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Change Management – Is it as Simple as Just Seeing Clearly?

September 29th, 2011

Change management - Use VOC and VOB to objectively identify performance gaps that matter mostWe’ve been working with a number of customers of late that are trying to improve service delivery processes, and move into the differentiating realm of service innovation.  In these very large enterprises, it’s always a challenge to get organizations to change behavior.  Immediately, voices start rising, touting the need for change management.

This is another of those terms that can have a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people.  Wikipedia defines change management as a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. If you google “change management”, you really enter the swamp.   Even if we narrow change management to the business / process improvement world that we at SSQ live in, there is still a lot of confusion.  How do you sort it all out?

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In the CI world, companies want and need to markedly improve their value-generating processes (value stream), but the question becomes how do you get people to embrace the changes that come as part of improving?  How do we get them to embrace the overall effort to improve processes, and theoretically improve service delivery?  Do we really have to indoctrinate them into some new philosophy of change?

Personally, I don’t think so.  I think that many times change management becomes a problem because people don’t have a clear picture of 3 simple (not really) things:

  1. where they are now,
  2. where they need to be
  3. why they need to get there.

Most organizations have plenty of smart people (I know … there are exceptions!)  .  The fundamental trick to change management really boils down to getting all those smart people pulling in the same direction.   If you can get clarity around the 3 simple things above, you might be surprised to see that change management is not the big issue you thought it was.

I’ve used the term simple to describe these three things above, but getting there can be anything but.  With our engagements, we spend significant time on the front ending trying to get these answers, and I can assure you that it can be challenging.  But, we get there, and I firmly believe our success rates with business improvement efforts are better because of it.

There are other ways I’m sure, but we use a structured approach that attacks the problem by:

  1. Understanding, for both the customer (voice of the customer) and the business (voice of the business), what constitutes high-performance and turning that into clearly defined metrics (efficiency and effectiveness).  We are looking for gaps in these indicators, between current state and where we need to be.
  2. Understanding the top-level value stream from a process perspective (not function), the things that have to happen to deliver your services or products, and create customer and business value
  3. Identifying metrics at the process level (VOP), and making sure they are aligned with top level VOB and VOC (#1).  Like #1, we are looking for the gaps.
  4. Defining an objective prioritization scheme based on voice of the customer and voice of the business.
  5. Identifying improvement ideas from the gaps, and evaluating and prioritizing those ideas objectively based on #4.  A prioritized project pipeline.
  6. Turning high-value project ideas (business cases) into tightly scoped improvement projects that are clearly aligned with very visible objectives (#1)

Of course, this is over simplified. There’s a lot of work happening between the spaces, but think about it and ask … Is change management really as simple as being able to see clearly? As always, I welcome your thoughts on this.  Comment or contact me directly if you prefer.

  1. Andrew Banks
    October 29th, 2010 at 11:50 | #1

    So you answered your own question – with a resounding NO! While there is nothing mystical about change management, I’m not sure this article has been quite fair. To be clear: it isn’t rocket surgery, but neither is it “3 easy steps to transformational change”.

    You’ve neatly swept under the rug a lot of time & effort spent building relationships and trust “between the spaces”, as you freely admit. #2 and #3 are as much predicated on your credibility within the organization as they are on the data.


  2. October 29th, 2010 at 16:49 | #2

    G’day Eric
    You’re certainly on the right track. Change management in the past couple of decades has been made overly complex. We in the Simpler Business Institute have been using a simple approach with great results now for about 10 years. It goes something like this…
    1. Tell your people that any change must make it easier for them to do good work and increase the success that the customers get from your products – I’ve never known any work force that is not motivated by making their lives easier at work and I’ve never known any company executive not motivated by bringing greater success to their customers.
    2. Use a simpler Perception Survery to gather the perceptions of the people involved all along the process (value stream) to find out where the main constraints are to easy work, good quality and customer success – they’ll know and all you have to do is ask.
    3. Run an 80/20 prioritisation (eg using the PrioritEase tool on the SimplerBusiness.com website) to get everyone in the process focused on the couple of key priorities.
    4. You may have to gather some data at this stage to confirm these priorities – but I regularly don’t bother because the people in the process know what’s going on more than anyone else who is looking in.
    5. Ask for volunteers to form small teams to fix these key priorities (I’ve never known anyone not to volunteer to make changes that will make it easier to do their work).
    6. Teach the teams a simple problem solving process such as Now-Where-How so they can increase their ability to define and solve their own problems.
    7. Coach them through the first couple of problem solving and implementation projects.
    Once they’ve been exposed to such simple tools as this they’ll want to do more (because every change makes it easier to do their work AND increases the success of the customers).
    Summary: This approach has been giving great results for little resource for more than a decade. Go with common sense and self interest – it’ll make change easier. Oh, and give away as much of the jargon as you can – people will love you if you speak simply.
    Ian Dover (The Simpler Business Institute).

  3. November 2nd, 2010 at 15:07 | #3

    Thanks for your perspective Andrew. I did downplay the “work between the spaces”, which we know if significant. My point with the article was that change management is difficult enough, and asking people to change without telling them where they, where they need to be, and why just makes it that much more difficult. I would argue impossible. I simply think “being able to see clearly” is a pre-req for any meaningful change. Agree?


  4. Jeffrey Koff
    September 29th, 2011 at 07:26 | #4


    I like how you initiated this discussion with a clear call on communicating the need for change from both the customer and the business point of view, then following up with identifying goals and metrics to help identify key projects.

    Like Ian, I do think that there is more involved in understanding how to make the change happen. Ian’s ideas create ownership across a broad cut of the organization by focusing on a distributed set of a lot of simple wins, each targeted at the guiding goals and metrics. I think that the distributed ownership will be much more motivational (on both a personal and peer-to-peer level) for employees than a few key projects led and staffed by a small subset of the employee base. I like this thinking and will try to do more of it going forward.

    My additions:

    Do a stakeholder map. An understanding of individual’s and group’s underlying feelings and motivations will help you plan a change that will be accepted. Not everyone is motivated to serve the customer/business in ways that we might think as obvious.

    I have found that sometimes focusing on some real simple behavours can make a big difference (things like: how does an employee/manager respond when “X” happens today, and how should they respond in order to make our change be effective?). If you can make the behavour something that is easy for people to do and make it something that they want to do, then you’ll increase your chances of success.


  5. October 4th, 2011 at 11:05 | #5

    Seeing clearly is surely part of the solution, but definitely not all of it.

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