Is It Possible to Speed Up Change Management?

Tucked away in an interesting post by those mavens of common sense at the Brass Tack Thinking blog, was this almost parenthetical comment:

“In context of someone like a social strategist or someone engaged in shifting the culture and design of a business, it’s important to not only recognize the stages and their characteristics, but their role in helping guide the organization from one phase to the next, and shorten the time from denial to acceptance.”

While the concept is never brought up again in this post about adapting to change in an organization, you hear it more frequently in todays business climate: The idea that acceptance of change is something that works to a timetable and, as such, can be treated as a mechanism, or “milestoned” like a technology deliverable, and speeded up for the convenience of the project outcome and ultimately the organization.

Where you especially hear this is in younger companies, the ones that emphasize above all else the need for entrepreneurial approaches. In the hurry to be nimble, the human aspects of achieving those milestones become lost.

Corporate communicators will spend a good percentage of their careers working on change management efforts and much of our success – and a project’s – depends on our ability to think and plan strategically, message effectively, manage stakeholders, and support training.

In the years since change management first entered the corporate world, new technologies have been developed along with newer and faster ways to implement them. What hasn’t changed is the length of time it typically takes to adopt and adapt to these new ways of working. This is the human piece of the puzzle.

Anything that deals with emotional transition isn’t going to happen overnight, it’s probably not going to fit neatly within the grids of a project plan, and it’s unlikely to take place on a schedule.

Since this is not a case for waiting until the very last employee is in an open state of mind and fully trained to adopt a new system or business process, what do we do? How do we as corporate communicators do our jobs and support both project goals and employees?

A few keys to success:

Build the case with project leaders first
Go back to basics and help them to see and understand why change management programs have been part of large-scale technological and business process transitions in the first place. If important pieces of change management are being removed from the plan – such as the upfront work of establishing relationships with stakeholders or reducing the amount of training time – find the success (or failure) rates of other large change efforts at your company and others (your vendors should be of help here) and demonstrate why it’s critical to keep these deliverables in the program. Once project leaders are on board…

Communicate with the workstream leaders
Ensure the entire project team is operating on the same page.

Work closely with program team members on stakeholder management
Help develop strong two-way communications with stakeholders, understand what they need to know and how they want their information delivered, and don’t surprise them.

Learn who’s on the periphery
As you talk with stakeholders, you may uncover other departments, or even one small workgroup, that will be affected downstream by all of the change. Bring them into your communications plan (even if you have to add their email addresses one-by-one every time you send out a communication) and into the project planning, as well. These employees will not forget what you’ve done for them, which can make them powerful voices supporting the change program to the wider organization.

Team up with the training workstream through the entire project
Do discovery with them, meet the early adopters, know who’s in the bell curve and who’ll be the last across the finish line, edit their training materials. This will help you develop messaging specific to each audience and it will give you a technical edge when communicating about the project (that works both ways: understanding the technical aspects of the program will give communications credibility with employees who are on the front line, working with the new systems and business processes, and it will enable you to explain complex technical information in English to those employees who need to understand what’s going on, but aren’t going to put their hands on the system).