Make change personal

Few would disagree that change is a constant, whether in our professional or personal lives. For businesses and society to improve and evolve, change is a necessity. In the world 

of ERP and the change that it brings, a lot of us bear the scars from past implementations and have had valuable lessons, especially around change and business engagement.     

When I started out in business change and training 22 years ago, change was often seen as an additional cost when investing in new pieces of technology. This often led to the perception that change was not central to a programme’s success leading to underestimating the effort required to deliver the adoption promise. More recently, however, this is changing, in part due to lessons learnt but also to the increasing use of SaaS products which drive change and compliance through unsupported products.

Still, getting change right remains a challenge. It is all about getting the balance between ‘turn it on, they will use it and there will be consequences if they don’t’ (enforced compliance) to ‘wow… you’ve spent millions on all this fancy engagement, education and training and they’re still not using it’; and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer that guarantees success.

Understanding what success looks like 

For me, the starting point is framing the end game and understanding what success looks like to the organisation and to the individuals. For example, when I join WW, success for me is losing a few pounds over three months and investing £36 pounds to get there. For others in my group, for their £36 investment they expect a return of several fit point treats and losing at least a stone.

Understanding what success looks like is the first step and it isn’t easy, but the real challenge lies in building awareness and a will to change. Dr John Kotter, an influential thought leader, in his book Leading Change, also identified eight key steps for successful change, also known as Kotter’s eight steps.  A key initial step is to create a sense of urgency, where we must help others see the need for change, or in other words, showing them why they should care. 

Ken (my dad) and his love of household tech

As a kid in the 80s, some of my most nostalgic memories are of Friday nights jumping into Ken’s Citroen BX and heading to the local video rental shop with him to grab one of the latest releases. This was an almost holy Friday night ritual for the whole family, sitting in the living room with our fish and chips and our smug grins watching the latest releases.

Ken was so keen to own a DVD player when they were released in the mid-1990s. However, as a family we could not afford one and had invested in so many VHS videos that Ken made the prudent decision to wait to see if DVDs were reliable and not just a ‘craze’ as some speculated.

Moving to DVDs remained important to Ken, and one day in the late 90s, my mom came home with a Heinz 57 puppy and Ken retaliated with a DVD player. It took us time to build our DVD collection, but it did mean we no longer went to the video shop – a significant change to our Friday night rituals. Nevertheless, Ken’s DVD collection was in pride of place on the dark mahogany display cabinet alongside our favourite family photos.  

Ken always had a desire and will to change to keep up with the latest technology, and this continues today with Alexa and Hive. Ken wasn’t the first to bring these new devices into his home, but he wasn’t far behind. He knew why he wanted to change and the people around him were able to show him what the new world was like. When he could afford it, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the latest trend. 

Ken’s response when a new system was introduced at work was, however, a world apart…

The starting point is framing the end game and understanding what success looks like to the organisation and to the individuals”

Ken’s struggle with new tech at work

Ken spent most of his working career as a body shop manager at a Citroen garage. After he was made redundant in his 60s, he moved to work in Birmingham as a car insurance valuator – he’d go out and assess car insurance jobs. He loved his job until a new mobile device and software was introduced.

Ken found out about the changes from a colleague. He’d told him that the business was implementing the new solution so they could track employees and see how many mistakes they were making. This was not exactly the motivation for change the business was aiming to create.

His return home that evening was something like this  – “if they think they want me to carry one of those new devices around with me so they can track my every move and make me do this new training so I become a robot that doesn’t need to think, I will leave.” Mom’s look of horror said it all.

When he arrived at work next day, a post-it note on his desk told him he needed to attend training on the other side of the city with little notice. His mind was made up, and that same evening he wrote his resignation.

Ken’s fear

At the time, my young mind found it difficult to understand what was going on, other than Ken was having a difficult time at work. Years later I remember asking him why he wrote that resignation letter that evening. He admitted it was mainly about the surprise element, but also feeling like his job was being turned upside down after years of hard work and learning how to do it well. Being faced with similar challenges with my clients, I have asked him: what would he have wanted to happen back then? I got a single sentence back: “I wanted my manager to speak to me and tell me what was happening, and what it meant to me”. 

It sounds so simple when Ken says it, and it has really formed my own motto around change today. For me, it is about always being clear about the ‘why’ and making sure every individual is considered when thinking about change. When I mean every individual, I mean that enough care and thought has gone into understanding why they should change and what’s important to them, to see how we would craft a meaningful change journey that resonates. 

In my experience, no one resists change through bad intent. Instead, I tend to find that it is when individuals do not understand the ‘why’, or through fear, lack of support, change support, or because they feel excluded from the change. I also prefer to frame resistance as the starting point for engagement. After all, it gives you a view of how people feel and helps us understand the challenges ahead! 

Ken was experiencing many of these thoughts and emotions. What would have happened if he understood the reasons for him and the organisation to change?

Ken’s happy ending 

The evening after Ken wrote his letter of resignation, he came home with an inscrutable expression on his face. We all waited to see mom’s reaction while he shared what had happened that day – she always looked intimidating slicing onions with her huge knife while wearing swimming goggles.

Ken recounted his conversation with his manager that day.  He said his line manager was puzzled as to why this was all such a big deal, he went on to explain it was a small change and that Ken would get lots of support. Ken explained it wasn’t small to him and was fundamental to his day-to-day. The line manager apologised and asked what he could do to make Ken reconsider his resignation.

Ken needed this, he needed to know his manager cared. He wanted to hear from management, rather than feeling that the new insurance evaluation tool was a dark secret. Indeed, according to Prosci’s 2020 Best Practices in Change Management business leaders are the preferred senders of organisational messages. Like Ken, 70 percent of employees prefer personal impact messages to come from their line managers.

Long story short, Ken did not hand his notice in that day because that conversation with his line manager spun into the ‘why’ and built his awareness and understanding of the change. Unknowingly that day, Ken was the catalyst for change. His line manager went on to brief the teams, quash the rumours, educate, and train.  He also asked Ken to join a network to help him understand more and he naturally started talking about it to his colleagues.  Ken went on to be the ‘go to’ person for the new insurance tool.

This is why I am passionate about change. Even though it takes a lot of hard work to understand, plan, execute and monitor readiness to successfully drive adoption, it is not a dark art. It starts with the skills most of us already have in our locker: the ability to care, listen, hear, understand, and have conversations. It is the ability to stand in Ken’s shoes and think, how would Ken feel, what would Ken want?   

Rachel Head is head of employee experience and inclusion, Capgemini