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Change Management Dos and Don'ts - LEADing Excellence May Meeting Recap

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Change management—topic for the month for project management professionals everywhere, fitting for spring to summer, and fitting also for the end of an era…and of course I mean Game of Thrones…

Yes, change management of all types has accept today’s reality, and today is a Super Bowl Monday of a day, and I’ve already burned my morning coffee browsing GOT episode 6 finale recaps. (No spoilers ahead.) So apologies for those I promised this post by last night….

So with that caveat, our PM connect had a great conversation last Thursday about team performance and what practices we’ve seen that either should be repeated or should be seen as the toxic sludge of teams that they are.  (To protect the innocent and not-so-much, we make reference to no names or orgs here.) We started with a quick overview of the Drexler-Sibbet model of team performance, which I likened to Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline and the Fieldbook of applications. I’m a huge fan of tactics to put strategy into action, and both of these models/sources have a lot of read-it-now, do-it-in-ten minutes team support tools that fit into what is actually going on right now. 

Fundamentally, I proposed the idea that project organizational change management (OCM) is driven in direct relationship to the organization’s existing change resilience. This is why project OCM is a model within a model, and the less developed the organization’s overall change resilience is, the more each project has to do in order to achieve intended outcomes. The mindset needs to be there for the project to succeed, so projects may have to implement or heavily develop one capability, change adaptation, in order to deliver on investment in another. 

With all that in mind, we talked through our experiences with change resilience, across these dimensions, to get at the D+/D- list . In somewhat random order, with some related narrative in the middle, here are 14 Ds we came up with:

  • D+: Do elevate leaders who walk their walk and talk their talk. Integrity in leadership is a required ingredient to change resilience.

  • D-: Don’t allow interpersonal toxicity at any level poison team building. A leader accepting a destructive situation demonstrates a lack of willingness to commit to change or to protect team members. (As a PM, identification, resolution and/or escalation of interpersonal risks are just as important as the same activities for execution and technical risks.)

  • D-: Don’t allow team decisions to seek historically abusive situations because they’re familiar. This can include choosing to accept accountability for achieving goals widely known to not be feasible, stopping short of setting clear metrics that are too clear in ownership, and other diminishing or “retreat” behaviors.

  • D+: Do rely on teamwork to mitigate unreliable or untrustworthy leadership through emergency or crisis-driven change, pouring focus as a PM into peer support, cross-functional alignment, and tight validation of team-based relationships.

  • D-: Don’t expect purely team-driven change to last without adding effective and authentic sponsoring leadership toward a shared vision as soon as possible and in a transparent way.

  • D+: Do seek open dialogue with everyone impacted (change recipients, change sponsors, etc.), getting as much rich information as possible along the way, involving others at the right times for an empowering and respectful feedback loop toward readiness.

  • D-: Don’t implement surveys on a periodic basis but then fail to act on them in a cycle that respects the feedback loop. By not doing so, leaders prove that the survey IS the action, not the source of a transparently shared roadmap toward improvement.

  • D+: Do use the performance management relationship (“people management”) as a backbone of team member/employee support for change resilience, including the manager role as a support for change in communication, and providing managers with tools to support the emotional impacts of change as well as the tactical impacts that may occur.

One of our members described where she has been for almost a year now, a research/manufacturing company. Through the discussion about where she is, we landed on curiosity being an essential component to change resilience, on an individual AND organizational level.  Her experience with an openness to curiosity and a strong culture of peer-supported development sounded like one big DO, along with a few others:

  • D+: Do start as early as the interviewing process to screen for curiosity and growth/learner mindset. Choose interviewers for that purpose, and provide clear tools and guidance for what each interviewer is looking for, how to interview for it, and how to provide feedback on candidates.

  • D+: Do encourage asking for help, and asking for learning, fostering shared problem solving, open inquiry, and open feedback.

  • D-: Don’t leave resource constraints unresolved or misunderstood. Don’t make teams experience failure “because….resources”. Teams deserve better.

  • D+: Do communicate and act with transparency on how resources are made available to act on change needs.

  • D+: Do use criteria-based decision making, including feasibility on scales that include employee readiness and related/competing efforts, to prioritize change efforts.

  • D+:Do maintain alignment between how deep expectations of change are against the investment made. Spinning straw into gold doesn’t happen.

We also got into a hefty conversation about org structure, stakes of change, and type of change, and how those three attributes of the situation can determine how deep into the organization change authorship and implementation can be pushed, and with what “sticking power”. More to come on that, to be sure, but the nutshell was this, as a PM deep thought nugget to plant in your brain to chew on in slow meetings:

  • In high stakes, episodic, large scale change efforts, a structured organization emphasizing command and control with highly developed processes can be the core skeleton of the bridge between before the change and after, guiding the outcome tightly to ensure the least amount of dip in quality/productivity/safety possible. (and what examples of that can you immediately imagine? What else?)

  • In lower stakes, continuous, and smaller change efforts, a more organic organization leading more by affinity and interest than by title and structure can define, implement, reflect and correct more quickly, using social contracts over formal agreements to form and reform team units. To prevent boomerangs and misdirection, guiding principles allow positive and intentional drift or trend. (Can you see beyond Agile on this one? Where else?)

Yes, this does go to the 5C’s of PM, but beyond project management, criticality, complexity, compliance, culture and compassion also drive the nature of change management need and response from leaders of all types. Managing the nature of the hybrid...well, isn't that what we do?

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