Murky Waters: Leading Change with the Unknown and Unclear

When organizations approach change with unknown requirements and unclear impacts they’re often thrown off balance. While apprehension in these circumstances is completely understandable, not knowing how a change initiative will affect an organization is also perfectly normal, as change itself can be unpredictable.

That being said, there are certain ways to tackle these challenges correctly. Let’s start by examining them as two separate, but related issues:

Unknown Requirements

All change management environments have at least some unknown requirements at the outset of a change initiative. Some will be obvious, but others aren’t readily apparent.

In this respect, change management is similar to something more widely understood: project management. Just like project management, there are always certain requirements that won’t be refined or finalized until further research is undertaken and stakeholders are engaged.

* Take a “whole system” perspective, start with the end in mind and work backwards from there to make things more clear.

* Ask questions, do research, do whatever is required to get clarity on what the desired outcome is.

* Define what success will look like for your organization on every level, and then work from there.

Approach things with precision, change requirements need to reflect and benefit the organization as a whole.

* Be clear about the stakeholders – who they are, what their role is, and how much they will be impacted by the change.

* Ensure your change approach aligns with corporate culture and strategic objectives.

Unclear Impact

The unclear impact of change is just as naturally occurring during a transition as unclear requirements. Change affects so many processes and people that knowing an initiative’s full impact is an impossibility.

Moreover, the impact will continue to evolve as the initiative evolves. There are ways to mitigate this that make the uncertainty more manageable, and facilitate more informed decision making, despite the unclear impact.

Communicate with and get to know your stakeholders:

* Keep a current map of stakeholders, how they are impacted, and update them regularly as the project progresses.

* Conduct detailed stakeholder assessments at the beginning, middle, and end of the process; update and validate the stakeholder map accordingly.

* Be clear about what other projects and changes, in addition to yours, are affecting these stakeholders.

It might not be one specific change that negatively impacts a stakeholder – it could be the cumulative impact of organization-wide change. When change seems uncoordinated, with several projects impacting stakeholders at once, it can lead to change fatigue.

* Hidden external projects with unknown impacts might be having a negative effect on the success of your implementation.

* It’s important to take a program, or even portfolio-level view of change within your organization to avoid change fatigue.

Unknown requirements and unclear impacts due to change can be managed with continued communication, developing a solid relationship with your stakeholders, keeping sponsors actively engaged, and regularly testing metrics.

While this, and change itself can seem overwhelming, breaking issues down, or bringing in a dedicated and people focused change management team can help bring further clarity if needed. Unknown and unclear is not impossible.

If you’re perceiving a change initiative in your organization, contact WCI for a personalized solution.  

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