Change Management, Lesson Two

Nov 3, 2017

By the Center for Government Innovation

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Have you ever attended a training at work only to find you are expected to adopt the new technique next week? Chances are this has happened to you — how did it go? Were you and your co-workers motivated for a while, then less so as the new way slowly faded into memory and the status quo returned? Or maybe you and your co-workers skeptically eyed one another during the training, afterward marching in line to toss your materials in the circular file. Either way, the spectacular results the training promised were dulled by the daily weight of office drudgery.

Contrast this with the enthusiasm and excitement we feel when purchasing the newest iPhone or other tech gadget—the thrill of a new car or a bigger, better TV with which to watch the newest season of that hot new show. In our personal lives, we change all the time, and what's more, we often crave and relish that change. What's the difference between the way change feels at work and at home? In our personal lives, marketers understand what motivates us and spend their time trying to sell us those nice new products. At work … not so much.



In our previous article, we introduced the topic of change management as a strategy to implement successful process improvement initiatives. In this installment, we will introduce the ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement) change management model we use both internally with State Auditor's Office staff and externally with governments. This model is a five-stage approach meant to be implemented sequentially. Today, we will focus on Awareness.

As thinking, discerning people, we must first understand the “why” behind a change before we can formulate an opinion for or against it. If we were simply told we must spend our money on a new TV without learning why it's better than the old one or why we need it, who among us would jump to purchase it? Similarly, if we don't properly sell our process improvement initiative in the office, confused staff members will mumble disapproval and concern as we push forward with trying to make it happen. They deserve to understand “why” the change is needed. And just because the “why” is evident to you doesn't make it so for the rest of the organization.

Awareness, as a step in the ADKAR change management model, is achieved when a person in your organization can explain in his or her own words the nature of the change, why the change needs to happen and what risks come with not changing. Here it is important to note that the Awareness step is not the same as agreement with or knowledge of how to change. Choosing to engage in change as well as learning how to change happens after Awareness — and properly creating this Awareness can have profound implications on how the rest of the ADKAR model is implemented.

In fact, the most common reason process improvement projects fail is staff resistance. Without proper Awareness, staff may start asking many questions over and over again, lower their productivity or just leave the organization. Others may hoard resources and information, and still others may delay the change implementation by creating roadblocks. According to Best Practices in Change Management (2016 Edition), employee resistance like that described above stems primarily from a lack of Awareness regarding the need for change.

To avoid failure, you will need to start by marketing to your staff the change you want to make. Explain in clear, concise language why the change needs to happen now, and what will happen if the change fails to occur. Don't just speak about the business case or the opportunities the project will create — this doesn't motivate staff. They need to know what's in it for them; once they do, you can get their buy-in on an individual level.

Awareness-building will be most effective when the message is set in the proper context for each audience and designed with those audiences in mind. You cannot effectively build Awareness at an organizational, department or division level. (Think back to that amazing training you attended along with your other co-workers). Instead, you should look for opportunities to build Awareness at an individual level. If you are thinking, “Great! I will just draft an all-staff email and state my case as to why the change is needed,” think again. Agency emails and staff meetings are not effective ways to communicate awareness. You should sit down with each staff member and talk to them, person-to-person, about why the change is happening and the risks of choosing the status quo. Ask questions, and let them ask you questions. Personal relationships are key.

According to Jeffrey Hiatt, author of ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government, and our Community, there are five factors that influence the success of a campaign to create Awareness of the need for change.

  1. A person's view of the current state
  2. How a person perceives problems
  3. The credibility of the person communicating the need for change
  4. Circulation of misinformation or rumors
  5. Contestability of the reasons for change

Ready to start? Here are some recommendations for creating Awareness:

  • Communicate early and often. You want to get to the critical mass quickly to minimize rumors and misinformation. Ask leadership to communicate the business reasons for the change. Managers and supervisors should communicate departmentally about how it will personally affect their work.
  • Always communicate verbally first and then allow for comments and questions. Emails, newsletters, etc., should come after.
  • Structure how to disseminate the information. Allow time to internalize information before progressing to the next level. Remember managers and other leaders are employees, too. They need time to understand and process before they can communicate to their staff.
  • Know your audience. Match the information's sender with the audience receiving it. Be as specific as possible. Include data, facts and relevant examples.
  • Don't take for granted that staff understood and accepted what you said the first time. Make sure to include activities that create awareness early and throughout the project. Check to ensure employees know the nature of the change and understand the reasons behind it.

If you want your Office to be as excited to implement your process improvement as they are to purchase that awesome new piece of technology (or at least half as excited), then you need to start by creating Awareness.

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