Change management is a human trait

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Change management is a human trait. We are biologically programmed to adapt, or we wouldn’t survive. So, when you think about people being “change averse”, it’s a bit of a myth. People will adapt, they want to adapt. It’s all about finding their motivation to change.

Think about it: if your current situation, whatever that might be – say the TV series you are currently absorbed in – suddenly changes, you will be motivated to find a new solution. In other words, if your show is cancelled, you will be highly motivated to change your interests and find a new series to watch. This same principle can apply to almost any situation where people need to accept change, which, by the way, is not the same as adoption. I have found that many stakeholders struggle to understand the differences between change management and. We focus on both and deploy different strategies to accomplish each goal.

Let’s first talk a little bit more about managing change. Like I said, people will want to change when they are motivated to do so. The first and most important task in getting people to accept change is to listen. Listening is key and the idea of managing change without truly hearing what your customers are describing as their needs will entirely block the process. As project managers and implementation professionals, we’ve all experienced those hard to crack, arms-crossed, nay-saying clients. I’ve been guilty of brushing aside those types of people in the past, but the more experienced change management professional in me now realizes that everyone can adapt and accept change.

Your first job to open up your stakeholders to the idea of changing is to talk to them and ask questions. The most important questions you can present to a stakeholder before asking them to consider a new idea are:

  • What’s important to you? What are the goals you are responsible for achieving?
  • What are you worried about? What are the impacts to you or your team if this new idea doesn’t work?
  • What can we do for you to help you better understand what we’re proposing?
  • What are your minimum requirements of this new tool/change?

Once your stakeholder trusts you, and knows that you are there for them, they will open up. Your next job is to focus on what motivates them. You’ll uncover many of those motivations from the questions above, but you’ll need to put on your detective cap and dig a little deeper.

  • Why is this important to you?
  • What do you think will happen if something goes wrong?
  • How do you do this work today, and if we show you a new way to do it, how do we convince you that it will work?

The trick is to be engaged and continue asking questions until you fully understand what is driving your stakeholder. Once you understand what motivates your client, you can begin to convince them of the many benefits your new solution will offer – if not to them directly, to the people or goals they are motivated by.

Next, let’s think about adoption. Managing change and ensuring adoption of the change are two different but connected functions in successful projects, such as the Epic implementations we lead. Your first job is to bring your stakeholders to the point where they’re bought in and engaged (this is called managing the change before it’s in place). Once the change has been made, you need to be sure your clients have adapted and accepted it. Let’s use the TV series example again. Your last favorite show was cancelled, so you’re motivated to find something new. It’s the writers and producers of a series who have the job of hooking you in that first episode. Then they need to keep you hooked so you’ll watch the entire series. Adoption is very similar. Our main job as project and change management professionals is to ensure a successful outcome, and that includes ensuring that your stakeholders accept and adopt the new solution.

When we talk about adoption, we’re talking about all of the activities needed to ensure the client has all the knowledge and tools necessary to effectively and successfully use the new system. For Epic project, for example, this means solid, effective training, of course, but also it requires frequent communication, post-live training, elbow support, and even post-live optimization. It takes us adult learners several times to really hear a message. You have to communicate, then communicate a little more, communicate a little differently (same message), and then do it all over again. You have to ensure your stakeholders are fully supported during the transition as well. And of course, you have to listen.

When you’ve listened to what your clients and stakeholders are telling you, truly hear them and then work to develop solutions that meet their needs, understand the gaps from their current state to their new and improved workflows, then help them adapt to the change by supporting them throughout the process, you’ve successfully managed change and adoption.

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