Learning does not come for free- Changing behaviour & Change management – Success is failure

How many of you have heard an individual stand at a pedestal at some conference saying we have to brave enough to fail? Success is learning to fail quickly?

My tone is deliberately sarcastic as how many of you really work in companies that truly support this behaviour with complete end to end (manager/HR/board) endorsement of trying “something new”?

Usually change management programmes are assigned because existing company processes do not permit or empower the development of doing things differently or because the initiative is radically different to the existing company focus.

Change of Direction

The fact is very very few companies have set up their organisation in a way that ensures constant development of ideas contrary to the core business focus.

“We make 99.9% of our revenue doing this “….” and now we are going to pay an individual to do something on a long shot.”

Hmmm not a common occurrence.

That said, I have had the fortunate opportunity in my career to be involved in a few change management initiatives where something new is not encouraged by the hoi polio.

I have concluded that I keep being tasked with these projects either because:

  • I am good at it or
  • Flexible enough to take on the challenge or
  • There is no-one else either brave enough (read here naive enough)

I say fortunate because without fail they are huge learning initiatives that have always forced myself to develop in ways I could not possibly fathom at the outset.

On reflection,  I have also initiated some of these programmes so I am my own worst enemy – I just hate working in an environment or situation where I know that if we did things differently it would be “Better”.

Ok so let us say a peer/boss/group come to you and say “insert employee name here” we want you take on this initiative “X, Y, Z”

My usual response is to immediately question the desired outcome/timeframe/budget/support -> not about whether I want to do it. In my opinion if you are asked to do you don’t say no. A topic for another blog.

You must question this framework because all things being equal if your are given the task you need the tools.

Without appropriate budget, persons and alignment on deliverables and timing you are doomed to failure.

Tips for Change

My personal lessons in change management:

Lesson one – Alignment

  • Have scope and deliverables agreed by ALL stakeholders. Don’t let the chance for fame or doing something different to the day job cloud your business common sense.
  • Make sure it is embedded in corporate strategy or sponsored by a senior stakeholder.  Change management projects that come from the side are successful for as long as they are successful. If not endorsed by the core business watch all your supposed friends and supporter running for the hills when the project starts to hit challenges.
  • Any change management initative will hit challenges.

Lesson two – Storytelling

  • Change management requires consistent consistent consistent story telling to new audiences daily and an absolute personal willingness and ability to learn and apply that learning damn quick.
  • Working agile? Try seat of your pants bravado while holding a pair of twos bluffing a full house
  • Have Three slides MAX that are introduced in every meeting/conference call etc that highlights what you are doing and why. Make these visual with iconography and a catchy project name. Get people enthused and talking about your stuff in an exciting way.
  • Consistency breeds understanding and recall. As soon as people get bored seeing the same slides you have started to get through your message.

Lesson three – Simplify

  • A key skill I would cite is being able to consistently translate the journey of learning to your peers and superiors into digestible chunks.
  • It is all too easy to forget or underestimate the knowledge gap with your peers on your programme and what you have discovered and consider “basic” understanding
  • Something new is inevitably something foreign ->  also ensure your learning is understood by senior management in the equivalent of one image or 15 second elevator pitch.
  • Soundbytes are key. Personal example-> When explaining Search to management I start by saying did you know that half our web traffic comes from search? So if we do not have the correct SEO programme in place or correct messaging around our products in the website that matches what consumers are typing in Baidu/Bing/Google we lose the eyeballs of half of all our global consumers? I can still hear the sound of the ahas from the audience now.

Lesson Four – Listen

  • On the journey of change management there will often be an individual who says “that won’t work” or “that will take longer”.
  • Don’t pigeon hole them into the same box as the rest of the guys and girls who sit there with crossed arms as you explain what you are doing and why.
  • They are hard to spot but usually are highly intelligent and seen by others as “difficult” -> Listen Listen Listen and understand from these persons.
  • Swallow your pride – I have asked certain members of my team to give me weekly educational sessions on “new stuff” in digital. They are the experts, I am only a manager.
  • Always take on external expertise or advice. Especially applicable if these individuals have been on similar journeys.

Lesson Five – Bullshit

  • Probably not in any business manual but sometimes you do need to say “yes we have considered that”, “yes this is endorsed by x,y,z” at the point of questioning because if you do not you lose credibility and pace – particularly in group meetings. Just make sure you immediately resolve afterwards and check the question/align with key stakeholder x,y,z.”
  • Confidence breeds confidence. Any hesitation or erring will have people laughing at you in their heads or perceiving the programme as a waste of time or doomed to failure.

“I look at the world and notice its turning while my guitar gently weeps;  With every mistake we must surely be learning”

– George Harrison ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’



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