Change. It has the potential for growth in the face of accelerated technological advancement. But employees are only human and we tend to resist change. As the skills gap yawns, how do we help people get past the resistance and into action? How do we then get them into constant adaptations of change to help our businesses to survive?
That’s the pressing question we took on at this year’s Learning Technologies Summer Forum. A panel consisting of myself, Jane Armytage of Athena Professional and William Wright of adaptomy brought to bear some of our subject matter expertise to answer questions from the audience. You can watch the results here.
There were some fascinating questions, but time was limited thanks to what I’m sure was an extremely interesting vendor LMS demo following us. That’s why, after the event, we ran a vote to find out which of the unanswered questions you most wanted our views on. Here are the top 3 in reverse order.
1) With change moving so quickly, quicker than humans learn themselves, how do you measure success? Especially in learning?
Ultimately, success is measured by increased business performance. That’s something that L&D departments need to understand better – and to prioritise. The metrics must be clearly thought out and provide real insight. This involves HR and L&D really understanding the day-to-day business concerns, how people do things in their roles and how the new changes will impact them on a day-to-day basis.
Partnering with the business to understand performance indicators and what types of evidence and data is available to measure that change has been embedded is key, but it’s also difficult and takes some time to think through. If done with rigour, however, it can influence the change strategy positively and increase effectiveness.
There are also, in some instances, unintended consequences of a change programme and it’s important to accept, identify and measure those as well.
Change can take time to embed, so how long you test for and what patterns of action reveal themselves during that time can also be really useful in determining more targeted interventions, or key milestones or events that lead to change adoption. This is vital to understanding ongoing change programmes and providing a barometer for the future.
However, change programmes themselves need to be better defined. That means specific milestones of incremental change and more agile checkpoints to ensure that change is being measured incrementally and strategy is adjusted accordingly.
To measure the effectiveness of the learning in a change programme, it’s key in to remember that humans forget. Our attention spans are short, and systems and processes don’t touch our hearts either. So, find the right combination of learning interventions and the intrinsic motivations for employees to change. Make it easy to adopt new processes and systems to get a higher measurement of success than rolling out the standard supplier’s training.
For example, traditionally on a new system implementation, we might do face to face training 3 months before go-live followed by elearning a few weeks prior to system changes followed by direct intervention from floor walkers or champions in the first few weeks after go-live. Sound familiar?
We all know that as people we learn by doing and training that is not applied quickly in practice is forgotten almost within the first few days. eLearning for systems training is usually generic as it has to cover a large population and teaches everyone the whole system when they may only need to know 10% of it. Floor walkers and champions tend to be in short supply in the weeks following changeover and by that time frustration, friction and disappointment set in so it’s an even harder mountain to climb to achieve adoption. By this time, employees are looking for more creative ways to bypass the system than use it.
The best way to make people constantly learn and adapt is to counteract resistance by making the thing you want people to do frictionless. So, look at ways each person’s role can be made easier, more exciting, more interesting by the change and capitalise on that. Use notifications, reminders and modify everyday language to embeds the change.
Making learning fun, in the moment and making it part of the culture shifts mindset, creates resilience and increases job satisfaction. For example, one of Saffron’s key metrics for our team leads is to look at whether people are using their time in the most effective manner and whether they are getting to things that are important to the organisation. We use the Franklin Covey productivity model and so its when we hear people asking each other whether this is a Q2 activity (i.e. important, but not urgent), is when we know that we are moving people from being “busy” to being productive, creative and focused on our strategy.
2) What do you do when change has already started but got off on the wrong foot due to poor communication?
In my experience, when this happens, that’s when leadership is really needed. Admitting failure in a genuine and authentic way makes people trust again and want to get involved in putting it right. Most people are not averse to change if they can see their own place within it, and more importantly if they have been architects of that change and their opinions are taken on board.
Failure is another concept that needs to be understood within an organisation as a potential positive. Harnessing failure and having a tolerance for it (within a manageable risk framework) can unleash creativity as people are no longer afraid of the consequences of failure. We wouldn’t have the humble post-it note but for a failed adhesive.
However, failures need to be turned around quickly. Harnessing people’s perspectives within the organisation to learn from the reasons and involve them in the strategy that has been jointly created to move forward in an accelerated fashion.
3) How do you implement a change in culture when the industry you’re in is very traditional (e.g. legal or banking) and often resists any disruption?
Both Jane and Will answered this quite thoroughly in the video above, in terms of starting top-down change for more traditional organisations and using the customer (and revenue increase) to gain buy-in, but it was the most requested follow-up question, so I’ll add my perspective.
In these circumstances, I think it’s vital to get the leadership team on the same page and moving together in unison on a change strategy. Teams can easily see disharmony in the senior ranks and then start to question the strategy themselves.
The way that I have seen it work best in the Big 4 is through facilitated and open coaching sessions with the senior leaders. This draws out personal concerns, deals with barriers to adoption and engenders trust. The trouble here is that the success of this largely depends on the quality of the facilitated trainer or change agency and the ability to get senior team members away from their phones and laptops and focused on the issues at stake. Here again is where using intrinsic motivators is key to getting that buy-in and focus.
When it works, it can be truly amazing. I was lucky to witness it first hand, with a group of over 100 partners that were, by the end of the two days of coaching, motivated, excited and felt privileged to be part of the new history of the firm; determined to leave the firm in better shape for future generations. We were motivated by a purpose beyond profit.
So there we have it, your three most popular change management questions answered. Got any more burning questions about change for me or the other members of the panel? Just get in touch and we’ll be happy to answer them.