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Change Management

The people side of change. There is the formal change management process for Information Technology and this discussion is not it. I will attempt to give my insight into change. Before you can speak of the formal Information Technology elements of change management you need to address the real people side of change.

As Technology professionals we are constantly in a state of flux and change or at the least the good ones are. If you are one of the moss backs, this post is NOT for you. I would be considered a grey back. I have aged and have learned from my scars. I am still young enough to pursue and wise enough to know what will hurt and what will not. I am driven by doing the right thing and not always being right. Yes there is a difference.

The People side of Change

Whether we are creating the change, are agents of the change or are victims of the change it is important to understand the human element of this change. Regardless of what part you play you are going to witness some uncomfortable things. The more you can identify the signs the better you will be able to handle the changes and the people they affect.Stages of Change

As I get older and have more experiences to draw from I find most organizations are faced with conflicting messages when it comes to the most senior of their staff. In times of crisis this becomes more prevalent. This is what I mean; the company needs to get efficient and is faced with budget cuts. Do you go and get the budget by letting go of junior staff or do you go after the most senior? This is a very difficult question to answer. Firstly, loyalty states you go with the veterans for they have earned the right. However, there may be evidence that the junior staff is more eager to learn, to produce and to accepting the new challenges.

Here is what I believe, “your message sent should be the message you need heard”. If you need strong leadership and a solid base to go forward, then your senior staff will likely get you there. However, if you need to change direction dramatically and your senior staff does not have the energy or desire to make that level of commitment. You may want to consider cutting from the top. I spend a great deal of time working directly with the team to find out their capacity for change, their willingness to adapt and their basic sense of pride. I am always attracted to crafts people. I will also share with you my experiences as a basketball coach. I always fielded the best players. By best I mean the hardest working and the ones who knew they were part of the team. I have little patience for prima donnas and the entitlement crowd. I have seen the scorn of my colleagues, superiors and team mates for not following seniority convention but I have found over time the team worked better when they knew there was a reward for effort. Like I said, I have a lot of scars on this one.

Before you show anyone the door, you need to find out if they are in fact in a rut and if so, what can you do to help. Some people want the change for it is the new challenge and others just want to get through the day.

When you are looking at the senior crowd, tread lightly. This advice is especially true if you are the new person on the field of play. Everyone is in their current position for a reason, and you need to find out what the reason was. I have found “was” is more important than “is” in this context. I am not a political person but I truly understand the game of politics. You don’t want to give a hard time to a senior employee if that person is well connected to the upper food chain. This doesn’t mean you are not going to get rid of them, or make them accountable it just means you need to do your research and find out the whole picture before you proceed. Refer back to  The OODA Loop  for this process. It is most effective here. An example of this is a person who has been promoted to incompetence. This type of person was very effective in lower roles and has been promoted for jobs well done in the past. The challenge now is that they have reached their capacity and in fact may be in over their heads. You as the new person will likely have the clearest picture for you have no background to draw from. Good for you, bad for them. These individuals can be identified by their direct dealings with your superiors and other managers above their pay scale. In these cases you need to get that person on board to the new vision and approaches as quickly as possible. Failure to do so, will only make your job more difficult and send a confusing message to others. Be fir, but fair. Remember you have no history with this person, so do not let history play into your dealings.

The other line I always here is “everyone is doing the best they can”. After the initial cringe I feel, I start to process it. I read it this way, the state we are in was not done in malice but it was done in ignorance. If you subscribe to this theory then, you need to educate as you communicate. By showing people what you need done and how it can be done then you will get people seeing differently. Success will breed success.

So after this little parental rant (sorry about that) what are the signs and/or stages? Anyone who has taken psychology will understand the stages of change. They are same stages as grief. You see, change will force someone to give up a known habit or condition. This condition can be so comforting that they feel a certain loss/fear. Most negative responses from change come from a point of fear. The fear may be from not knowing or not believing they are capable of the change. You, as the leader, will need to guide them through that change. I use the line “be afraid, do it anyway”.

These stages, as seen in the above graphic, do not always follow a direct path. Sometimes a person may only express one or two of them or sometimes all 5 of them. Just because the person has moved past a certain stage does not mean they will not go and visit the stage again.

Change matrix

Denial


The symptoms of Denial are road blocks, rumor mills and the deep negative aspects. You will hear things like “it is never going to work”, “we have tried this before” and my favourite “it if isn’t broken, do not fix it”. You need to address these professionally and firmly. Your response messages become, “It is going to work for we have learned from previous attempts”, “we have a plan”, “just because it works doesn't make it right”, and, “we need this to be successful”. Fear is gripping this person and you need to get to the source of the fear to alleviate it.

Some of your options for dealing with the Denial state are; provide a clear vision, a clear mission, frequent communications, be transparent and search out positive change agents in the group to be the change champions.

Anger


Anger, the one everyone wants to avoid. I, however, do not mind anger. Reason being, you can deal with anger you can’t always deal with the passive aggressive. The symptoms of anger beyond the obvious screaming and shouting are actual grievances and short terse communications. First and foremost do not run from anger but also do not fuel the fire. Here are some options to deal with anger, have offline meetings to get to the root of their concerns. Again anger is based on fear, largely the unknown and a perception of loss of control. By having private offline meetings you create an open dialogue and opportunity to engage. Become an inclusive listener. You may have to change some team dynamics to encourage positive behaviours. In some cases you may have to actually discipline the staff member to reinforce the organization’s position. Make sure you have support from the organization first. You need to fight the good fights and let the smaller ones die.

Bargaining


This one can be very dangerous for the team and the project. The symptoms are scope creep and they are typically the hidden changes to appease staff. Other symptoms become mixed messages from the group. One day they are all good to go and then whammo, the sky is falling. One of my favourite elements of this stage is the parading ot the sacred cows. These are the statements, “customers will never agree to this”, “have you consulted with ????...... They did not like this in the past”. This is also the stage when all forward movement seems to be lost and at times you feel you are going backwards.

There is hope, truly. The best approach is to stay calm and to stay on point and true to your design principals. Do not bend to the will of scope changes. Look at the changes and the requests and see if they are going to move the project forward. If so, give it consideration. If the changes only delay then put the changes in later phases and document it so you can say it has been dealt with. Communicate the goals of the organization and the project repeatedly even if it is becoming annoying. Lastly, make the tough decisions. In this stage strong leadership will win over emotion.

Depression


This is one of the most difficult to watch but sometimes you have to let the train wreck happen. The symptoms of this stage are low morale and slow progress along with an overall lack of enthusiasm. This stage is usually most prevalent in the big lift areas. So much work is being done that those in the trenches lose focus and direction. The best approach here is to praise the success regardless of how small they are. Even if you just change the language of the communications. For example instead of saying what did you work on today, rephrase the question to what have we accomplished today. Have a regular success communication. Post the completed list instead of the remaining list. Share the wealth of praise amongst those doing the work, show how far you have progressed. Your role here is to motivate and communicate and lastly be patient. If they have not stopped completely, give them time to heal the wounds to fight another day.

Acceptance


The stage you have been waiting for. You know you have reached this stage when elements you have been working on are being exploited and promoted from all stakeholders. The other big sign is when new ideas are coming from the group that was affected by the change. 

The best approach here is to reward the good behaviour, often and on many fronts. Acknowledging the success will breed a successful culture. 

In conclusion

Change is inevitable and it is a real part of Information Technology and our current society. If you want to survive you will need to adapt and help those who cannot and forget about the ones who will not.

Making !T Work 

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