I’m currently kicking off two big cultural change initiatives for my clients. As these programmes affect the reputation of each of the organisations, they are strategically important and carry significant risks if they fail. Therefore, I am applying change management best practice to my approach.
Whilst Change Management is all about relationships with people, best practice for me includes a structured approach to identifying and planning the change. This structure is a repeatable pattern, because change is emergent. Initial ideas are always better when they are reviewed and amended in response to feedback, so my approach encourages this regular review.
Initial scoping and planning of the change
For these cultural change programmes, there is a lot of work to define the scope and to create a compelling vision of how things should work in the future, exploring what we think of as 21st century leadership and a 21st century working environment.
We are holding workshops with volunteers from all levels in the organisation to define how they want to work including the values and principles that will underpin their processes, priorities and how they engage with each other.
We use the workshops to run scenarios to try to experience how these principles will apply in practice. We brainstorm the different situations that they face as part of their working lives and examine how a value manifests itself in their behaviour and the behaviour of their colleagues.
Nothing surprising so far but there is something else I add into these workshops which isn’t always popular…
Taking change planning to the next level
I ask the participants to search out possible side effects and unintended consequences of the change. It is not easy to ask a group of people excited and motivated by the vision they have created to consider how their good intentions might be misinterpreted, but I think it is vital. It is naive to assume that everyone will be delighted by a change in how things are done.
Before I ask people to come up with ideas for the programme we are working on I remind them of the many unintended consequences we experience for ourselves. These are two examples that I have used this week to illustrate what I mean by ‘unintended consequences’:
• My first example is the UK adoption of an online vehicle taxation service. Before, drivers had to apply by post for a tax disc that they displayed in the car windscreen. Now they can pay and register online which simplifies the process but has led to an increase in untaxed vehicles. As there is no tax disc displayed, informal checks by traffic police and parking wardens are no longer carried out, so there is less incentive to tax your car.
• British Airways has adopted a group number for boarding planes instead of economy, business class act based on how much you paid for your seat and your membership if their loyalty scheme. Sounds sensible but members of the same family can end up in different groups boarding the plane at different times. A poor customer service outcome that was not a desired outcome of the change.
For one of my programmes, I am working on creating a culture of anti-bullying. Sounds like everyone would be in favour but of course those doing the bullying might not be so keen! However, I am also worried about creating an unintentionally sensitive culture. We don’t want good managers to be scared to delegate work in case they are accused of being dictatorial and bullying their junior staff. We don’t want to banish good hearted banter in the office and shared jokes because people are too scared of saying the wrong thing.
By highlighting these potential side effects, I encourage those in my workshop to review their vision from different angles. An effective way to do this is to ask people to review the vision from the perspective of someone who thinks the programme is an unnecessary waste of time and effort. From this you can usually get ideas about how the positive statements in the Vision might be interpreted differently.
Asking what the consequences and knock on effects are of your change programme is a good thing. I know it feels like you are risking the enthusiasm of those involved but it is more realistic to examine your vision and scope from all angles than to assume everything that we plan to happen will work out exactly as we hope.
If we understand how our change might be interpreted differently to our intention, it enables us to widen the scope to include these ideas (if they are positive) or take action to mitigate the risks (if they are negative).
Please share your experiences of unintended consequences. I am sure between us we can create a pool of useful examples.