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Author: Peter de Jager

Change in 7 Questions

What must we do to bring about a Change initiative as smoothly as possible? Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

How much, and for how long do we do this? Until we get sick and tired of the sound of our own voice – then we take a deep breath and a drink of water and we start all over again.

Communication isn’t something that stops and starts; it’s a constant activity before, during and after any Change initiative.

This isn’t exactly news. We sort of get this. Ask any audience to tell you the ‘secret’ to good Change and they will repeat back “Communicate, Communicate and Communicate some more!” as if it was forcefully injected into their cerebellum. The problem arises when the questioning becomes a bit more detailed, “What exactly should we communicate?”

The response to that question is usually either a blank stare or the reasonable recitation of the reporter’s standby; Who, What, Where, When, How and Why. Not a bad start. If we’re writing a news article, then these are good solid questions. The Change Management problem requires all of those, and a few others besides. It’s not that the reporter’s questions are a poor tool; it’s just that they don’t directly address the peculiar psychology of the Change challenge.

For what it’s worth? Here’s a carefully selected of questions specific to Change Management. If we take the time to answer these, then we’ve covered the bulk of the key concerns of those facing the Change we’re contemplating.

1) Why?

This is the winner, the key question; it’s almost the only question worth discussing. If someone asks me to move from one side of the room to the other, or to stop using system ‘X’ in lieu of system ‘Y’, my response is always the same. “Why?” Understanding why a Change is necessary is the most important question we have about any Change. Without a good answer? We’re reluctant to do anything different.

There are lots of good answers to the “Why?” question. One good one is “Trust”. If I trust you and you ask me to do something? My Trust in you might suffice to prompt me to Change. If that Trust doesn’t exist? Then the reason for Change had better convince me, or I’m not moving from where I am.

2) WIIFM (What’s in it for me?)

The Fly in the ointment for many organizations, “It’s not about you!” they cry as they bend over backwards to avoid answering this question. Here’s the newsflash, as long as the users are concerned about the WIIFM question? They don’t pay attention to any other information, more precisely? Until that WIIFM question is recognized they can’t pay attention to anything else.

The best way to think of the WIIFM question is as a nasty, viscous guard dog, blocking the gate to our attention. Until that dog is thrown a bone? No information about the Change, sometimes not even the answers to the “Why?” question, are getting through to our reasoning process.

Even if we honestly have no information about the WIIFM question? We must still acknowledge that the question exists and that as soon as we do have more information, we’ll get back to the audience.

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3) Monday?

Assume for the moment we have returned from our strategic planning weekend, with a wondrous, phenomenal vision of the future of our organization. Also assume for the moment that our ability, to convince everyone that this is indeed the direction in which our organization should move, is up to the task. Assume that we’re silver tongued devils and get everyone onboard, on the bus, bought in and generally all fired up. With me so far?

Now they have a question. What do we do differently, specifically and precisely on Monday (or next Friday…or next month… ) to start moving us towards the promised land of milk and ever flowing honey?

It’s a fair question. If we want people to Change, we must describe what they’re going to do differently in terms that everyone can understand. If we can’t? Then we go back to the drawing board, our vision is flawed and unattainable.

4) Won’t?

What won’t Change? What will remain the same during this Change?

The problem here is that when we face a Change, all we see are the unknowns, we lose sight of the fact that only one ‘small’ part of our Status Quo is going to flux. That the rest of our surroundings will likely remain the same.

For example? When the accounting system is going to Change, we’re still going to report to the same boss, earn the same paycheque, receive the same benefits etc. In fact, most of our Status Quo will remain the same. This works for nearly all Change, the only time everything Changes is when we die, and then? It’s not our problem anymore. In nearly all other cases? Regardless of the size of the Change, nearly everything else remains the same.

5) Might?

What might go wrong during this Change? And… what contingency plans have we put in place to mitigate those risks?

The worst thing we can do when heading into the uncertainty of Change is to insist that nothing can go wrong. That’s not only asking for the Gods (and Murphy) to pay attention to us, but it also communicates to those around us that we haven’t really thought this through. Although? If we’re looking for a sure fire way to lose the Trust of those who follow us? Insisting, “Nothing will go wrong” is a wonderfully effective strategy.

6) Will?

What’s going to hurt?

Change Hurts. That’s almost the First Law of Change. If we’re doing something significantly different, then we’re going to be at the bottom of the learning curve. Even if we pay close attention to training, and support, and fall back positions, we’re going to make mistakes, production will decline, and we’ll get things wrong.

If we pretend that the Change will be painless, that it will be “Transparent to the User”, then people will know we’re lying, or at least overly optimistic.

7) Signposts?

Change doesn’t always happen quickly, sometimes it’s slow, almost glacial in nature – we need some way of measuring our progress towards a goal. Without feedback? We lose both the motivation and the will to make sacrifices to move forward. The question on the table is, “How do we know we’re succeeding in our efforts?”

These aren’t the only questions we need to answer during a Change, but they’re crucial ones and if the answers aren’t forthcoming? Neither will the Change. Stick them on the wall in front of you when crafting a Change message and ask, “Am I answering these? If not? Why Not?”

Implementing Change – Phase 7- Create Closure

Getting to the beginning of the new status quo is a long and difficult journey. It deserves celebration. Both to say good-bye to the past, and hello to the future.

Celebrate Achievements

No organization today, is undergoing only one change. Every organization is undergoing a storm of changes. It is unreasonable to expect that one day soon, every thing will settle down and you’ll get back to a sense of calm. This makes it all the more important to recognize when a particular change has been accomplished and completed. The celebration can be a major party, a trip to a foreign land… or just a team meeting with coffee and doughnuts. Celebrating does not require a huge financial budget. It does require an attitude, an understanding that people work better when their efforts are appreciated. People also just like to ‘party’.

Hold a Good-bye party for the passing of a Status Quo

People also like rituals. They enjoy burning the mortgage papers… or the source code for the system they’ve just replaced. Saying good-bye to the old status quo in some formal, pompous manner, puts it behind us, allows us to seal it off in our memory and accept the new status quo with no reservations.

Funerals respect the dead… they also allow the living to move ahead

Sometimes a change generates casualties. It’s all too easy to try and hide the fact that 20 people were laid off in a change. It’s healthy to find some way to talk openly about the past, in order to get it ‘out of our systems’. Do this carefully. It’s possible to reopen old wounds.

Wrapping Up

The seven phases of steps, questions, strategies, suggestions and guidelines are independent of any particular change. They are useful if you are considering to move your family from one city to another, or implementing a set of policies and procedures for PC usage, or automating some accounting process, or changing the e-mail system throughout your organization, or moving from one location to another. Change is change. These tips are also, by the very nature of change, incomplete. They address some key concepts and ignore others. They are mere sketches of what should be taken into account during any change, to get the full picture of what is required during a change, you must be involved in that particular change. It has been said that change management is an oxymoron. Hopefully, the above list will suggest to you that while change management is difficult, it is not impossible to have some positive impact on the process. Good Luck in your next project.

Editor’s note: This wraps up the seven phases of Peter de Jager’s methodology in weekly posts. Click here for phase 1, phase 2, phase 3, phase 4, phase 5, and phase 6.

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission

Implementing Change – Phase 6 – Reinforce New Behaviours


Doing something new means you’ll do it wrong at first. You’ll do it wrong until you learn how to do it right. This is period of low morale for most people.

There’s a sense that despite all the effort being invested, very little progress is being made. Being told you’re making progress motivates you. Even if it’s only a matter of learning what doesn’t work, that’s still an important form of progress.

Reward All Successes

We all like to know our efforts in any endeavor are being rewarded with progress towards a goal. During the first stages of change, when we are learning to do new things, there is very little progress. Watch someone learn a new system and you will see them make error after error after error. At the bottom of the learning curve, progress comes slowly. At the bottom of the learning curve we make very few correct choices and many errors.

 Reward All Attempts… and Failures.

During change, management needs to change their behavior from rewarding only ‘success’ to rewarding all attempts at progress. People need to hear their attempts to learn the new way of doing things are seen and appreciated.

Reward All Questions

When people ask questions during change, they are demonstrating involvement in the change process by seeking out additional information. Take the time, make the time, to answer those questions, no matter how busy you are. It does not take many instances of management not being around to answer questions, for people to get the message that management does not really care about the successful implementation of the change. Even, if that was not the message you intended to communicate.

Acknowledge those who Resist!

Sometimes the question will be ‘Why is this change necessary?’ This is NOT an indication of a bad attitude, nor is it an indicator of someone who is out to scuttle the change. The question ‘Why is this change necessary?’ is a legitimate question, by someone who is protective of the status quo they’ve already invested in. Do not mistake natural, normal, healthy resistance, as a subversive attempt to destroy what you’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes, a question is just a question.

Don’t Ignore those in Denial.

Denial can be defined as ‘the continued use of solutions, once appropriate to the task, no longer useful due to the introduction of the foreign element.’ It takes time for people to change old habits. Punishing people, because they learned the old lessons well, is not exactly a compelling incentive for them to learn new ones.

Editor’s note: We will be showcasing each phase of Peter de Jager’s methodology in weekly posts. Click here for phase 1phase 2, phase 3phase 4, and phase 5.
Check back every week to read the next phase.

 © 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission

Leadership Lessons: Implementing Change – Phase 5 – Desire Becomes Action

Editor’s note: We will be showcasing each phase of Peter de Jager’s methodology in weekly posts. Click here for phase 1, phase 2, phase 3, and phase 4.  
Check back every week to read the next phase.

The only person who likes change is a wet baby! A wet baby is aware of the imperfections of its current situation and will cry and scream until a change is brought about.  This analogy is a simple one, but it does contain a core of truth. If your target audience is dissatisfied with their status quo, they will be willing to change to something else.

What is their Vision of the Future?

Where would they like to be in 1 year, 5 years? Can they define what they would like their future status quo to look like? The better they can define it, the more detail they can describe, the more tangible it becomes.

What solutions can they suggest?

Here is where empowerment comes in to play. If they can describe a future status quo, then they can suggest ways to get there. Describing how to get there becomes not only possible, but if they’re sincere about their vision being a solution, then they’re highly motivated to come up with a transition plan. In all of this implementation plan, there is a key assumption being made; that you have competent, intelligent, rational people in your organization. If the answer is no, that you’re surrounded by incompetent fools, then the next course of action is to find out why management hiring practices need so much improvement

What can they do to achieve it?

How can they become involved in their vision? What can they do to move towards it? Surprisingly enough, they have answers to these questions. And those answers can become a plan of action – if we let them.

What commitment will they invest?

Change is never easy. What will they contribute to get to the future they’ve described? If the answer to the question “What’s in it for me?” is satisfactory to them, they’ll be willing to contribute more than we expect.

 What do they need from you?

Staff needs management support. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘Top-down Support’ and it is crucial to successful change. IF top management does NOT believe in the change, then it becomes very difficult to achieve. Not impossible, just needlessly difficult. Before going to the troops with a change, make sure the political battles in the upper ranks have been resolved.

When will their ‘Transition Plan’ be ready?

Set a date for the completion of the change. Nothing happens without a deadline. Deadlines, especially deadlines offered voluntarily, with eyes open, become a commitment.

What will NOT Change?

Very important. People need to know what parts of the old status quo will remain. Even if it is only small things which will remain constant, don’t underestimate their value.

 © 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission

Leadership Lessons: Implementing Change – Phase 4 – Create Desire to Change

Editor’s note: We will be showcasing each phase of Peter de Jager’s methodology in weekly posts. Click here for phase 1, phase 2, and phase 3. Check back every week to read the next phase.

A body at rest will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force.

That’s as much an observation about people as it is about physics. If there are no outside forces, then nothing changes. Sometimes the ‘key’ to change is nothing more than making people aware of the outside forces. One of the downsides of the status quo is that it lulls us into a false sense of security and we need to be shaken awake in order to change.

What Problems exist in Status Quo?

Nothing is ever perfect, that includes the current status quo. The imperfections in the status quo, create points of leverage that can help move a change forward. What is it about the current situation that has been a well known hindrance in the past? How dissatisfied is the target audience with the status quo? What exactly causes that dissatisfaction? If you don’t know the answer, ask the target audience –  they do, in great, exacting, painful detail.

What are the alternatives?

What alternatives are there to the current status quo? There is always more than one way to do things. Why did we choose this particular status quo? What other options did we have? What other options can we create? Does it really matter, in the long run, which option we choose? If not, if they are all relatively equal, why can’t the target audience choose which one they should move to?

What are personal Benefits to Changing?

Just as there are always problems with the current status quo, there will also be benefits in any new situation. It’s a useful exercise to help the target audience to list those personal benefits.

What problems would Change Solve?

Will the change being proposed solve existing problems? How? If not, why not? It is a mistake to think everyone involved in the change sees all the benefits of the change. It’s perhaps a tedious task to list the benefits, it’s also very beneficial to those who may not fully understand all the implications of the change. It’s difficult to communicate enough during change; it’s impossible to communicate ‘too much’.

What core values would Change reinforce?

What, out of everything the current status quo provides, will be reinforced by the proposed change? This is another way of communicating what will stay the same, only more so. This is surprisingly, a very powerful bit of information. People need stability, and knowing what won’t change in the coming months will offer more solace in the face of chaos than you might expect.

What opportunities would Change Create?

Change is not just about escaping problems in the existing status quo. It should also be about creating an environment of new opportunities. Do not assume the target audience can see those opportunities without being told, informed, communicated to etc. The primary task of the Change Inflictor is one of a communicator. Informing and re-informing people of what is going on and why.

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission