Oiling the wheels of change – John McNelly

Virtual change workshops can become a powerful new enabler in the successful management of change

When John Kotter published Leading Change in 1996 it was widely recognized that only about 30% of change programs succeeded in achieving their objectives. Since that time despite numerous papers, publications and countless change management training programs research studies still tell us that only one in three change projects meets its stated objectives (McKinsey Quarterly April 2009). In a business environment in which constant change is generally accepted as the new normal it is not surprising that so many L&D departments around the world are looking for solutions that could have a positive impact on the ways we lead and manage change.

Today there appears to be general agreement on the basic building blocks of any change management process – a compelling story, role modeling, reinforcing mechanisms and capability building. There is now also widespread acceptance that in most instances a key success factor implementing change is the extent to which the organization engages with employees in terms of the employees own primary motivators rather than the rationales and motivations that tend to preoccupy shareholders and the leaders of the organization.

If there is widespread agreement about what to do and how to do it then it would seem apparent that the focus needs to shift to methods of execution. How can we support and encourage more effective execution of the practices and strategies that we all agree should lead to a more effective management of change? As in so many areas of life it is probably going to be advances in the use of technology that are going to lead to the next steps in the evolution of how we manage and facilitate change. Here at Illustra we have been doing some interesting work on developing the use of live virtual workshops to support processes of change in large global organizations.

For a number of years, we have been running live virtual workshops designed to help leaders and managers understand how they can help people move through change and where to focus their efforts in order to reach a higher levels of productivity. While these virtual workshops clearly fulfill an important role in helping managers learn how to lead and manage change it has become apparent that redesigned and repositioned these workshops can also become powerful tools to support the actual implementation of change. Highly interactive and structured around our understanding of the basic building blocks of change management these virtual workshops function as very effective check points and forums for discussion that can enhance and drive the leadership of a particular change initiative. They enable the distributed leaders across the organization to efficiently come together, refocus, reflect and collaboratively evolve responses to the challenges and discoveries that inevitable arise during the course of any change management process.

An organizational change model

Illustra’s virtual change management workshops feature an organizational change model that has been designed to guide the process of change. The approaches adopted by different organizations can lead to variations in some details on this model but the basic principles are always the same. During the virtual workshops participants engage in a variety of team and individual activities that help them focus on strategies and behaviors that will help drive change at each stage in this model. The outcome at each stage consists of inputs into their own personal Change Leadership Plan, which describes actions they will apply to drive the change with their own teams and direct reports. The plan also includes timescales, expected outcomes and KPI’s.

Change Leadership Plan

When these workshops are integrated as an active part of a specific change initiative these leaders personal Change Leadership Plans become of increasing significance. Captured during the virtual workshops they exist as a digital record of each leader’s approaches and experiences that can be shared across the organization. If they are used as a focus for regular reviews, discussions and collaboration sessions that take place during the course of the change management process they become an invaluable resource for a process of shared corporate learning that can take place across the period of change; enhancing the capabilities of individual leaders and improving the effectiveness of the organization. In effect this strategy turns the process of leading and managing change into a great companywide action learning project, a powerful tool for promoting continuous learning and innovation across the organization. These plans and other outputs captured from the virtual change management workshops can provide valuable information that can inform the decision making of change management teams and senior executives during the course of the change initiative.

A change leadership roadmap

To implement this virtual change leadership strategy, organizations need first to design a simple change leadership roadmap. This consists of an initial kick off session followed by a series of virtual checkpoints that take place at regular intervals across the period of the change initiative.

Leading and managing the change initiative

Change Leadership Plans

The initial Kickoff event establishes the common language and terms of reference for the process of leading change and also enables the participants to work on the strategies and behaviors that can enable them to become successful leaders of change. It is during this Kickoff workshop that participants make their first inputs into their Change Leadership Plans and discuss and review their plans with colleagues and an Illustra coach who is an established authority in the area of leading and managing change. Between each checkpoint participants work on implementing their own Change Leadership Plans. Each time they return to a checkpoint they review and discuss the progress they have made with their Change Leadership Plan with colleagues, the Illustra coach and visiting senior executives. Each checkpoint involves further exploration of key aspects of change management as well as the review of Change Leadership Plans.

Supporting companywide two-way communication

Organizational change happens through communication and in any organizational change model communication cannot be seen as a step in the change process rather; it needs to be seen as a two-way exchange of information that occurs constantly throughout the period of change. Change management entails thoughtful planning, sensitive implementation. and above all, consultation with, and involvement of, the people affected by the changes. When you force change on people that is normally when problems arise. The integration of highly interactive virtual change leadership workshops into change initiatives facilitates processes of two-way communication with and amongst the distributed leaders responsible for implementation on the ground. By placing the initiative within a process of continuous learning you facilitate and encourage ownership and the adaptation of messages and policies to local circumstances and the needs and motivations of the workforce in different areas of the company.

It has become clear that each change leader needs to be able to tell a compelling change story that covers all the things that motivate the employees that report to them, and to engage in two-way communication about those stories. There is no such thing as a one size fits all change story for everyone in the organization. For this reason, we have found it is important to build into our virtual change workshops opportunities for leaders to develop and test in a safe environment their own stories about the needs and consequences of a particular change. We do this through live role-plays that involve managers in dialogues with actors on web cams who play the role of employees. These role play scenarios are carefully researched to reflect challenges inherent in the organizations current change management initiative. In this demanding yet safe environment leaders receive feedback and guidance from colleagues and an expert coach. Working in this way they are able to hone and develop the stories and supporting behaviors that will enable them to successfully lead change within their organization.

The Virtual Advantage

The economies and flexibility of scheduling that are made possible by live virtual workshops are enabling learning and development activities to move towards becoming more integrated into the ongoing day to day work of the organization. The integration of live virtual workshop into change initiatives is a significant step in that direction. It is enabling a real time process of monitoring, learning and course correction amongst the distributed leaders that are responsible for leading and managing change within large global corporations.