Unofficial Rules of Change
If you’ve ever been stuck waiting in the lobby of a dentist office or standing in line at the market, then you’ve no doubt had a chance to flip through pages of pop culture magazines. You may have even surveyed the ever-popular “Do, Don’t” section featuring A-list celebrities in compromising situations or donning attire that should have never made it off the hanger. What draws our attention to these pages is, among other things, a desire to avoid making similar unalterable blunders.
As a professional, at some point you’ll experience an unalterable blunder, or you’ll observe someone you respect experiencing their own blunder. (Hopefully, never to be published.) This is where the “Do, Don’t” decision factor comes into play for many of us. The concept of exercising “Do’s and Don’ts” became apparent to me as I worked with executives to help them implement major organizational change management programs. I began to see a pattern in executive decision-making during the planning stages of major programs that frightened me because their decisions erred on the side of inevitable blunder. Over the years, I’ve cataloged a spectrum of my recommended “Do’s and Don’ts,” some heralded as best practices while others can only be described as professionally derailing for the leader who insisted on carrying the decision forward. These Do’s and Don’ts have formed the basis of what have become my Unofficial Rules of Change; fundamentals of what to do, and not to do, in order to implement a successful change program. Here are just a few:
Rule #1: DO factor Organizational Change Management into projects. DON’T wait until halfway through the project to do it!
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been airdropped into a project that’s well-underway in order to “get the project back on track”. This all-to-common practice is a worst case scenario for most change managers. At this stage of the project there are major symptoms of resistance, lack of clarity of end-state vision, lack of visible leadership and accountability for success, and critical project milestones are at risk of being delayed. Sound familiar? Most of this can be avoided if change management is factored into the project plan, resources, and budget up front.
Rule #2: DO have an end-state in mind. DON’T multiply the end-state by a factor of 200!
When implementing complex change that involves multiple stakeholder groups, it’s not unusual to encounter disagreement about what the change should entail and what the future should look like. Invest the time up front in aligning leaders and stakeholders around a shared vision that each of them has had a role in shaping. The clear vision and stakeholder alignment will prove invaluable down the road.
Rule #3: DO have a motivated and inspiring leader in charge. DON’T forget to hold her/him accountable!
Let’s be clear about one thing. Leadership, or lack thereof, will make or break programs involving major change. (Read more about that here from my colleague) Whether it’s one, two, or a cadre of leaders being held responsible for transforming the business, there should be a ‘buck-stops-here’ leader capable and willing to marshal the project, delegate responsibilities, engage stakeholders at all levels, and enable swift and sound decision making.
Rule #4: DO communicate about the change. DON’T stop with one communication!
I repeat…don’t stop with one communication. There’s no one decisive rule on how many times it takes to tell someone something before they actually get it. Or in what format, channel, or context is most effective. This is because everyone approaches listening, communicating and understanding differently. My husband and I have lived together for 12 years and he’ll attest to this! My advice is to communicate within projects like you would communicate with those closest to you; early, frequently, candidly, and in multiples.
What’s been most effective for you in leading or supporting change management initiatives? Which Do and Don’t rules would you add? I’d love to hear your suggestions! Share in the comments section below.