Change Management and the Twilight Saga

By Scott Franklin
As appeared in Learning to Change

One of my guilty pleasures is reading (and re-reading) the Twilight series (which is not something I share with a lot of people, so feel free to judge, but please don’t tell). One of my favorite sections is when the Cullens are preparing for the climactic visit from the Volturi. As the Cullens gather friends, the friendly and the curious, they are joined by Siobhan, an Irish vampire who is believed to have the psychic ability to envision an outcome and then will it so. While she defers her success to good planning, the leader of the Cullen clan encourages her to indulge his wishes to envision a peaceful outcome.

While the ability to psychically control the outcome of a situation directly is beyond us mere mortals, what is possible is to foresee obstacles and plan well. In change management, two activities are important to ensure successful outcomes.

The first of these activities is to isolate the technical aspects of the change and then clearly envision the people aspects. Recently I was working with a project team to implement a new employee performance management system. This project included a number of new process and technology changes including a new workflow system, revised evaluation metrics and online progress tracking and reporting. The team was intently focused on the design, development and training aspects until one comment caught my ear – “It seems like we implement a new performance management system every three years.” As we discussed the reasons behind the change, the team referred to surveys where employees and managers felt the current system was cumbersome, opaque and arbitrary. In order to ensure the team could clearly envision the people challenges, I asked the question “So, how much of the total success will be achieved if the managers and employees simply use the new system without changing the quality of the performance discussions?” Eventually, the team decided that 30% of the success depended upon correctly using the system and 70% depended upon improving the quality of the discussions between the managers and the employees. When we reviewed the project plan, 90% of the plan was dedicated to the technical design, development and delivery of the performance management system and 10% (mostly in roll-out training) to the people side – quite a mismatch compared to the success requirements. Without a rebalancing, they are most likely destined to stay on their three year cycle.

The second activity is to clearly envision the human obstacles to success. Do we honestly believe that the majority of the people impacted will respond with “Finally. What took you so long?” or “Sure. Whatever you need me to do.”  Or will we be met with slightly less enthusiasm? Envisioning the reaction/reception of the changes is a powerful exercise that encourages the team to take a more realistic look at what they should expect. There are three groups that this can be performed with:

  1. The project team: The project team is the most accessible group and requires the least amount of preparation. Execution-wise, this can be performed in an afternoon by getting the team together to create three lists of expected resistance from leadership, management and employees. Invariably, the team identifies a number of likely points of resistance that can be anticipated and avoided.
  2. The employees: Since they are usually the primary impacted group, they can provide a clear insight into real-world concerns and hesitation (assuming they are clear on the changes proposed).
  3. The supervisors: This is the preferred group to provide insights for a couple of reasons. First, they know they will be expected to both continue to meet the day-to-day operations AND manage the impacts of the change and can most readily articulate what it is going to be like to pull it off. Second, they know their employees the best and can quickly envision their reactions and resistance to the changes. Often, they have a better view of the employees’ responses than the employees themselves in that the supervisors know whether they will be facing a ceremonial push-back or a full-blown mutiny!

Research, surveys and experience have shown that much, if not most, of the resistance to a change can be eliminated through foresight and appropriate action. Resistance is a natural reaction to change – in fact, the lack of resistance usually indicates that either 1) they don’t believe the change will occur or, 2) they don’t believe the change impacts them. We don’t want to hide or ignore resistance. We want to identify, address and move past it.

Much like Siobhan and the Cullens, performance coaches have long recognized the value of “envisioning the future”. Professional golf coaches exhort their clients to “see the shot”. Stephen Covey stated in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that all things are created twice – once in the mind and then again in reality. In change management, we should give equal time to seeing the future (and then creating it) and to also see the obstacles and plan accordingly.

 

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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