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Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens

Change is uncomfortable most of the time. Like when a store rearranges the shelves, and you can’t find the tea bags anymore. It can feel like it’s slowing you down, getting in the way, ‘it was easier the way it was before.’ But there’s usually a reason it’s changed, and at some point, you probably won’t even remember when, but you’ll find yourself back into a routine of being in and out when you need to be, or you just go somewhere else. We all react and respond to change differently and each of us are constantly learning or doing new things all the time without even thinking about it. As a great person once said “change is like the weather. It comes whether you like it or not.” – Ted Lasso  

I’ve spent the last nearly 20years in some form of fast paced retail and change roles, from leading teams, developing colleague insight functions, leading change and transformational projects, operational leadership and L&D, it’s been a squiggly career so far. But there’s one thing throughout those roles and here at Symatrix that drives me, and that’s helping people. Anything I can do to make things simpler, more rewarding, build understanding, or support someone's development is what motivates me. I want people to really feel like they get value from the work they do, and every change that takes place in an organisation is a chance to move the needle. Change management for me is about listening intently to colleagues, customers, and stakeholders. It’s working with people to get things right, building a deep understanding of the challenges we and our colleagues face, and shaping the vision for a future that resonates with people. Change is most successful when everyone feels they have a part to play in moving things forward. That’s true of all change initiatives, big and small. Take your chance to push it forward.  

When it comes to managing change it’s important to recognise that everyone will have their own journey, they’ll work through things at their own pace, and that’s ok. That’s good, that’s more sustainable than pretending we’ll all arrive at the same point at the same time. When it comes to business change and change management it’s thinking about how do we create a supportive environment or the right conditions for people to adapt with as little friction as possible and help people feel part of something bigger.  

So, when it comes to change management how can we help people? 

As part of a planning phase of any project you’ll need consider the impact that change has on people, both the intended consequences, things like we need people to use this new tech or equipment and then there’s also the unintended consequences… those that don’t seem as obvious. Take for example, how social media has revolutionised communication and connectivity across the world, but the involuntary consequences have included increased polarisation, the spread of misinformation and disinformation, and negative effects on mental health. Now I’m not sure we have time in this blog to solve that, but the takeaway is that the reach of any change within any size organisation is typically much more far reaching than we expect in those early stages.  

An example when planning a change within your business area could be when assessing the current state, what do we do today. It can often be a mistake to pull out those process maps the team updated 12 months ago or rely on the word of line managers that will tell you ‘This is how we operate’ only for the colleagues to have come up with their own natural work arounds or simplifications that have built up over time. Teams will naturally evolve and patterns of work, ways of doing things that aren’t written down will always be there. It can even be smaller things, the key colleague everyone goes to for X problem, what happens if that role changes as part of the project? For me, you get to this level of granularity by spending time with those who will be at the forefront of any change, those that will feel the biggest shift. Spending time here will give the greatest insight into how to plan and effectively manage your change journey. Unintended consequences and unvalidated assumptions can cost you time and even erode benefits when efficiencies aren’t fully realised.  

So, what can you do about some of these things? 

For these two particular areas, people changing at their own pace and unintended consequences there’s a few things that you can look to bring into your wider project planning if you don’t have dedicated change management resource. But here’s couple of key ones to build in. 

I’d say change impact assessments, but I’m taking that as a given, that’s a subject in itself. So, let's keep it specific, change curves, we’ve probably seen it before, but it still holds true as a principle. Remember each person, each leader will be going at their own pace across that curve. A useful thing to do with this is to map some of your stakeholders against the curve, either as individuals or as groups, as part of you project check-ins. This can help throw up some useful questions; where might they be on the curve right now, how might this next phase of the project affect them or their teams, what else could you do to support them further? 

Take these questions and spend time with those end users, the line mangers or leaders that might set the tone for any changes. Start to build empathy with those that might struggle to adapt, or those that are maybe harder to reach with your regular business communication channels. Then once you’ve got a sense of the challenges people face, the scale and length of the change they might each have to make, you can then start to think creatively about how you can help solve some of those problems, or at least bridge the gap. Putting the people at the centre of the change activity.  

Issues, stumbles, and opportunities to do things better will always come up, but the more that you can anticipate or plan for those worst-case scenarios, the unintended consequences, the better we can look after our colleagues and teams, manage our change, and deliver our benefits. 

And as an inspirational person once said, “Change is scary, but also exciting. It means you’re growing and moving forward” – Confucius  

Not really, it was Ted Lasso again.  

About the author

Daniel Norman

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