Heraclitus of Ephesus knew, in ancient Greece, that change is constant. Now we find ourselves in a frenetic world where the digital version of a book, taxi, hotel or data centre can be specified, purchased and consumed in minutes.
Focus on time
Since we can do things quicker, let’s consider the relationship between value and time and how we measure both. The articulation of net present value (NPV) is focused on appraising the capital needed and returning, in present terms, the value measured.
We focus on value, but forget the importance of time which underlies all of the cash flows and is essentially removed from further inspection by NPV. But what if we focus on time? The world is moving fast enough already so let’s get things done quicker.
No need to worry about value; if we impact time, the resultant NPV will increase and take care of itself. So how do we focus and reduce time? We become ‘agile’; we plan quicker, build quicker, deploy quicker and ensure the users adopt quicker.
In other words, we accelerate change; this reduces risk (more impact on our risk-adjusted cash flows) and, therefore, reduces the need for contingency. We may even decrease costs as it is hard to spend more in less time. So, let’s talk about getting time back, rather than promising value and benefits to ‘the business’.
Benefits are hard to measure
While costs come on invoices and we can easily track cash flows and cost reductions, benefits are much harder. There are some complex ways to quantify value yet perhaps there is something simpler? We all have watches (or at least phones that show the time, and calendars or clocks on the wall).
Time is the easiest thing to measure. We know exactly when the deadline arrives. This is why we search for the quick win; because less value earlier is more beneficial. Can we get this done by Tuesday? Because then we can launch the campaign early, send out the sales force and start selling the new product on Wednesday. This is value to the business.
Developing this outcome thinking further, we realise something even more powerful. The improved NPV pales into insignificance if you reduce the time to value. Because you have given the organisation back the most precious thing in our digital age - time. They now have that time saved, in the desired future state, adoption done, people ready, risks mitigated, change completed and reinforced.
Now they can go ‘smoke the competition’, enter new markets or even do more change. To focus our energy, let’s look at change budget and change interventions that reduce overall elapsed time as we execute; let’s identify elements from across the range of change frameworks, with one simple goal: to get there quicker.
There are many simple frameworks; 5-step (Prosci ADKAR), 6-step (ChangeFirst), 8-step (Kotter) espousing linear approaches. However, the original ideas on change were iterative, starting with Deming and ‘plan-do-check-act / adjust’ (PDCA).
Change management followed project management and while PMI includes feedback loops, from monitoring and controlling to planning and design, as well as to executing, it is rare to see such iteration in a Gantt chart1 and most feedback is kept for the next sprint or project to learn from rather than to change the current design and plan mid-flight.
Fortunately, we also have iterative and incremental execution, such as Lean and Six Sigma, that cycle until the outcomes are achieved. Agile approaches take this a step further; reducing the planning overhead and ensuring continuous and early feedback, frequent releases with an evolving design. So with time as the new value, we continually push for the outcomes, rather than reducing risks and sticking to a plan.
Essentially, we have ‘agile change’ as we ‘accelerate’ the project to get to the outcomes sooner. While higher productivity and value may be possible, let’s just get these changes adopted sooner with one clear focus for everyone involved.
Having researched, commented, criticised, taught and used a variety and combinations of change management approaches, let’s look at five big-levers that directly accelerate outcomes.
1. Start with motivation
Be very, very clear why this change is needed. Before we begin anything, express the outcomes as simple ‘stories with numbers’ that everyone understands and agrees with. The numbers are critical as they are specific and lend credibility to the storyline. Don’t think this is something you can address later, especially when you hit obstacles or resistance; do it first, do it now.
As Simon Sinek says: ‘Start with why in everything you do.’ While many frameworks include a step for motivation or desire, the Vital Smarts Influence model helps us focus first on motivation. It is a holistic approach (with individual, social and systematic elements) and ensures the impact of adoption interventions. In summary, intrinsic (personal, internal) motivation is critical to accelerating adoption and change so always address motivation first2.
2. Reduce decision time
Assuming you have the right stakeholders on board, a cross functional team starts ideation, brainstorming and building a plan. We need to get through this phase as quickly as possible while ensuring everyone is ‘on-board’. But all too often, decisions are made in meetings by a small team without wider buy-in.
People ‘represent’ the different populations, decisions are made and then published. But then not everyone agrees, there are comments, factions, lobby groups and even outright disagreement. So, we have another meeting or workshop and iterate on the plan.
One method that reduces this iteration is radical transparency. This approach massively increases the openness of organisational process and information. It is like collaboration and social on steroids and very similar to the concepts of ‘work out loud’. Not only are the decisions better but we increase engagement and actually speed up the decision-making process.
Make working out loud the default, with calendars open to all, post what you are about to do, and get buy in and ideas, rather than sending something out for review when your mind is made up. People may be uncomfortable and others may judge, but such transparency also helps drive the culture change we need for our future vision.
3. Just get going
There is a term commonly used in business where a team member is placing unnecessary barriers in the way of completing a task, usually due to a lack of experience, confidence or an unwillingness. Or it may be that you are constantly faced with decisions and there is always incomplete information.
The polite version is just focus and do it. Making things happen is not so hard. You may not have the perfect plan but start doing something. Like Richard Branson, make a list; I often encourage people to do just one thing a day, and above all else make sure you have it done by the end of the day. Because by Friday you will have done five things - not so bad for a born procrastinator.
4. Fail fast
Which leads rather nicely to fail fast (2013 by Babineaux and Krumbolt). ‘Successful people take action as quickly as possible, even though they may perform badly’. We don’t want perfect plans, we want progress. Learning comes from trying and in no small part from mistakes and failures.
Try out those ideas and see what happens. But if it is not working, then stop, learn the lesson and try again. This expresses an idea that is central to the fail fast approach: ‘you can’t know what something is like, [or] how you will feel about it, or what will result from it until you actually are doing it.’
5. Reinforce positively
And finally, every linear change method eventually reminds us to reinforce the change, to make it stick and ensure we do not return to the old ways. But at the end? Why not celebrate from the beginning? Positive reinforcement, always taking the most positive interpretation, seeing the glass half full, confirms that we are making progress towards the desired outcomes.
Reinforcers can be a natural consequence (of hard work), a token (points mean prizes), social with public praise or tangible rewards. Of course, it has to be in the moment, so we must ensure everyone is able to reinforce progress; which should be easy as we started with everyone knowing exactly where we are headed, and why, from the stories with numbers.
Can we do this?
This combination of levers and core building blocks ensures that we address multiple motivators simultaneously. People are satisfied when reward relative to effort is seen as fair. By focusing on outcomes that everyone has bought into, and driving towards them as fast as possible, everyone benefits and lives in the future vision sooner. This is not another framework. It is not even a method. Perhaps it is the perspective that is necessary for change to be more open and accepted, for outcomes to be achieved sooner. I call it ‘change out loud’.
- According to Wikipedia a Gantt chart is a chart in which a series of horizontal lines shows the amount of work done or production completed in certain periods of time in relation to the amount planned for those periods.
- Researching further, it seems there is depth to motivation. Most people have heard of Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy which, as applied to workplace motivation, sought to explain individual employee motivation as a pyramid of needs. You can read more by researching Frederick Herzberg’s motivation theory and Alderfer’s ERG (existence, relatedness, growth) as adaptations of Maslow. Herzberg classified hygiene factors (supervision, interpersonal relations, poor work place environment as well as salary, benefits and rewards) that demotivate when not present as well as motivation factors (achievement, advancement, recognition, responsibility) which will motivate when present. What high achievers manage to do is shift from hygiene (fear) to motivation (desire) as they realise that the main motivating factors are not in the (poor) environment, but in the intrinsic value and satisfaction gained from the change.