How to reduce business disruption during change

January 18, 2017Stories from the front line

Wing Walker

How to keep the plane flying while you fix it

You’ve heard it before: people hate change. Why? Because it disrupts the status quo. Disruption lives in the DNA of change but if not well-managed and minimised, the extent can be devastating to a business’ day-to-day operations.

You’ve seen it before:

  • distracted sales people hinder revenue
  • frustrated talent walk out
  • gossip and cynical chatter kill productivity
  • output drops and customers suffer

So how can you minimise business disruption when changing your organisation?

Here are a few approaches and tips from our experience:

  1. Change necessitates SOME disruption. Plan for it, talk about it and track it

Project teams often anticipate business disruption but fall short of ensuring all stakeholders are on the same page. Raising awareness of expected disruption to business leaders, middle managers, their direct reports as well as (in some cases) external customers and partners, should be in the scope of the stakeholder engagement and/or communications plan. If a sales leader (under pressure to meet revenue targets) didn’t anticipate her team attending a full days’ training to master the new CRM, she’ll be frustrated and disengaged by the unexpected impact to her revenue-generating team members.

Further, it may be necessary to adjust business plans to clear the runway for disruptive change(s).

        For example:

  • you may need to adjust revenue forecasts,
  • schedule change readiness activities like briefings and training,
  • delaying marketing campaigns,
  • postponing other BAU or transformation initiatives to avoid conflict.

In which case, have you consulted the PMO, CFO and CMO to align plans?

  1. Involve your Change Makers (middle managers)

Consult and listen carefully to your Change Makers – the middle-managers who lead impacted teams. They know their people best hence will have a good idea how to most successfully get them from Point A to Point B with minimal disruption. They will also be custodians of the change solution ongoing, so it is in their interest to ensure change management support is both comprehensive as well as minimally disruptive.

  1. Analyse impacts deeply and broadly for a smooth roadmap

It is important to understand all elements of the solution (new process, product, technology or operating model) and what the workforce must know about it. However, it also means understanding the broader organisational context. There may be other initiatives impacting teams, busy periods (e.g. financial year-end) as well as customer and market shifts on the horizon that the solution hasn’t been fully accounted for. For example, June is usually not a good time to change finance processes or technologies as accounting teams will be frantically rounding out the financial year.

Another common challenge is that new operating models are often designed in secret by shifting boxes around the org chart and reviewing formal processes. Tacit knowledge of impacted individuals – especially those being asked to leave or move around the company – and informal processes may not be considered during design but should be prior to implementation with a rigorous change impact analysis and thorough consultation.

  1. Segment your impacted audiences so you can deliver tailored change content

To maximise relevance, rather than offering a single change delivery solution to a variety of roles, can you modularise content to make it more relevant? For example, one training module for account managers and another for account executives. If needed, some individuals can complete both. The outcome will be more relevant content delivered with less time sacrificed by the impacted teams (reduced BAU disruption). Change teams tend to create blanket change content to save themselves time, but is it not better to save hundreds of hours among many impacted users?

  1. Ensure your leaders (and nobody else) provides context and clarity 

Uncertainty fuels disruption by breeding gossip, speculation and extended ‘water-cooler conversations.’ Such guessing can seriously hurt productivity, reduce sales revenue and even result in talent loss. Leaders must be supported to share context, candidly explaining why the change must occur while providing clarity with specifics about the change and how it impacts people, including what’s not changing. An overly simplified example of including specifics is as follows:

Context: “We need to upgrade our systems and processes to meet our customer’s demands for greater speed and simplicity in our sales and service process.”

Clarity: “To meet customer needs we will replace A system with B system. You will continue to use X system for Y processes. Click below to register to attend the mandatory four-hour training course by Z date.”

  1. Invest in building organisational change capability prior to the change

Most organisations simply don’t have sufficient capability to balance their business-as-usual responsibilities with learning and adapting to new technology, processes and operating models. It may be that they under-invest in capable change management practitioners and advisers or that their business leaders do not possess a consistent, high degree of change leadership capability (or Change Intelligence as we call it at Blue Seed).

Studies indicate the ~15% of total project budgets should be invested in change management. Change management budgets typically cover change management practitioners, training content, trainers, promotional collateral and media. However, these resources and material focus solely on delivering awareness, desire and knowledge to impacted frontline employees for specific projects. And that’s not enough.

Change Makers – the direct supervisors of impact employees – play the most powerful role in determining whether the change sticks. Hence they should be trained and supported so they have the capability to ensure adoption and commitment of their team members in the long-run. This will also build a ‘change culture’ within the organisation which leads to rapid, more effective change-making in future.

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