Change Management: The Impact Of Now

Understanding the Impact

Many organizations understand Change Management to include communications and “how to’s” deployed to educate employees on the new norms. Although there is a place for this on many projects, this is a common misconception about the role and scope change management experts play in transformation projects. A workplace transformation project includes not only a change in the physical work environment, but also requires a new way of working for the employees. While not all organizations may be change mature, it’s important for all organizations to be honest about the impact of change and expectations on the employee. It’s just as important to engage a change management team early in the process, so organizations don’t find themselves trying to throw money at the problem to remediate a failing workplace transformation project.

When starting any project, it is easy to stumble into a conversation about what is changing without appropriately evaluating why it is changing. Understanding the current state before diving into solutions for the future state will help an organization identify the actual behaviors that need to change for the project to succeed. Developing this understanding is part of conducting the change impact assessment. As per the ACMP’s Standard for Change Management the definition of a change impact assessment is an in-depth, research driven document which outlines “How people, processes, technology and the workplace are affected during the transition from the current state to the future state”. Not only is the change impact assessment an integral part of the project due diligence, but it also helps an organization anticipate ups and downs, helps change practitioners develop strategies with a history of success and helps employees feel like they are truly supported.

Charles Kettering was incredibly insightful when he said, “people are very open-minded about new things, as long as they’re exactly like the old ones.” It is natural for people to want to see ‘the familiar’ in any change, as it provides a sense of psychological safety. In 2015, Google released the results of a two-year internal study which found that teams with higher rates of perceived psychological safety were better than other teams at implementing diverse ideas and driving high performance. If performance is dependent on a change in behavior, then psychological safety is a requirement. Instead of trying to get employees open-minded about the ‘new’ workplace model consider getting them open-minded about the limitations of their existing workplace model first.

Applications in use:

We were engaged on a workplace transformation project where our client had gone through a comprehensive workplace strategy process to determine their future space and people strategy. This strategy, aligned to the company’s vision and goals, set the course for how the organization would be growing, and supported how employees do their best work.

As we started our change management assessment for the project, we found that the average satisfaction ratings of the existing workplace and its conditions garnered no less than 3.2 out of 5. It was clear that employees were already pleased with the space they had and were uninterested in any degree in change, both operationally and in their physical workplace. Rumors were already spreading about the change amongst employees and talks about recent publications on ‘open plan’ and ‘alternative workstyles’ were brewing.

There was a desire to jump in, be reactive and begin communicating the benefits of their future workplace such as increased collaboration, community and happy employees. These benefits, while a feel-good story, wouldn’t justify the shift in workplace strategy because employees were already happy and felt engaged in their current environment. Furthermore, these benefits revealed nothing about the actual impact to staff day to day—what staff had to think, feel and do differently in order to realize these benefits. Therefore, rather than being reactive we began by hosting casual roundtables with employees to ask questions such as:

  • When you get stuck on a work-related task, who do you go to?

  • Who do you speak to for advice?

  • Do you receive more helpful responses from people via email, in person, meetings, phone?

  • Why do you share the information the way you do? Has it always been that way?

  • What does innovation look like? How does it happen?

  • If you had a great idea about a new service offering who would you speak to?

  • How many people have overheard a conversation from the next cubicle? What was the conversation about?

  • Do you think your cubicle neighbor would have overheard your conversations?

  • Tell me about the different private & confidential conversations you need to have throughout your day.

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