curved line

Ep. 77: Digital change management


How to move forward after implementing digital change.

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podcast recording


[00:00:00] Peter Maddison: Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of definitely Maybe Agile with your host Peter Madison and David Sharrock. So how are you today, Dave?

[00:00:07] Dave Sharrock: Well, it's great finally to be in the same building. In fact, in the same room, talking to one another instead of thousands of miles apart with lots and lots of cabling.

[00:00:16] Peter Maddison: Yeah. It's nice to all be in one place to have these conversations. What are we chatting about today?

[00:00:21] Dave Sharrock: If we think back to the last couple of episodes that we've been talking about, it's all been about transformation, digital transformations and what constitutes the transformation. There's an underlying umbrella over this, which is digital change management.

[00:00:33] Peter Maddison: We end up talking a lot about, this is why we want to do these things. What is the goal? Ensuring that you have that line? Where's the vision? Where we be heading to? And there's this piece about, how do you overcome the inertia of starting? But we don't talk so much about the " you gotta keep going." This is a journey.

[00:00:48] Dave Sharrock: We touched on it when we talked about organizational change. We know the people bit, is hard. I think in so many cases that when we bring change management in, it's a formulate process and there's some brilliant models out there that have proven quite adaptable in the past. There's so many elements coming together that digital change itself, is something that needs attention and we can't just dust off what we've done in our previous transformations. The two things that I'm thinking of when we are thinking about that. One is the whole bit about crossing the chasm and the fact that what got you here, isn't what's going to keep you going forward. That's really what crossing the chasm is about is. The bit that you do before crossing the chasm is dealing with a different cultural expectations and mindsets. So once you're trying to keep that going, you actually have to understand and adapt your practice from that. What would you add?

[00:01:36] Peter Maddison: We know that we're going to, as we introduce change, find some early adopters. They're often the same people who are all over this idea that, "Hey, we wanna do things differently. That sounds really exciting. I'd love to do that. How can I help?". You look for those people who are going to help you with that. Those are the people that going to help you before you hit that chasm. And typically you find that grows up to a point of the amount of influence that the person who is trying to instigate this has. So, it'll survive until it reaches the limits of that, and then you hit the chasm.

[00:02:04] Dave Sharrock: It's the prototype. You've proven the prototype, and now we move up through the hierarchy or where the decisions are made, and all of a sudden that prototype is selected and chosen to be rolled out. But the difference is that the pioneers, the mindset that they have, they don't ask very many questions. They're very easy to work with because, they're incredibly patient and very comfortable if we don't quite have all of our ducks in a row. But, as we cross that chasm and we move into the early and late majority, they have different needs. They need structure. They need guidance, they need real clarity about what's going on.

[00:02:36] I've spent many years as a coach pushing away from defined roles and responsibilities, because when you work in pre-chasm, that area is the last conversation we want to have because it immediately pushes people away from the idea is you're trying to share. When you cross that chasm, that's the first thing that they're looking for. How does the change that you're talking about impact my role, my responsibilities, my way of working? And I need clarity. I don't need a warm, fuzzy conversation about it. I really need to know exactly how that will change.

[00:03:07] Peter Maddison: They've got to overcome the " that'll never work here". One of the ways you do that is by making it clearer around where the roles are. These are the responsibilities. This is how we see this working. Can we try this and see how it works? Yeah, I would agree. It has to be that much clearer for the people to get buy-in.

[00:03:21] Dave Sharrock: On the one hand, what we've just started describing is the planning, but there's a balance to that, which we need to watch out for. Which is, we are working with complex systems, people, IT systems, digital businesses. And in those scenario, the bigger the step forward, the more likely it is that when you do land the whole thing is different. So we need to take small steps, not large.

[00:03:46] Peter Maddison: We know we have to go into chaos to change. But the larger you make that chasm, the larger you make that gap, the bigger the change, the deeper the pit that you're going to have to fall into. And it could just be chaos forever. So to mitigate that, you want to make the change as small as possible.

[00:04:02] Dave Sharrock: I always like the way Dave Snowden described this. Which is: large changes, large unintended consequence. Small changes give you small, unintended consequences. So make small changes because the unintended consequences is what's going to kill you. What I do think is worth us bearing in mind is that it's not, set the vision, make a small change, and then look around and set the vision. The vision, the goal, what you're trying to achieve can be ambitious and far in the future. That's the direction that you're aiming for. That's the classic North Star piece, right? We need that North Star so that, as we're making the changes, we can reorient what we are doing, and make sure we're still moving in the direction. We'll zig and zag a little bit as we move forward when we're making small steps. When you take the big steps, we're are losing on two fronts. One is you can end up with the North Star behind you. But number two, you now used your bank of change energy in the organization.

[00:04:55] Peter Maddison: There is another piece that I'm going to throw out there. Which is, incremental change is totally the way that you need to do this to go on with the least amount of disruption. But it often gets confused with, when we look at innovation and we need step changes in how we're adopting or changing our technology. We also need to consider that there are going to be times that there is a need for large change, but to manage that. We want to limit the blast radius, as much as possible.

[00:05:21] Dave Sharrock: You're mixing a lot of metaphors there, right?

[00:05:24] Peter Maddison: I'm bringing it up because it's one thing I've seen organizations get confused me.

[00:05:29] Dave Sharrock: Let's play around with that one for a little bit because I think if you're really trying to explore these big step changes. These are the bets, and you need to make multiple bets, and expecting many of those bets to fall flat on their face. But that allows you to look at different things. You're small steps, or the small changes, don't have to be small changes that aren't going to have a big influence. You can have a very clear, major transformational objective or major step change that you're achieving, but you're still going to want to somehow do that incrementally. It's a bit like the cutting over of new systems from old system. There is the: pull all the plugs out, plug in the new plugs, split the switch and pray that everything goes the way you expected it to. A better way is to cut over bit by bit. So you're learning as you go, with everybody understanding that the old system is getting turned off. So there's still a step change, but we're adding a bit of a curve at the bottom and curve of the top.

[00:06:21] Peter Maddison: Yeah. I think we'll need to explore this one more. Because there's another piece around how we find the new thing.

[00:06:27] Dave Sharrock: There's one other thing that I see in many cases, is a desire to immediately be efficient. To change and optimize all at the same time. Right? And part of that is driven by some sort of metrics, KPIs, and the governance. Or it can just be, we've planned for this and we know exactly how we're going to optimize this.

[00:06:44] Peter Maddison: Yeah. You spend six months planning. You introduce it Monday morning. Suddenly it's different than before. Everybody is all immediately going to completely get and understand absolutely everything.

[00:06:54] Dave Sharrock: This is that whole concept of changing the plane while it's flying. We've got to be able to understand that, yes, you've still got to be able to fly the plane. You're going to be running duplicate processes, or you're going to be over-resourced in certain areas as you're making those changes because you don't know where you can claw back some of those things. You've gotta get the balance right .

[00:07:15] Peter Maddison: There's this element of it being an individual change as well. That's the other reason to keep the change small because everybody's going to go through that change themselves in the way that they do with their context. When you start to introduce change, you can't expect that everybody's going to get through that challenge the same way. They're all going to take their own journey.

[00:07:33] Dave Sharrock: You've just brought up a great thing that we should probably touch on, and use this to wrap up change.

[00:07:38] Peter Maddison: When you're introducing change all the time, we will get tired with having to change all the time. People can feel like " Yeah, this is the same thing you were doing last year". It's the same set of rhetoric. If they don't see the benefits, and they're not seeing the improvements, and they're not feeling that they're actually getting anywhere, then they're very much going to feel like you're just disrupting again. That can introduce a lot of underlying problems into the organization that will last for a very, very long time.

[00:08:03] Dave Sharrock: I've always been really challenged with this because there are changes that all of us have gone through, which aren't fatigue. Which are energizing. I'm thinking of having a new child in the household, right? That's a massive change, which of course is tiring, but the change isn't tiring, if that makes sense. It's something that is actually very energizing in many ways as well. So how do you get the changes to not continually drain the tank? I think that's so much to do with change management.

[00:08:30] I was in Europe in the summer and there's a town in the Netherland, they have this walking forest. They have four-foot by four-foot tubs with trees planted in it. And there's a little forklift truck, and you get the right to move a handful of trees around. So every time you come into the town center, it's changed. It's a totally different walk-through the town center experience. There's this really energizing bit about small amounts of change. You're pleasantly surprised as you turn a corner and things have changed. It was a really wonderful idea that I thought was really cool, and also has that whole idea of change doesn't have to be quite as negative as we sometimes think it is.

[00:09:10] Peter Maddison: Yes. We all go through change, all of the time in life. So should we sum this up?

[00:09:14] I would talk about making changes small enough so that people can get through it. Even though everybody goes through that individual change differently, if the change is small enough, it's still less disruptive. We want lots of small changes, not one massive change.

[00:09:29] I think another part we didn't touch on, the plateauing piece. We've done all of the work. We've executed. Then we stopped because we think we're done. And we don't continue. Change is continuous. We did kind of touch on it, but change is always going to be there. What would you add to that?

[00:09:45] Dave Sharrock: We spent quite a bit of time at the beginning talking about people's expectations as you're mapping out the changes, as you're creating the prototype. Their mindset and what their expectations is different to that rollout, where you're now standardizing and making it the norm, and driving it through your organization so everybody can adapt and adopt those changes.

[00:10:04] Peter Maddison: Well thank you for that as always, Dave.