Preparing People for Organizational Change

Organizational change will always be an endless journey and this journey will always be personal and unique. This post from a couple years ago mapped out a possible path people may navigate through an Agile change journey and just how unique this experience can be.

Many organizations expect a “point a” to “point b” route when introducing change into their system. Introduce a specific change framework or select the latest “methodology of the day,” hire a fleet of coaches and consultants and in no time at all we will arrive safely at our destination of cultural and productive bliss.

But things get messy. A plan rarely survives real-life. The straight line never stays very straight. This environment of change, uncertainty, and ambiguity is often unsettling to many (including myself at times).

So, how can you prepare people for this winding road of change? Can we prepare them at all? While you will never be able to calm every nerve or address every concern, can we help people become more comfortable with the discomfort of change?

As a participant, leader, and coach, I have been involved in introducing change to many large companies and when I sense I am around someone who is nervous or anxious about the road ahead, I have a couple of topics I bring up in my conversations with them.

Shifting to an active voice as if I would be talking directly to someone, here are some of the things I bring up:

Enter with eyes wide open. Understand and accept this will not be easy and there may be days that don’t go very well. Days when nothing seems to be working and you would like to rip every task card off the wall. Days when you just don’t get it and want to fall back on existing habits and processes. This is all normal and a good sign you are human like the rest of us. While this will be exciting, I can guarantee there will be periods of confusion, questioning, fun, camaraderie, extreme productivity, and stalled efforts…perhaps all in the same day.

Soak it all in. Pull from a variety of sources and learn about well-functioning organizations and collaborative methodologies. Learn about Lean Thinking, Kanban, Scrum, and The Lean Startup. Discover elements of the change being introduced and study those as well. Begin to understand the roles and processes we are introducing and more importantly, why we are doing them. Learn about companies doing some of the things we are trying to implement. For example, find out how Facebook does automated testing and how 37signals delivers products as fast as they do.

Experiment. Treat everyday as a set of experiments. Take what you have learned, studied, and experienced in the past, mix things together, and create new experiences. Change is what you make it. What I have learned is I have enjoyed change the most when I made it an adventure.

Start to wander. Venture into other teams and other areas of the organization introducing their own change and see what is working for them or hear what they are struggling with. Often change is started in small waves of pilots. Not sure how the pilots are progressing? Talk to someone actively engaged on one and hear their story. Show up at a daily stand-up meeting and see how team interaction will be working in the future. Curious about the new Scrum Master role? Meet with one them over coffee and see how it’s done.

Going backwards. Or sideways. Or diagonal. Embrace the fact that this journey is uniquely yours. Just because someone else seems to have “gotten it” and you haven’t is ok. Frustration is natural but keep moving and stay engaged. The enemy to any movement is a lack of energy or an increase in apathy.

Please note, this post does not suggest an approach for calming the nerves during an organizational re-structuring when people are let go or removed from their job. It is not easy (or possible?) to prepare people for this type of change.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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