Thinking

Is there a better way to listen?

Drilling deep into change programmes to discover why they have failed to achieve their goals is a favourite pastime of many a blog writer.

Drilling deep into change programmes to discover why they have failed to achieve their goals is a favourite pastime of many a blog writer. Most people come back to the same conclusion: it’s because leaders have failed to consider their people when making decisions.

To me, this isn’t a groundbreaking revelation. It should go without saying that you need to listen to your people to stand any chance of rolling out a successful change within your organisation. Where I think we can be more creative is in how we go about understanding the impact that change has on people. If we can get top quality and timely insight on how people are responding to change, then we’re either going to make some really good decisions, or fix some really bad ones a lot more quickly.

My key message is this: establish as quickly as possible what you want to learn from people as they experience the change, and then work out how you’re going to measure it without annoying everybody with thousands of surveys. I’ve witnessed a number of projects that have failed to think about this until it’s almost go-live. That has left the team without the means to establish why the change isn’t landing as well as was hoped.

Here are some examples:

  • If you’re rolling out new tech and you need people to start using it in a certain way - what usage data can you be pulling on a daily/weekly basis? I once rolled out WebEx video conferencing to around 16,000 staff across the globe. Being able to see on a weekly basis which staff were regularly using the app and which weren’t meant we could speak to the right people to understand the reasons for resisting the new ways of working. Armed with that insight, we could either push for an app improvement with Cisco, or come up with a targeted campaign to drive adoption amongst like-minded staff. We actually learnt that a lot of people had forgotten their Apple app store passwords and didn’t want to go through the hassle of resetting them. A bit of hand holding sorted that out.
  • If you’re looking to change ways of working, or improve company culture, how can you track user sentiment and actions? If your company has internal chat, or an intranet with comments and forums, there are tools you can use that can pull out key words or phrases used. You may be able to find some trends and identify key influencers to get an understanding of the groups that are on board and those that aren’t. This is all valuable data to help you to understand how the change is going, but also to identify which targeted interventions will have the most impact.
  • Admittedly you’re not always going to have the data available from IT systems. So here are some other ideas that I’ve considered in the past, depending on what sort of change programme I’m working on:
    • Make sure anyone who is supporting people through a change (be it change champions, agents, or office managers) records each interaction in a systematic way. All this data offers an insight.
    • What other giveaway signs illustrate how a change is being received?
      • Footfall in a particular part of the office?
      • Sound levels in an office (could imply greater collaboration)?
      • What time are people coming into the office and leaving?
      • Is the canteen being used at different times?

Obviously don’t just record data for the sake of it, or because it might be interesting. Make sure each data point has a purpose and is a source of insight for a particular behaviour or benefit that the change is trying to achieve.

A data-led approach to evaluating uptake and adoption can be tricky to set up, so start thinking about it long before actual launch day. 

Change is always going to face a level of resistance. One thing I’m sure about is that taking a data-led approach is worth the investment. It sets you up for future success because it creates ways to measure employee satisfaction and engagement in a much deeper way than you have ever managed before.