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Can change be measured?

One of the things I find difficult about my job is to explain to clients why successful change management cannot be measured through change deliverables such as a change management plan, the number of change workshops delivered, the number of communications done or the % enrollment in training programs.

I’m sure that some people would argue that a change initiative is successful when you have a clear view on where you want to go and a detailed change approach of how to get there with planned workshops, dedicated communications, a proper training and development plan and/or individual coaching tracks.

Whilst the above are certainly relevant elements to ensure a change initiative is executed according to a specific change methodology, to me they are not in any way criteria to identify the success of the initiative. To me, the way to measure the success of change initiatives is to ask yourself a simple question: Did people move from the old situation to the new one and if yes, what is their degree of motivation and engagement in the new situation?

Real life cases.

Let’s apply the logic to some real life cases:

#1 – A cost reduction program

A company active in banking services worldwide is struggling to deliver a cost reduction program. Whilst new processes are put in place to ensure people spend less on traveling, small IT utilities and goodies for customers, they notice that employees still follow their old buying behaviors and subsequently costs don’t go down. We decide to go for a change approach were we interview employees first, then train them on the new buying tools and notice that costs go down. Does the above show proof that the change took place? It seems like it, doesn’t it? The answer is that you don’t know unless you talk to your employees again. The costs may have gone down simply because less buying was done. The question to check here is: are employees comfortable using the new buying tools and has their buying behavior changed? Therefore: even if the deliverables seem to be there, always check with the people concerned how they feel and whether their behavior has changed, it’s the only way to know for sure and to make sure the change is sustainable.

# 2 – Training as a cure to the problem

A large European retail company notices a strong increase in long term absenteeism combined with a strong reduction in employee engagement. To understand what is causing this the change team interviews employees who indicate they are overloaded, that their managers don’t allow them to take a day off when they need it and approve holiday requests only a couple of days before the actual holiday takes place. On top of that once a day off is approved, it is often cancelled which makes it difficult for them to recover from the long days and high workload. A change initiative is put in place in combination with a review of the planning processes. However, along the way it is decided to reduce the change support and focus primarily on training managers in the new planning processes. All managers are enrolled for the training so they understand the new planning process. Is it safe to assume the change took place? It actually isn’t. It’s impossible to know for sure without checking with the employees whether they are now able to take a day off when they need one and whether they are more engaged with their work because they feel comfortable their holidays aren’t cancelled anymore. The key here is the behaviors of the managers as they know about the new planning process but do they apply it?

 What can you do to make sure people involved in change management focus on the right things:

  • Explain the difference between the change deliverables as a way to assess the change methodology and the feelings and behaviors of people as the real deliverables to measure the success of the initiative
  • Mention that the change is only happening when people express their feelings and that anger, sadness or any other feeling is often the outome of a change action as it allows a basis for further discussion and moving away from a situation that was blocked. In that sense Talking Circles are not just to openly talk but to give support when needed and to make people aware of their respsonibilities. Talking Circles don’t lead to new Talking Circles but to people taking actions because they are finally able to get out of the imobile state they were in because they were emotionally closed off or frustrated and this was strongly impacting their performance.
  • Tell people to change the agenda when they notice people aren’t expressing feelings or are disconnected during a change initiative. Ask the audience what they wish to discuss and connect with them. Surprise them when asking questions or involved them to speak in front of others. Keep them moving and interested!
  • Clarify how you will be able to measure whether a change initiative is successful : it is when you see people move in the direction that you envisage measured by their reactions, their feelings, the degree of resistance and information they share with you. You feel it when changes are taken place, often not knowing what causes the difference in dynamic.
  • Ensure your debrief after each change initiative contains the following elements: people reactions to the change (who was angry, happy, disconnected, …), type of communication to be done (what type of message, what language, …), interpersonal elements to consider (ensure people are addressed differently in function of their feelings, role, etc..) , speed and tone of voice, degree of connection made with the audience by the leader, degree of vulnerability shown by both the leader and the audience, …

Change is not driven by projects, methodologies, deliverables or fixed agenda’s… it focusses on people and their feelings as human beings. It is about making a connection with what’s really happening on the inside. You can use change methodologys to provide feedback but just make sure you cover the interpersonal reflections in there.

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