We’ve looked at change leaders, and engaging and interacting with people, in this blog series. Now we turn to the preparation and planning before work commences. We’ve been fortunate to coach many leaders responsible for delivering improvement. At the start, we commonly see project plans that don’t consider the magnitude of effort required to deliver successful change – plans that really set teams up to fail before a project has even started.

There are three key areas of planning that are commonly overlooked or undervalued – that each influence the end result and ongoing sustainability.

Action item one – plan for logistical changes, rather than planning around logistical challenges

Continuous operations on rotating rosters create logistical and resource-intensive challenges for finding time to engage with all teams in a change program. For example, a four-team set-up can take more than a month to cycle through on day shifts. One of the biggest planning challenges is getting all team leaders together to work through problems and develop solutions. A fly-in, fly-out project adds another layer of complexity.

Success is rarely achieved within the constraints of existing daily logistics, which means that allowing plenty of time to plan is critical. Key actions:

  • Plan shift-by-shift engagement in a way that maintains two-way communication. Purely one-way communication, like a presentation, is unlikely to get people to fully support and embrace a change.
  • Schedule engagement with energy levels in mind. Presenting at the start of a shift, when teams are dealing with multiple other messages, or at the end of their shift, when they are fatigued, won’t help. Dedicated time purely focused on the change at hand is needed.
  • Factor in extra logistics planning for team leader collaboration. Rosters and travel plans almost always need to be shuffled to achieve optimum involvement. This can be done, but requires much advance notice.

Action item two – plan for plenty of time and multiple interactions

Engaging with people takes time, and usually more than is first assumed. Individuals receive information in different ways and adapting to each communication style is needed. Also, one interaction is rarely enough. When multiple rounds of interactions aren’t planned for, engagement can become ‘too hard’ and leaders default to easier options such as putting information on a noticeboard or, worse, sending a mass email. Key actions:

  • Match your communication method to the roll-out program. Typically early-stage engagement needs much more face-to-face interaction, where mass communication methods can be useful once support has been gained, the change is understood, and you’re simply providing updates.
  • Plan for multiple rounds of engagement from the outset. Being overly ambitious with your timeline by taking shortcuts can have the opposite effect – extending programs because the work wasn’t done well at the start. Interacting with people is required and that takes time.
  • Plan for attitude and behaviour change, not just awareness raising. I was once told that when you’re tired of hearing yourself say the same thing over and over, people are probably just starting to take notice. That advice perfectly sums up how it feels when engaging work teams on a change.

Action item three – plan for process alignment (even if it’s not that exciting)

Improvement projects can be exciting, especially in the early stages. However, behind the scenes of implementation is a host of existing documents, standards, templates etc. It’s essential these are reviewed for alignment and, if needed, updates. While not very exciting, this discipline supports sustainability and is also a great way to double check assumptions and even prompt an activity that hasn’t been considered in the original plan. Key actions:

  • Include an initial scan of existing process documents in your core change plan. The volume may be light or extensive. Getting visibility informs resource allocation for the next step.
  • Embed conservative time to review those existing process documents. This is a valuable activity and shouldn’t be short-changed.
  • Plan for wider reviews that consider the big picture of the change. This could include reviewing responsibilities, role descriptions, reporting structures, training requirements, remuneration structures, access to files and computer systems, items stocked in warehouse inventories, and on it goes.

Managing change in the workplace is difficult, but you increase your chance of success by developing a proper plan from the outset. Of course, the one caveat on planning is that you’ll probably discover new information as you progress, which means you also need to have the courage to change the plan if necessary. A plan is only as good as the information you have at the time. In all, the effort is worth it.

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash