Saturday 14 May 2016

People Know What is Best. Don't Forget to Ask Them.

Early in my career, I sold, designed and led business training programs at the Business Development Bank. Leadership development programs were in demand and every training and consulting firm offered a list of courses.

With only a small marketing budget, our team needed a compelling offer to differentiate ourselves from competitors. We decided to be the best designers of customized training in the market. To do so, the facilitator of each program would visit the client's business for two days to work on the job with the learners before designing the course. If it was a group of high school textbook salespeople, they went on sales calls and would pitch books to experience the challenges; if it was a group of gas station owners, they worked in a gas station to witness the manager's daily issues.

Our approach worked. Learner immersion created customized programs that addressed real challenges within the context of their working environment. An added benefit was increased facilitator credibility earned through hands-on experience.  

Often, change planning fails to incorporate deep understanding of the people who are changing. Interviews are held to identify the gaps between current and future requirements without experiencing the environments in which people work. Also, interviewers rarely ask about the types of support that those making the change would value and use. 

The cost of limited understanding is high. Assumptions fill in for knowledge and generic solutions substitute for tailored ones. The change plan is informed more by past practices than current circumstances. Also, without the deeper relationship built through on the job experience, people are less likely to share honest feedback throughout the change.  

Here are ways to gain deeper understanding of the people who are taking on change: 

  • Explain why the change is important to the business and to them before asking questions about how they work  you will get more considered responses if the change matters to them
  • Ask people what types of support they have benefited from in the past  they most likely will use and benefit from similar tools during a new change
  • Meet people where they work  you will learn a lot about how they spend their time
  • Request time to shadow people on the job  I observed somone who only had access to her computer at the beginning and end of the day  online resources would not meet her needs
  • Test your plan with the people you interviewed  they are the best people to assess if it addresses their needs
  • Acknowledge people for taking the time to share how they work  their input is essential to successful change planning and recognizing their contributions will encourage them and others to do so in the future

Understanding the environment in which people work and the support preferences they have are important inputs into effective change management planning. They are the ones who have the knowledge about how they work and what they will need to do things in new ways. Providing them with the help they need when they need it are hallmarks of an effective change plan.


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