Helpful Change Agent Skills
Process improvement at its most fundamental is about organizational change. And the application and management of change, as a major consideration in the business world, is more essential than ever. Today, technologies and technological capabilities are evolving at such a rapid, pervasive rate that businesses, even those not labeled as technology companies, have to continually deal with the choices, challenges, and strategy shifts that constant change brings. The considerations that revolve around change management have been pressed to stay up with the speed of the change in business environments. Change management and change agency are now more than ever seen as strategic considerations in many companies. And since process improvement begins with change, the same considerations might well be recognized when you begin such an initiative.
As with all change, when you begin to introduce process into a group, you may face varying degrees of resistance, frustration, insecurity, doubta host of reactions. To help minimize these and make the way smoother for your program's acceptance and adoption, here are some tips to help you usher in change.
Effective change management begins with professional readiness. Whenever you introduce something new into an organization, it is, by default, unproven and so it is usually open to wide scrutiny. In the technology field, where the "latest and greatest" is all too often overhyped, this can be especially true. And so you should not move prematurely to introduce your new process program. It's important to make sure that it is professionally ready to go. That's not to say it has to be perfect from the outset (no one should expect it to be). But it does need to be in a solid state, ready to be used to the extent it was purposed for.
To begin, it's important to check that your program components are in place, that they are complete (even in an early form), and that they are well-organized. These components will likely be the first elements that the various groups experience about your program. So they need to show that they have been carefully considered, and from a presentation perspective, they should appear polished. Resist sending them out into the world if the components are incomplete, if they might appear to look thrown together, or if they contain errors or omissions (even slight ones) that might confuse users or give the impression they have yet to be finalized.
Look for the same level of readiness for your process support teams. At this stage, they will probably know the program components well enough, but they still need to be well versed in the plan to roll the program out into the organization. You can start here by making sure the rollout plan is in place and that you and the teams have thoroughly reviewed it. Then check that the individual team members each understand their different jobs, that they are ready to work with the various groups in a supportive way, and that they have the resources they need to carry out their jobs.
Finally, professional readiness extends to overall organizational readiness. It's important that this rollout go as smoothly as possible. To support this, double-check that the schedule and the implementation activities have been communicated to the right people and that they are indeed expecting the rollout as planned.
If you can demonstrate this level of readiness, your process program will communicate a valuable sense of professional preparedness, helping it to make a good first impression in the organization and giving it the weight it needs to take hold and make a lasting contribution.
At its most fundamental, effective change management is all about communications, communications that are as open and full. Ironic as it may seem, it's easy to talk about open communications; it's more difficult to practice it. But when it comes to change, nothing can replace good communications. It is essential that you and your management are able to communicate the purpose, reach, and scope of your process initiative with the organization. By the time the program is being rolled out, you'll want the various impacted groups in your shop to be cognizant of what changes are coming. There are several ways to help bring this about.
As your program is taking shape, you can arrange to host high-level orientations and use these to introduce the program to various working groups. You might also make arrangements to host smaller, less formal sessions, maybe even one-on-one, with some of your team members who are then able to move about the organization, educating folks as they go.
You might also publish information about the program through established corporate communication vehicles, like an intranet site, newsletter, or even break-room bulletin boards.
If you can create an open-door environment around your programone that emphasizes access, attention, and management supportpeople will typically show a degree of deference to your efforts.
An Ear for Feedback
Change can sometimes be interpreted as negative even when it delivers positive outcomes in the workplace. This reversal of fortune usually occurs when change movement is one-sidedthat is, when change is pushed into the organization one way with little regard for the groups being pushed on. That's why effective change agents actively seek out feedback when introducing change elements.
Perhaps even more important is the attitude that what you're introducing might not be in its final, best form. Having such an open ear to feedback is a valuable technique for successfully introducing change. When you introduce your process program, understand that people will naturally want to question it, comment on it, probably even adjust it. When the response to this is frustration or (worse) silence, channels of communication may quickly shut down. That can set up a hurdle that could be hard to get over, especially if it's not well mitigated.
So as you roll out your program, do it in a way that invites feedback. Listen to the people who will be using the program. Take comments from the field seriously. Acknowledge that the people on the front line, actively engaged in the daily business activities, may know quite a bit about how things might work best. Allow time to analyze and develop this feedback and incorporate what you practically can into the new program. This will help instill a sense of authorship and ownership for the program throughout the organization.
The process program you build for your organization will likely reach into multiple areas of the organization. And whether it's a large or small program, it will touch many people's jobs. These people will be required to use the program, to shape it over time, to ultimately shepherd its benefits into fruition. But this can't happen simply by turning the program over to its intended audience. Audience adoption, while a primary and essential ingredient for any successful program, takes time to develop, and one of the best ways for that adoption to percolate up is for you and your process teams to actively participate in the institutional use of the program from the time its introduced until that time comes when the targeted groups have come to own it completely (and then you should still be around as support to help these groups refine the program).
The active participation of the process group across program implementation serves to show that the organization is committed to the program, that the idea is not a one-off or a toss-off but is strategically backed by management, funded by management, and seen as an ongoing component of business operations.
This participation delivers two distinct benefits. First, it's a very effective way to socialize the program within the organization through the individuals that make up your team. That way, the program becomes, in a very real way, a people program, not a paper program. On top of that, it establishes an open avenue for feedback and improvement ideas; it builds a channel not only for supportive adoption but for refinement as well.
Coaching and Mentoring
Another important trait of effective change management is change support. Introducing well-designed, professional change into an organization is only one objective of a larger mission. Another one, just as important, is to provide the support that change needs in order for it to become the norm. In line with this, you might consider providing coaching and mentoring services for your process program. The various work groups that will initially be adopting your program will probably need to adjust (to some degree) their way of doing business. Business as usual may not be as usual anymore. There will be questions. People may need prompting and reminders. They'll probably welcome as much help as you can give them.
If you can show that you support these teams, chances are they'll adopt the new ways much more readily than if they had little or no support. Many organizations forget the importance of this. Once they put a program "out there" (as if "out there" were someplace else), they assume it's the group's responsibility to take it on. That might be technically true, but it's not very amenable to effective change.
A better course is to back up the rollout with the same kind of technical support you would employ when rolling out any other technology solution. For process programs, two ways to do this are with coaching and mentoring.
Coaching is usually positioned as a support oversight role. A good coach will need to be pretty much an expert on your process program, or at least expert in specialized areas. She should know the playbook and should be able to provide guidance on the program, how it works, and how to use it. Coaches usually serve something of an off-field role. They should be available when groups are getting ready to embark on process activities, helping them prepare for and plan these activities. They should help point the groups in the right direction and ensure that the groups feel comfortable with what they have to do and how they have to do it. The coaches should strive to be accessible, and when called on, they should provide ready and supportive assistance.
Mentoring is more of an on-field support role, not oversight as much as it is foresight. Coaches are available and ready to lend a hand, and all along they can be observing how the play is going. Mentors are typically actively engaged in the progress of the program. They are assigned to working groups so that the members of the groups can learn by following the lead of one already proficient in the tasks at hand. The fourfold role of the mentor is very similar to that of the coach, but in each activity, it is applied in a more direct way.
Your mentors will usually be selected from inside of the working groups. Their level of knowledge about the business and about the process program needs to be just as strong and just as thorough as that of the coaches, but the mentors will need to be positioned to take an active role in carrying out the jobs. In this light, they provide guidance to the use of the process program not simply by explaining the program but by moving through the activities of the program with the groups. Mentoring is coaching by showing, coaching by doing. Because of this, most organizations find that mentoring is a highly effective way of transferring knowledge. It provides hands-on experience for the junior parties, bolstering on-the-job training with senior-level knowledge and experience.
The mentors should not only educate by example but should also provide a constant and reliable sounding board for members of the working groups, ready to offer assistance and advice either in groups or one-on-one. And finally, as with the coaches, the mentorsand perhaps especially the mentorsshould provide feedback to the working groups and the process program teams on the effectiveness of the program.
Combined together, coaching and mentoring help smooth the transition in an organization from one state to another. That makes it an activity that is supported and coordinated through inside involvement, in-depth knowledge, and recognized leadership.
Visible Executive Interest
Earlier in this chapter, I discussed the scope and importance of establishing executive sponsorship for your process program. Executive sponsorship provides the leadership, authority, resources, and visibility needed for the program's success. All of these are important, but in terms of effective change agency, visibility may be the key.
Change can sometimes feel like a lonely thing. When you're working for an organization doing your day-to-day job and a host of new objectives, expectations, and procedures seem to descend upon you, you can feel a bit isolated. You might start looking around for support. If that support is not there, you might decide just to stay with the familiar day-to-day stuff. So part of management's job is to understand this aspect of change and to make itself visible as active change agents.
This need for visibility applies to your process program, too. Throughout the course of its developmentthrough its planning, design, and on to its rolloutyou, as the program champion, and your executive sponsor should place yourselves squarely in the open, moving the program always into the light.
The success of your program, especially its acceptance during its introduction, will rely heavily on your visibility, moving with the program as it moves into the organization. Take this as an opportunity to spread your knowledge of process and its advantages into new domains. Use it to promote the ability of the program to enhance business objectives. Link it to future growth and development. If you have built the program to tie closely with the needs of the business and to reflect and complement the way your people work, the program should almost certainly be successful.
Patience Not Perfection
A central tenet of process management is that improvement should come gradually, over time, with acquired knowledge and experience.C That's a good approach to take with any type of change. Trying to do too much too soon may result in achieving little or nothing at all. Too much change at one time can tend to overwhelm people; in the midst of other duties they may not be able to properly absorb new information or new expectations. Effective change agents understand this, and so they put a particular emphasis on patience. It's not practical to assume that a new program, any new program, will enjoy seamless integration into an organization. And so it's better to begin slowly, to take on a change mission as series of discrete objectives. Small steps toward success will over time lead to full success. This is helpful to remember for your own process program.
Keep the long-term advantages of your program always in mind, but don't strive for perfection right out of the gate. Introduce new elements gradually, giving people the chance to absorb, practice, and grow comfortable with new ways. Measure progress in incremental steps. Your patience here sends two supportive signals. First, it tells the people that you're aware of the energy required to integrate change and that you're going to manage that as effectively as you can. You don't want to overburden anyone. Second, it shows that you'll be patient with gradual progress, that your expectations are realistic, and that management will be satisfied with progress, even if it's gradual as long as it's steady.
Change management should always be considered when introducing a process program into any organization. Awareness of the principle of change management will provide you and your teams with, at the very least, the kinds of considerations you should take into account when you wish to modify the business activities in a business environment. When it comes down to basic assumptions, you can safely bet that your process program is going to change how people work. Hopefully this change will be for the better: people's jobs will become more productive, more streamlined, maybe even easier. To get to that point, however, you should keep the human factor always in mind. You'll find, as with everything, that the best way to make change for people is to make change with people.