Monday, February 24, 2014

Weekly Tip; Be open about the fact it will get worse before it gets better

I've been lucky enough never to break a bone, but I remember someone from college who broke the arm they wrote with, and it was pretty close to exam time! They did adapt, but their skill of writing didn't quite catch up with their other arm. Why? Well their arm healed and they went back to the old way of working with their regular writing hand.

Some customers of change feel like they have a broken arm when change is imposed on them. To illustrate this, have you ever seen a post declaring that they will never use Facebook again because of the new layout or change in privacy policy? Usually, in a short space of time, this is forgotten and those same individuals are back sharing their lives on Facebook as they were before.

What is difference between a broken arm and Facebook functionality?


If you want to continue using Facebook, you have no choice but to suck it up and get on with it. Most business change has a key issue, it is possible, once the dust settles to go back to the old way of working.

You may already know that after the implementation of a new system or process, that performance will, initially get worse before it gets better. This is often referred to as the ‘J’ curve, and is actually the same as any change, like when your picture upload facility changes on Facebook, or having to write with your other hand, you need to get used to the whole concept and learn the new way of working first before you can consider it being better than before.

The thing is, if we are not open about the J Curve of change with our stakeholders, and be clear that it will actually get worse to start with, the stakeholders involved may complain, protest and in worse case, refuse to use the newly implemented change, it will just feel like a broken arm that’s waiting to heal.

So the tip here is;
  • Be honest about the fact that expect things to be worse initially, don’t just hide the fact in a PowerPoint slide buried in a briefing. If you know how long this might take tell them. Even better, if you know in what way it will get worse, let them know so those stakeholders can prepare
  • Monitor non-conformity. Everyone sighs when they hear the word ‘Governance’ but many times I’ve seen a project team hand off a project to the stakeholders far too early, with potentially great projects abandoned
  • Be present, your stakeholders may be struggling, misusing or misunderstanding what is going on, they need to be reassured that the performance dip was expected, that the figures are not going to get them in trouble, and they don’t need to go back to their old way of working.

Okay, so you've been honest and monitored non-conformity and you are available as you can be, but the stakeholders are still going off and doing their own thing. This is where your relationships come into play. Truly understanding what the issues are, and being honest with findings can be difficult. Did it in fact work better before? Was the solution the right solution? How could it be improved to work more effectively? Which Stakeholders are having the most trouble? Most importantly, is this a part of the J curve, or are we really seeing a declining trend in performance?

Answering these questions honestly can be difficult, but if it is put in with overall context of the change then it may be useful. An example might be call centre metric of ‘Call handling time’* is affected because a new process requires them to log more information from a customer. That information, further down the line leads to faster resolution and quality is higher. Over a period of time, this means that the same call centre will have less repeat calls from customers who are either complaining or wanting an update on their issue.

The business improves.

If, however, the call centre goes back to the old way of logging their calls, because they panic at the increase in call handling, later when they justify going back to the old way of working, they can show a dip in performance as a result of the change, and then their valiant efforts to claw their way back to their previous performance levels when they reverted.

They only saw the 'worse', they didn’t see the 'better', justifying their actions.

So, in summary, be honest about it getting worse, ensure stakeholders are engaged in the change and be available to help them through the change.

*From my experience, Call handling time is often used as a key metric for call centres and is often used out of context against other metrics. This example was used intentionally to highlight that a successful business outcome does not always equal an improvement in an individual departments measures.

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