Big Change by Small Steps

In a changing world, organisations are often faced with change. In today’s world the speed of change seemed to be increasing. In additional to change, communication and transportation infrastructure have increased the ability for people to interact with each other and receive information in a timely manner. Often organisations come to the realisation that they must change in order to survive in today’s world. There are plenty of organisations that are suffering and even closing their doors due to their inability to change. This topic is well discussed by Dr Spencer Johnson in his book “Who Moved my Cheese?

The word “change” can bring fear into some people. The thought of change can conger up thoughts of uncertainty, loss and discomfort. This thought of fear, when changed is mentioned, can often paralyse people. In other occasions change can also be exciting and energising for other people. The change, once accepted, leads to the individual believing that things will be better in the future.

There are other times that change is not significantly noticeable. An example of this type of change is when car engines changed from carburettors to fuel injectors. This change increased fuel economy of vehicles without significant noticeable impact on the way that people drove their vehicles. This change had little to no impact on drivers. Note that car manufacturers experience significant change, even though drivers did not.

As the pace of change in the world increase, does this mean that organisations need to change and change at rapid rates? The pace of change required within an organisation will be determined by a number of considerations. The first consideration is about the type of change. If the change is exciting to the key stakeholders then they will be more likely to support the change and move towards the change at a greater pace. However if the changes are going to cause fear in the minds of the key stakeholders then support for these stakeholders will need to be factored in and resourced. This may slow down the pace that an organisation will be able to implement the changes.

Another consideration is the impact or consequences of making the change or not making the change. What is the consequence for the organisation for not making the change? What is the consequence for the organisation in making the change? Consideration needs to be made to whether the change will have unintended consequences. If the consequences of not changing are significant then the organisation may need to implement changes at a quicker pace. While if there are unintended consequences through making the changes then the organisation may need more time to plan, risk mitigate and provide supports.

The pace of change of the industry or operating environment that the organisation operates in will also be a large consideration for the rate of change required by the organisation. In a rapidity changing industry, such as IT, an organisation will need to implement changes at a quicker rate. An industry may not be going through wholesale change for it not to be caught up with change. There are elements in any organisation’s operations that will be impacted by change, small or large. An example of such a change is the way Social Media is impacting on most organisations and how many organisations are implementing a Social Media strategy.

So how do we implement change in an organisation or team? What process do we take to implement change? How do we use the considerations around the type of change and the pace of change to develop and implement the plan for a change?

When you or your organisation comes to the realisation that change is required, firstly take a deep breath. Though decisions will need to be made, in most situations there will be time to make a thoughtful decision. So after taking a breath, apply some thought to scope out the situation. Depending on the situation, this can be done individually or as a group.

Once scoped out, the changes can be placed into a framework for action. This framework will outline and flow through to a list of tasks. Where possible this should be done in consultation with key stakeholders. Involving key stakeholders as soon as possible may cause some apprehension among the key stakeholders. However involving key stakeholders early will ensure a better considered plan and more ownership over the process. The list of tasks once developed will need to be prioritised. The priority of the task will be determined by their level of urgency and the level of importance.

A review of the list of tasks, will also present risks and downsides in either doing a task or not doing a task. Where there is a risk or downside that is significant then a plan, controls or contingencies should be developed to cover the “what ifs”. These plans, controls or contingencies will not only reduce the overall risk associated with the change, but also provide a sense of security for the key stakeholders that may have had a sense of fear or concern with the change process. This process should also include a framework of monitoring for the risks and downsides. The monitoring is aimed to catch risks early and hence be able to act and respond in a timely manner.

With the scope, tasks and contingencies developed it is time to structure the required changes into a plan. Each of the tasks in the plan ideally will include the “Five Ws” (see previous article). Each task in the plan requires the following:

  • The What needs to be done
  • Who is responsible to ensure the task gets done
  • When the task is to be done by (deadlines)
  • Where the task is to be done (including reporting mechanisms)
  • The Why in accordance with the scope and other tasks

Remember that a number of small steps equal a great trek. It is like the story of the two old men discussing how to eat an elephant. One man asks the other man “How do you eat an elephant?” the reply being “I dunno”. Then the first man answers with “One bite at a time”.

Though key stakeholders may have been involved in the scoping and development of the plan, it is important that the finalised plan is communicated to key stakeholders. During the communication processes remember that this communication has two parts. The two parts of the communication is the sending of the message and the message being received by the other person. The communication of the plan should be followed through to include updates throughout the implementation process.

With the plan developed, including contingencies, and the plan communicated it is time to start the change process one step at a time. With an overall coordinator managing the plan, each individual or team assigned responsibilities in the plan is to implement their tasks in accordance with the plan. The plan will outline the people involved, required timeframes and meeting or reporting mechanisms. As the plan is rolling out the key stakeholders are to be supported. This support will mostly have been identified in the scoping and planning phases. However be prepared for unanticipated support requirements. The support requirements are an important part of any change process.

So in summary:

  • The world is changing at a rapid rate and organisations need to adapt
  • Change can either cause fear, be exciting or not significantly noticeable to key stakeholders
  • Pace of change considerations include:
    • Will the change cause fear, be exciting or not significantly noticeable?
    • What is the degree of consequence if the organisation does not make the change?
    • Timeframes. With the pace of change in the world, how long before these changes significant impact on the organisation?
    • Steps for moving forward in a changing world:
      • Scope the change
      • Review tasks required to make the changes in terms of importance and urgency
      • Review the downside of making changes and the downsides of not making the changes. Is there anything that needs monitoring or risk controls put in place?
      • Develop a plan to implement the changes
      • Communicate the plan to key stakeholders
      • Implement the plan
      • Support stakeholders through the implementation of the plan
      • Review and Monitor the implementation of the plan

Created by: Attila Ovari
© Attila & Kim Ovari 2012. The content of this Article may be reproduced with permission of the author. Correct as at 15 September 2012

  1. Great posting. Quite educational and it comes to me as a reminder (especially the 5 W`s). Thank you for sharing and I also want to thank you for liking my post “respect”and for the follow.

  2. As a Change/Project Manager your articles resonates with me as this is what I do for a Fortune 500 company. I’ve learned throughout my career the importance of solid change management principles and foundation to successfully leading change initiatives. Great Article!

  3. Communication is key. However: the proposed change needs to be set in stone before it’s communicated. Last spring, an overeager manager in my office developed an overly-elaborate plan, and talked to everyone about it, to “prepare” them for it; then the whole plan was vetoed by senior management. Result: not good.

    • Thank you for your comment…. I think also a key point in your story is also authority. One must sure that they have the authority to make the change or that the person who does has authorised the change.

  4. Great article Attila, I really like you 5 W’s they help keep everyone focused and on the right track.

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