost in thought, etc. It's normal.

A leader's role is to create an environment in which people will be successful. In times of change, they must give their teams the mindsets, clarity on changing roles, knowledge, skills, behaviours and confidence to take on new ways of working. 

The best environment accommodates the needs of the whole person. I realized this many years ago when I was managing a business transformation. It was critical that the project sponsor meet with representatives from each function before an announcement at the end of the week. The only time available on her calendar was 7:00 am on Thursday morning. This was before widespread conference calling so everyone had to be in the office for the meeting. 
The meeting was a disaster. People were so absorbed in the inconveniences caused by the meeting time (with some commuting for over an hour) that they couldn't focus on the objectives. I could see it on their faces: How could you do this to me?

It didn't matter that people understood there were no options or that our apologies were sincere or that a breakfast was served; a part of their whole life was screwed up by me. After the project, we reviewed lessons learned.  Most recommendations were high-level changes to project scope and governance. One was "Never schedule a 7:00 am in-person meeting again". People bring their whole selves to work.

Here are ways I have learned to engage the whole person when managing change:
  • Acknowledge that people have lives outside of work – if not, people get distracted by making the point: "Don't they realize that we have lives outside of work?" 
  • Ask people to set their own team guidelines for managing the change  people realize that work needs to get done and that trade-offs need to be made. One person said, "I have no problem working after my kids go to bed, but I need to pick them up from school." 
  • Encourage people to share their personal needs by sharing your own  a leader sets the tone of a team and his or her behaviour creates permission for similar actions. Leaving work at 5:00 pm every Wednesday for an appointment is fair when your boss does the same on Thursdays.
  • Avoid holiday "blackout" times  This is a planning decision made at the beginning of a change project. People will be distracted by talking about the vacation they didn't have when they wanted to take it.
  • Develop a "one team" culture where people cover for each other  the unexpected happens and building a team that is willing and capable of filling in for others will smooth out these interruptions.
  • Regularly check in on people to see how they are doing  other things are changing in people's lives and knowing about them will help you quickly make accommodations and minimize surprises.
  • When someone is going through a challenging time, ask them to define the accommodations they need to manage their accountabilities  people know best what they need, just like a team that creates its own guidelines for working together.

People's lives are as multifaceted as the organizations they work for. Building flexibility into how change is managed makes room for people to accommodate their whole lives as they take on new ways or working. This leads to less distraction and better implementation, which is best for the business and the people who have roles in it.


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