Consulting for change
An alternative to ‘change management’
The purpose of this article is to share our understanding of the nature of business change, and to set out the principles of the Fairisle Consulting for Change approach, as an alternative to ‘change management’.
The problem with change management ‘standard models’ and ‘best practice’ is the assumption that they can be applied to any organisation. Like a sausage machine, you put business problems into one end, turn the handle and a changed organisation comes out the other end. ‘Change management’ fails where change is ‘done’ to a business organisation.
There is no one-size-fits-all ‘magic wand’ solution. And that’s because every organisation is different. They all have different cultures, different goals, and different people. Here at Fairisle we know that no two instances of change are the same. Each one has something about it that is unique, and so an approach like ours, that flexes according to the needs of the organisation is much more likely to succeed.
That’s not the same as saying there are no common principles, of course. The key is to apply those principles to the circumstances of each client. Combine this with the iterative, Agile delivery of change then you get a flexible, effective approach which is Fairisle’s ‘Consulting for change’.
Change is a constant
We often think of change as separate from normal life – that there’s some kind of ‘steady state’ and any change is a variant from that. But are you the same person you were as a child? Are you even the same as you were five years ago, one year ago, last week?
We’ve all heard the saying, ‘change is a constant’, and that is as true of businesses as it is of individuals. Change is inevitable, part of a natural process. The key to successfully navigating change is to accept that it’s going to happen, and to respond to it creatively. There’s a lot that can be done to navigate change so that you achieve your objectives.
Where to start?
Where do you start in harnessing the energy of change? Perhaps you could study the extensive literature available on how big-name companies turned their businesses around. Or read case studies on successful start-ups. All interesting stuff. But no-one can start at the end of someone else’s story. What worked for another business may not work for you.
Some businesses respond to the need for change by bringing in an external resource to ‘manage the change’. Often this is a ‘change manager’ or a ‘change management’ consultancy. The risk here is they will take on the hard work of implementing changes, whilst everybody else gets on with business as usual. This ignores the fact that an organisation owns the responsibility for navigating its own change. And this is a responsibility that shouldn’t be subcontracted to someone else. That’s why we recommend that you don’t outsource your change.
It is a good idea to get help from outside change experts (like Fairisle). We always ensure we support and equip the people inside the organisation to lead and deliver the change. This empowers the client to plot their own path, and recognises that you and the people you work with are the most valuable resource in any change setting. This is one of the key principles of Consulting for change, as an alternative to change management.
People can be complex, emotional, sometimes argumentative. No wonder so many change management models are directive. “Here’s the model, here’s where you fit in, now get on with it”. A bit like Captain Luc-Picard in Star Trek ordering ‘Make it so’. The trouble is, like Capt. Picard, this is an approach based on fiction.
The Fairisle approach emphasises that any change initiative should be a team effort and that real change happens when everyone affected is involved from the start. This isn’t always easy, of course, especially if working relationships are already strained. Check out our article Relationship capital – worth investing? for some guidance on how to improve your working relationships.
Resistance to change
Something that is often encountered in change initiatives is resistance to change. This is where people raise endless objections to the change initiative or even work against it. This is frustrating and can generate a lot of heat in the team, even scuppering the change. The Consulting for change approach suggests re-thinking resistance as a form of energy that can be converted into a force for change, rather than against it. Find out how this works in our article ‘Value resistance to change’.
Planning your change
There is a widespread belief that any proposed business change must be specified in detail before starting implementation. This leads to a lot of time spent drawing up detailed project plans and submitting papers to committees and boards. Sometimes more time and energy is spent in satisfying bureaucratic requirements than in making any actual changes. In some organisations, this culture is so ingrained that nobody questions it. Where this is the case, we encourage people to consider an alternative to change management and think about the process of change in a different way.
Let’s say you’ve planned to travel by train across the country to attend an important event. You get to the railway station and your train is cancelled. Do you go home and completely re-plan your journey to take account of this unexpected change? Well maybe you do, but it’s an important event you must get to. A visit to a sick relative, say, or a festival you’ve saved up all year to attend. You haven’t got the time to draw up a new detailed plan. So, you respond to the circumstances you’re in right now. You might catch another train that takes you near to your destination and book a cab for the rest of the way. Or maybe you head to the bus station.
The point is, if your destination is important enough to you, you’ll find a way to get there. As human beings we’re capable of adapting our plan to changing circumstances and working our way around obstacles. If things don’t go to plan, that doesn’t mean everything has to be paused to create a whole new plan. To see how we translate this idea to the world of business change, have a look at our article ‘How to handle obstacles’.
Vision and roadmap
We’re not saying you should make everything up as you go along. But a fully detailed plan of action is not a prerequisite for starting your change journey. You do need to know what your future state looks like (your Vision) and in broad terms, how you’re going to get there (your Roadmap). But as you go on the journey, circumstances will change because – as we explained above – change never pauses. Read more about change Vision in our article ‘Vision and expectations’.
Delivering your change
No two instances of change are the same. Each one has something about it that is unique. So an approach that allows you to flex according to the needs of your organisation, the resources available, or the time required by other activities is one that can be invaluable. We’ve found that the Scrum version of the Agile project management framework works well as an alternative to change management, and so have the clients we’ve worked with.
Inspect and Adapt
One of the key elements in Agile is the concept of ‘Inspect and Adapt’. This means that once you’ve worked out, in broad terms what you hope to achieve, you only need to plan in detail the next 2 or 3 weeks. At the end of each period (known as a ‘sprint’) you review what you’ve achieved, inspect how things went and then plan the next sprint.
There is much, much more to Agile than we can cover in this article. As a starter, read our article on how the model works in Find your focus. If adopting a new and perhaps unfamiliar approach sounds daunting, don’t worry. We’ve found that Agile is intuitive, drawing on and enhancing natural patterns of teamwork. This means clients can pick up the basics very quickly. Plus, it’s not necessary to know and understand all aspects of Agile before getting started. For example, our article Do more plan less sets out a simple technique for prioritising your change tasks.
The great thing about Scrum Agile is that it is scalable. It’s just as good in helping you make small changes as it is in supporting major change initiatives. Clients are often surprised at how a seemingly small change can have a big impact, if it is delivered effectively. Another reason why Consulting for change is a good alternative to change management, which is often so heavyweight that it can cost more to implement than the anticipated benefits. Have a look at our article Small change, big impact to see how.
It does, of course, help to have some expert guidance and we offer a series of practical workshops on Agile delivery to get you going. This helps your people start delivering change quickly and effectively.
Consulting for change
We hope you can see how the Fairisle Consulting for change approach works well as an alternative to change management. We won’t try to impose an external model on your business. We’ll work with you and your people to define your change and help you to put a practical, effective plan in place. We equip you and your team with effective tools and techniques, and work beside you as you deliver your change. We describe this process as ‘Setting the conditions for change’. Once you’re up to speed with the approach you’ll be equipped to manage, anticipate, plan, and respond to future changes. Many of our clients find that adopting the approach enhances the way they think about change and gives them new confidence to face the future.