This is where “the rubber hits the road” in change management or project team efforts. Kotter describes this step as Empowering Others to Act on the Vision and HBR (Harvard Business Review) breaks this step down into 3 key streams of activity:
– Getting rid of obstacles to change
– Changing systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision
– Encouraging risk taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions
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So what’s this about blockers? This is beginning to sound like a game of college football!
Well, remember that guiding coalition from Step #2? Time for them to “step up to the plate” (please, no more sports metaphors!)and remove all blockers from the path of execution. What areblockers? Well, a blocker could be psychological in nature – peoplecould be fearful or hesitant to step “outside the box”, and may need tobe told or shown that it is OK, and “expected” for them to do so!
In other cases, Blockers could be individuals, other projects oreven an organizational structure that is very “prescriptive” andlimiting in nature. Often it can also be performance or rewardstructures (e.g. compensation) that are not aligned with the “newdirection or vision” and result in people having to choose between “thevision” and “the performance measurement system”.
In Change Management circles, a popular tool that is used to assistwith the identification and actioning around “blockers” to change isthe Change Readiness Assessment survey. A quick google search on this will yield plenty of source material. With some digging, I came across this sample PDF surveyfrom the University of Georgia, which if completed by the GuidingCoaliition, is very informative to the development of a Communicationplan that includes not just passive communication methods, but alsomore active “change agent” communication activities.
A good example of where more “active” communication activities mightbe required could be in the case of where a senior executive ormanager, not included in the Guiding Coalition, wields enough power orinfluence such that their own desire “not to change” (whether out offear or lack of agreement with the vision as stated or understood) putsthe project execution at risk. This individual may hold or controlcritical resources (whether people or money) that are required as partof the change or project execution effort. Confronting these“blockers”, and if required “removing them”, is not somethingnecessarily “easy or pleasant” to execute, but that is where leadershipand managerial courage come in. Those among the Guiding Coalition,need to make the tough decisions or have the difficult conversations tokeep the project or change activity moving forward.
For those of you familiar with Six Sigma or related Continuous Improvement frameworks, in reading this last paragraph, might have their thoughts land on the Stakeholder Assessment tool. The SA tool is basically a process where you walk through each of yourstakeholders, which are individuals that are either directly orindirectly impacted by the project or change activity that will betaking place. As each Stakeholder is itemized on a “grid”, their“support” or “alignment” to the team’s goals and vision arequalitatively defined by the team. This will provide clarity aroundwhere there may need to be specific communication or change agent“activity” targetted to get those individuals “who have not seen thelight”, come out from the “dark side”, or perhaps just the “shadows”,which would not be as far a walk.
Though iSixSigma is never a bad place to consult in all matters 6s related, I always send folks over to TechRepublic and this articlethat covers off Stakeholder Assessment in a straightforward and very“pragmatic” way, complete with templates and links to other related anduseful resources. Something to keep in mind about “StakeholderAssessments” – the recommendation is that this ‘instrument’ be keptconfidential, as an “internal team tool” and not shared outside of theproject/working team structure. It tends to contain rather “sensitive”information, around people’s norms, personality style, or perception ofpower and control, that without the right context, could derailindividuals therin mentioned, to that “point of no return”.
So two big themes here:
Empower others to act, which often involves“removing obstacles”. This keeps your team “engaged” and deflects theotherwise destructive “frustration” involved when teams are unable toexecute, and there is insufficient leadership or courage (or perhapsenough power) in the Guiding Coalition to effectively do what needs tobe done.
The other is “credibility” – your Guiding Coalitionwas made up of individuals that wielded power or influence in thecompany, and also carried with them some respect and/or goodwill thatis critical as these “change agents” go forth and communicate thevision. This means they need to “walk the talk” and not take forgranted that associates can clearly ”connect the dots” between actionand alignment to strategy and vision. This means you need to ‘talkthrough’ actions & decisions (particularly those tough ones thatimpact people’s roles), doing so in a respectful and consistent manner,with the vision, corporate culture and values model within yourorganization.
Change is not easy. Poorly managed change is that much harder.