Free Leader Guide: How to recover from change missteps

change leadership Oct 23, 2022

The most heartbreaking calls I get are those from leaders who thought they had a plan but discovered too late--often weeks before go-live--that the change activities weren't effective or sometimes even ready in time.

If you are urgently seeking last-minute support know one thing: 

Change happens on its own timeline

The go-live date is just that -- a date when the technology and processes will be live. Change will continue to progress long afterward. You can still recover by continuing change activities after go-live.

Limited time to prepare simply means getting hyper-focused on which audiences and impacts need the most support. That's pretty easy in most cases: Those that impact pay or benefits. Start there and continue with the rest, even if after go-live. 

What to expect from change management in your project

Avoiding a last-minute misstep means knowing what to expect along the way:

  • Are we on track? How does our progress compare to similar projects?
  • What should we be doing right now?

What does good change management look like?

Know one thing: Effective change management is not about getting everyone onboard and 'happy'.

If you don't regularly hire change resources it might feel like a guessing game with big risk on the line. Let's be honest, the language around change management can sound a bit like psych mumbo-jumbo. That makes it hard to know tangibly what good change management looks and feels like. As you're making progress on the project, how do you know "Are we on track?". 

Project timeline benchmarks to gauge whether you're on track

To establish a timeline, let's first categorize change management activities into two types:

  1. Strategy
  2. Execution

The first phases of a project through the design and build of most technology implementations focus on strategic change activities. This is the time to be assessing, building a plan and establishing the methods through which you'll conduct various involvement and education activities later. 

The strategy phase is when you establish trust and credibility with your audiences through consistency and a clear message.

Throughout the build and testing phases, there should be an increasing number of stakeholders involved in the project through demos, feedback sessions and testing. The project team is collaborating to make sure people issues are brought forward to leaders and the right people are getting their hands dirty in the system.

The mood is generally positive because it's early and there's optimism about the future based on the future vision. This starts changing soon as more stakeholders get involved. 

Individual project team members leading specific work streams will start to demonstrate confidence in explaining the change to others. They will be able to clearly answer 'what' and 'why'. That's important because during this phase of the project there will ideally be open resistance to surface additional barriers.

If you didn't establish a strong foundation during the strategy phase, the cracks in your foundation will begin to appear now. You will not have a core set of advocates who can explain why the change is needed and specific ways it will improve day-to-day life.

The execution phase acts as a magnet to pull more people from 'here' to 'there' through involvement activities. 

The final push of the execution phase is when heavy lifting of building the change materials happens--the communications and training rhythm should already have been established so stakeholders know what to expect.

Training material development is often quite compressed which requires a clear understanding of how much and priority so that if choices need to be made about what should get done first it can be done quickly. One way to alleviate the time crunch is to provide the training resource with additional project management support to help coordinate reviews and manage priorities. This person doesn't necessarily need training experience to provide necessary organizational support in a time crunch.

Closing change resource gaps

If you've found yourself behind on project change benchmarks, you'll need to address change resource gaps. The less time you have to recover, the more experienced a change resource you need to help close the gaps.

Three categories of change resources:

  1. Consultant
  2. Contractor
  3. Internal

A consultant can quickly assess the situation and determine priorities based on past experience. They will have a broad toolkit to draw from and also more accurately be able to direct others in finite tasks. If you're struggling with leadership buy-in, they'll be an ally in coaching at a sponsorship levels. It's most important to have consulting resources during the Strategy portion of your project. This will help you from getting offtrack or recognizing sooner that you're behind.

A contractor is a great resource when projects are clearly defined and well-managed. They do well with predictable, repeatable work and are a cost effective option for ongoing project support. Multiple specialist contractors (ie a communications and/or training professional) can also be helpful to parallel track materials development if the change activities have fallen behind.

Internal resources provide invaluable knowledge on how things get done within the organization. They can help with finite tasks including leadership reviews or communications and training distribution. External consultant and contractors should build partnerships with internal resources even if they will have minimal involvement in the project (it's not a good idea to surprise someone who has the ability to hit 'send' on your go-live announcement).

You might find yourself answering: We need all of the above!

Experience with projects similar to yours is paramount if you need to play catchup. Their past experience will make things faster and they'll be better suited to help you gauge the risks on the table and how to prioritize. 

The takeaway: It's possible to catchup. Get creative in your resourcing. 

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