Kirsi Keränen: Planning a change – ask these four questions

We at CCEA know that pretty much every change taking place within a large organization has both a technical and a people side. It’s difficult to avoid making specific plans on the technical side of things when kicking off a transformation. In our experience however much less time is invested in the people side of the change, if any at all. If people are not taken along in the change from the very beginning, we very often end up not reaching the business goals set for the transformation.

How should a people driven change execution be planned? It boils down to activities that help the targets of change and those having impacted by it, to: 

  • Understand and accept what is changing  
  • Make the change meaningful to themselves 
  • Support collegues or team members 
  • Learn and adopt new routines 
  • Unlearn old ways of working and stick with the new routines.

My tip is to approach the people side of change through the following questions: 

1. Is it clear to the project organization what you are aiming at with the change? Do you know how large the change will be? 

For you to be able to make a people driven change plan you must know what your target is. If your answer is: ”Yes, our target is to take the new system into use!”, I will send you back to the drawing table. Re-consider how many people are impacted, is the change global or local (or somewhere in between), which processes that have to do with daily work are impacted and when should people start working in the new ways. When the project organization fully understands the target (and agrees on it) it will be able to make a functioning plan as well as tell the organization about the plan in an understandable way. A good plan enables transparent communication which in turn prepares people for the upcoming change. 

2. What change is needed in people behavior and daily ways of working to reach the set target? 

One of the most important factors measuring successful change that sticks has to do with the people (each and every individual) understanding how the change will impact their daily work. This understanding also has a proven correlation with reaching the business benefits set for the transformation. It’s fine not to have reached this understanding early in the planning phase. Make sure you reserve time for the understanding to be created along the project through iterations when new information becomes available. A good people driven change plan involves the correct people and ensures they can participate. To make the change concrete from people perspective you need both those who know the current ways of working and those who know the new system. They must together be able to clarify what changes and what stays the same? 

3. Are the leaders of the organization used to getting involved in change journeys? 

Make sure leaders and managers from relevant parts of the organization are in your stakeholder plan. Leaders and managers have an active role in making a change happen even if they’re not the primary user groups of the new system or application. They must above all understand the reasoning behind the change and be able to put into words why people should want to come along on the change journey. A concrete way for them to support the organization and its people is to actively talk about the transformation, after which they should stop and listen to what thoughts, questions and worries people have. As there are several other projects on top of the daily work on the desks of leaders and managers you will need a good plan and plenty of work to get them involved. 

4. Is the organization ready to see the people side of the change through?

According to my colleague Auli ”Why does it take so long?” is the most frequently asked question by business leaders when it comes to change execution. The answer is probably never unambiguous. Nevertheless, we at CCEA know the answer has to do with the fact that us human beings are simply not able to jump onboard on a change train overnight. We become skeptical, irritated, uneasy and at times even excited all at once – and then the good old ways of working draw us back to how it used to be. Our brain works actively on avoiding change to save energy. Therefore, in any transformation time must be used on creating awareness and understanding about the change well before people are asked to adopt new ways of working. In practice it’s a good idea to include active communication in several different types of channels from the very beginning. You should make sure that part of the communication is interactive and that most of it is done by the line organization and not the project organization. Research confirms that business leaders are often characterized by being excited starting up new projects whereas finalizing them might be experienced as tedious. A good people driven change plan therefore also invests in maintaining the change and making sure it sticks in the long run. 

To summarize, people driven change is as concrete planning as any other project planning, and change capabilities are a good asset to do it successfully.