As you are likely aware, most of our key people work virtually at client sites and often in isolation of the team. To operate this way takes a certain level of inner strength and mettle to maintain your assigned role and remain connected to the company. Nowhere is that more challenging than with my sixth in the series of Conversations with a Change Management Executive. Gail Aller-Stead is, without a doubt, the poster child for being self-driven, having mental strength, being calm under fire, and focused on making her client successful, and yet still very much attached to her community of experts here at Watershed CI.
I took the time to reach out this past week and speak with Gail about her work. It’s clear that she’s quite used to being out there on the road. She grew up with her father serving in the Canadian Air Force and he served time with the RAF in Norfolk, UK. Gail has also lived in 8 out of the 10 Provinces in Canada, and so travel is not an unknown factor for her.
PGG: Gail, it’s great to finally catch up with you, and I know your schedule is extremely challenging, so thank you for taking the time to share some insight for our readers today. I’d first like to ask, what have you done to lead change in your current role?
GAS: My current assignment is to deliver organizational change management expertise within a technology program for a utilities company. This means that I am accountable for providing the tools, structures and framework to enable the organization to achieve its three desired outcomes of:
- Speed of adoption (how quickly people take in the changes)
- Utilization (how many of those impacted are doing their jobs correctly as a result of the changes)
- Proficiency (how many of those impacted are performing at the desired levels post go-live of each of the constituent projects in the program’s roadmap).
The challenges of working within a program environment include
- The changes are delivered during multiple instances, across different lines of business, and over an extended time frame (in this case, to 2030)
- The work to ensure the desired changes in behaviour occur, and the supporting culture, structures, systems and processes are in place to sustain these desired changes in behaviour at three levels: project, business, and program
When considering your question about leading change, it’s important for me to mention that the accountability for leading and implementing change rests with the leaders of the organization. In contrast, as a change management specialist, I’m accountable for providing the tools, structures, and frameworks to enable the organization to achieve its desired goals. It’s my job to do whatever I can to help them move from ideas to results. They’re accountable for the results; I’m accountable for 3 core deliverables:
- The design and implementation of an effective, viable, and replicable change management program methodology that can be used over the lifetime of the technology program and the related knowledge transferred and sustained within the organization
- Interventions to strengthen the capacity and impact of sponsors for the technology program to ensure both buy-in and stay-in over the long term
- Interventions to engage, develop trust, collaborate, coach, influence and professionally contribute to the success of the technology program
More specifically, this includes alignment, coordination, and integration of the change management activities:
- Within the technology program at the each of the project levels
- Across all of the technology projects
- Interventions, as required, to achieve the desired rates of adoption, utilization, and proficiency during the lifetime of the technology program that cannot be achieved solely at the project levels
PGG: Thanks for that extremely detailed response Gail, and I particularly liked how you addressed the actual accountability of the leaders of the organization, and that you’re there as a highly-qualified expert to guide and strengthen their efforts.
Now, from time to time, and especially in a larger organization, you may be faced with not knowing everything that you need to address, but I’m of the mind that you get going and that it will all come out as you progress through a project. That may appear somewhat cavalier but how do you lead a change when all the requirements aren’t known?
GAS: I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a change management environment where all the requirements are known at the outset. Just as in project management, you start a change management assignment with certain requirements, but know that they won’t be refined/finalized until further research is undertaken and stakeholders engaged. Things that come to mind for me are to always:
- Take a “whole system” perspective, start with the end in mind and work backwards from there to make things more clear. Ask the questions, do the research, do whatever is required to get clarity on what the desired outcome is, what success will look like, smell like, taste like, and feel like (“The Rock Opera Tommy” if you remember) and then work from there.
- From a technology project side of things, ensure that the metric goes beyond the end of the project – so that it’s both clearly understood and the funding is in the budget to achieve the desired level of adoption, utilization, and proficiency
- Be clear about the stakeholders – the who, how, why, and how much they are impacted by the change
- Be clear about your own philosophy of practice as a change management practitioner. Mine includes:
- Doing no harm (a.k.a. the Hippocratic Oath or for others d’un certain age, Star Trek’s “Prime Directive”)
- Knowing who is my primary client and who are my other clients (even if they are not in the room)
- Starting “where my client is at”, not at where I may want the client to be
- Using a systems thinking approach (Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind”) and knowing at all times in which organizational system/level I’m working.
PGG: Gail, I just have to say that I’m extremely partial to your philosophy of practice, especially your systems-thinking approach (Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind”). I recently wrote a blog on Starting Off On The Right Foot http://bit.ly/2tdFaDU, and that definitely lines up with my own thinking. In fact, your entire answer was filled with what I call experiential components that I feel, even those not in the business, would really understand.
Something very close in context and equally frustrating, can be the need to understand the full impact when the change initiative is unknown, how do you lead a change when the impact of the change is unclear?
GAS: This is something that I choose to formulize as follows:
- Keep a current map of the stakeholders, how they are impacted – and update regularly as the project progresses
- Conduct detailed stakeholder assessments at the beginning, middle, and end and update and validate the stakeholder map accordingly
- Be clear about what other projects and changes, in addition to yours, are affecting these stakeholders (it could very well be that it’s not your “ one-off change” that negatively impacts a stakeholder – it’s the cumulative, sometimes seemingly uncoordinated changes (which includes yours), wave after wave, that can lead to change fatigue and, in turn, negatively affect the successful implementation of your project
- Keep sponsors actively engaged
- Test for metrics
PGG: Now that was precise and surgeon-like. I guess there are times when this kind of discipline is considered the very best approach. Now, before we close off, I have one final rather colourful question for you. It’s bantered around by many people, no matter what side of a change initiative they find themselves on, but based on your personal expertise and experience I’d love our readers to know, how you overcome resistance to change?
GAS: As a mentor a long time ago once said to me, resistance is “normal, natural, and highly predictable”. It’s important to recognize that there will always be a segment of people who will not accept the change. Manage your energy around them and focus elsewhere on moving things forward. Focus on strengthening that 15% critical mass (per Gareth Morgan).
I try to remind myself that “people support that which they help to create” – and encourage my clients to provide (as appropriate and to the extent possible) the affected stakeholders with choices about what they can do related to the change.
Sponsors play a critical role to manage resistance – work with the sponsors to ensure they themselves have both buy-in and stay-in over the longer term. Sometimes sponsors (even those in very senior positions in the organization) aren’t as confident as they would like to be in their roles as sponsors: Do what you can to help set sponsors up for success.
As was mentioned earlier, it’s important to understand the issues and impacts on stakeholders, including change fatigue and how change was handled in the past, empathy and acknowledgment are important. Be honest; acknowledge that some things may not be positive.
Clearly communicate: “What’s changing?”, “What’s not changing?”, and “What do I have to do differently as a result of this change?”
If you are developing a SME (Subject Matter Expert) group to assist with the testing of the new technology (UAT) (User Acceptance Training) and helping with the training of users before go-live, engage those individuals who are identified as resistors.
Keep a force field analysis in your head – be clear of the forces in favour of the change and those against the change. Work to increase the forces in favour of the change and reduce those against the change.
PGG: What a great answer and full of so many nuggets for anyone involved in changing something or other in their lives or as part of their work. Gail, I really appreciate that you’ve taken the hour with me this morning, and I’m positive that our readers will agree with me that it has truly been well worth it.
You’re such a “road warrior” as I know that you’re headed off on yet another extensive road trip, this time, however, with your family in tow. Safe travels to you and everyone, and I look forward to catching up with you in person the next time you’re in Toronto.