Bad solutions lead to intrusive Change Management

Creating enthusiasm for change is the big stumbling block for organizations. However, you should not create eagerness for a solution that people are not asking for, but elicit eagerness by choosing or creating a solution based on the needs you detect and answer.

The best change is the one that answers a latent need of people, not one that is conceived from a creative brainstorming room or was best sold to the decision makers.

At least that's how I think about it more and more. In this article, I explore this topic a bit further.


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Bad solutions lead to intrusive Change Management

In change management, a lot of time and effort is put into creating a desire or eagerness for the change and this at all levels of the organization by:

* mapping the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) of different stakeholders and formulating actions
* anticipating resistance
* involving employees in the change process
* supporting managers so that they can guide their team through the change
* etcetera

Desire or motivation cannot be created

These are all laudable initiatives that will certainly contribute to the adoption of change. But I do wonder if this is the right approach or sequence. Prosci, the founders of the ADKAR method (stimulate Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement) also indicate that influencing the ‘D’ of ‘Desire’ (i.e. the desire for change) is beyond our control. Desire or motivation cannot be created, it is a personal choice.

Change as a sales process

We can, however, increase the likelihood of eagerness, for example by working on the elements listed above. The problem with this, however, is that the “desire” is stimulated after the solution or change is already there. A new productivity software is purchased for many good reasons and then implemented with a change plan. This is a sales process. It is a PUSH to the organization. A good WIIFM may be sought and always found, but if you have to name and sell it too hard, then there is probably something ‘wrong’ with your solution. I’ve seen that happen all too often and it has everything to do with how (and the phase in which) you release gusto.

Change as an influencing process

The trick is to start from real needs. This does happen in most projects, but from an organizational perspective, not or too little from an employees’ perspective. Listening to the needs of various stakeholders before there is a solution is part of a PULL story. Start by capturing the needs of employees and manager around a particular theme. If for example a digital turnaround needs to be made and the reasons are clear at the company level, then check with (senior) managers what their vision is, what their challenges are, what they should do and what they want to do. Do the same with employees. Map out all those needs. That way, you’re going to detect real problems and create, buy or configure a solution that addresses those concrete needs.

Generic solutions don’t work

Of course, the larger the organization is, the harder it becomes to align all those needs and find a solution that works for everyone. This leads to compromises. Generic solutions for every department in a company often don’t work, no matter how hard you try. When I once suggested this during a management meeting, I was afterwards given the silent advice that this is not realistic. “If you ask your children what they want to eat, you will also get different answers and then you are stuck.” If you think like that, you’re stuck.

A friend of mine regularly orders from Hello Fresh. The two kids get to pick a dish themselves every other time. So one time they eat their own choice, the other time the other’s and so they learn to eat new things and are also very enthusiastic about it. I sometimes make extra vegetables or change an ingredient to accommodate the different needs in the family.

If you think it’s important enough, you make an effort to understand and respond to the needs, preferably in dialogue. And sometimes you can’t, and then you have to say so clearly and explain why. This is very different from deciding in advance that listening to the needs leads to nothing. You may not always be able to come up with an answer, but you can always listen and try. And that really does make all the difference.

There usually is a choice

Sometimes a change or certain solution will be mandatory, because of regulations for example. My experience is that honestly saying it has to be done and not making too much fuss about it works better than disguising it with all kinds of fancy WIIFMs. Then an A(d)KAR approach would be better. But often there is a choice, at least in the solution.

If you start from the needs of stakeholders even before there is a solution, you do not sell but you listen to them openly and actively. You should not create enthusiasm for a solution that people are not asking for, but create enthusiasm by choosing or creating a solution based on the needs that you detect and answer. The best software is the one that answers a latent need of people, not one that is thought up from a creative brainstorming room or was best sold to the decision makers.

Desire is the result of answering needs

Frederik Vincx, founder of Soulcenter, left his thriving startup and helped local non-profits during his one-year sabbatical. During one of those months, Frederik immersed himself in a healthcare facility in Zonhoven (Belgium) as a social service designer. He learned that employees in care institutions are often under pressure. Their overfull agenda makes it difficult for them to find the time or energy to really get to know the residents. It is also difficult to build relationships with residents with dementia because they often have trouble telling their own story.

This resulted in design principles that were shaped together with the caregivers and laid the groundwork for a later solution (Soulcenter) to address the problem.

From those insights grew a first application that invites family members to record the life stories of their loved ones, in addition to an application for staff to help them learn about those stories.

In the meantime, the application has evolved much further based on new insights into the needs of residents, family, volunteers and staff alike.

The moral of this short story about Soulcenter is that the desire exists long before the solution is created. Capturing that gusto in a solution is the big challenge in initiating change that is embraced. At the same time, it reduces the need for heavy change management. Unfortunately, the worse the solution is, the more Change Management will be needed, and the more intrusive it will feel for the people involved


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