How to successfully work with change management in the organization

I met Agnė when I joined her Transformation team at Maersk Line a couple of years ago. When I joined, the team had a clear goal to deploy the LEAN A3 problem-solving practices in the organization. When I first sat with the team to talk about the strategy on how to introduce this change, it seemed that there was a plan in place.

However, I was missing the change management element in it. So after long discussions we decided to apply change management methodologies to effectively introduce and sustain A3 problem-solving practices at Maersk Line NEULOC organization. 

I’m very excited to be a guest on Agnė’s blog and share with you my experience in change management and how we worked with it at Maersk Line.

But first, why should we talk about change (management)?

When you think about it, change is all around us no matter where or how you work – be it LEAN, Agile, or Design Thinking. You can even find ways to apply change management in your daily life. Ultimately, it is about looking for improvement ideas and making it happen by altering the ways of working. So, one can say that change is inevitable. 

Typically, change results as a reaction to specific problems or opportunities the organization faces from the inside or outside stimuli. Many times, we hear that companies aim to be closer to the customer, be more competitive, more efficient, etc. If we were to categorize the change, one can say that ultimately we talk about the impact to (1) processes, (2) systems, (3) structures and (4) job roles.

Despite various efforts to do change in the organizations, probably many of us have experienced that even a small change can be chaotic, unpleasant, or raise millions of questions if it is not managed properly. To avoid such situations, change management supports the organization and provides structure in the journey from the current state, through transition to the future state.

Transformation team’s reflection session at Agne’s home where change management was the hottest topic.

Change management: the people side of change

However, when you think about the different transformations that organizations decide to embark on, there is one constant denominator – the people. No matter the nature of change and how it affects the organization, it all comes down to people and changing their ways of working. Even with small change, the outcomes could be completely different depending how you approach it. 

For example, a single (even small) change in process could mean that people need to learn the new rules, get used to new procedures, document it for future reference. An introduction of a new IT system requires enormous effort to perform testing, organize different trainings for different user groups. 

From my own experience, I can say that when you think about change management, it is important to look at the context where the change is happening. Context could mean many things. It could be the industry or the organization itself. It could be the company’s vision and ambitions for the future as well as its maturity. Context is also the people, culture and unwritten social rules. Only when you understand the context, you are able to tailor made the change management strategy and tactics to be used. 

When it comes to change management, there is no “one size fits all”.

ADKAR – simple but powerful change management model

From the establishment of change management as a scientific discipline in 1960s, a number of models have been created. The prominent ones are Lewin’s model, Kotter’s 8-steps model and Prosci ADKAR change management model created by Jeff Hiatt, which is widely applied in practice. ADKAR focuses on people side of change, giving a lot of attention on how each person reacts to change. It gives guidelines, but not a specific recipe or timeframe, which gives enough space for experimentation. We applied ADKAR at Maersk Line and saw fruitful results. 

ADKAR is actually an acronym of the five stages that every person has to go through during the change process. So let’s look into each of them.

Awareness is the first stepping-stone in the change process. It is crucial that employees understand why the change is necessary, where it comes from and why now. You have to give an opportunity for employees to ask questions and honestly answer them.

How did we build awareness? In the beginning, we worked closely with the leadership team to get their buy-in and commitment to support this program. Then we started with a pilot group which was selected based on the first followers concept. So, we asked the managers to select employees who by nature are open and excited about new ideas. Also, in our communication, we emphasized a lot that A3 methodology is an industry standard which could be applied in a daily work. This way we ensured a faster buy-in and people’s motivation to participate. 

None of the ADKAR steps can be skipped! And every person has their own pace of moving through the stages.

Later, we used the success stories from the pilot group to scale the awareness to the wider organization by building the story around real examples from the organization. 

Desire is the most difficult element because it is a personal decision to change. So, more and more awareness does not equal desire. You have to listen to employee’s feedback and address their concerns. You have to show how the change will benefit them personally.

How did we build desire? We made sure that we had a strong sponsorship from the leadership team. Leaders talked about A3 during the team meetings and bigger gatherings. They were promoting the A3 problem-solving thinking and supported their team members by giving them the time to work on the “A3 project”. We allowed people to choose their own projects from the problems they have in the daily work to boost their motivation to work on it. During this stage we learned that it takes time to build desire and we saw few people building it faster than the others.

Knowledge is about giving the hard-core training and ensuring employees know their role in the change. At this stage, it is crucial to address any skill gaps. However, if you think that you can create the knowledge without the awareness and desire, you risk wasting too much time and resources without a successful end-result.

How did we build knowledge? Firstly, we organized a classroom training where we provided practical examples from the organization. Our role as the Transformation team was to create the environment to foster this learning, so we continuously worked on improving the trainings. We received the feedback that it was hard to remember all the concepts, so we created a handout called the A3 cheat-sheet. We made it easy to understand and included even more examples from organization. It was very well received and used by many in the organization.

Ability is the most crucial step because this is where the change really happens. It is hard to describe what actually happens at this stage, but people tend to adopt the new practices and ways of working at their own phase.

How did we build ability? For us it was important to encourage people to actually go and practice. At this stage our job was to coach people. Coaching could mean many things. We helped our colleagues to analyze data, we brainstormed together, or sometimes we just asked the right questions to help them move forward. We also worked on coaching the coaches. More experienced team members worked with leadership team on their coaching skills. Role-modelling also proved to be a good tactic. One of leaders started his own A3 which inspired his team to look for potential A3 projects.

Most change programs fail, but it can be prevented if you prepare a good plan.

Reinforcement is about keeping the change in place. People tend to go back to the way it was before because it is more comfortable and familiar. Many times “the transformers” are already on their next project and there is not enough resources to keep the momentum. 

How did we build reinforcement? At Maersk we celebrated every completed A3 project. An employee recognition program kicked-off to nominate the A3 problem solver across the organization. It also proved to be important if employees received feedback and recognition directly from their managers. As a Transformation team we kept the overview of these achievement visible with the A3 tracker and dashboard where we followed the number of people trained, the number of A3s and their progress among others. The A3 tracker became a topic on the weekly leadership team meeting’s agenda as well as a tool to start the conversation in the teams.

Have our efforts been successful?

To sum up, I can proudly say that by including the change management perspective in our strategy we had 20 finished A3 projects with the business impact of increased customer satisfaction, cost reduction and employee efficiency gains. In addition, we achieved a sustainable implementation since A3 became a standard way of working across the organization. 

However, it is worth noting that it wasn’t an easy process and we learned along the way based on the feedback from the organization. ADKAR doesn’t give you the perfect recipe how to manage change but is a good baseline to build your strategy on. You have to constantly evaluate your strategy, experiment and fail fast to quickly adjust your approach. Also, It is important to remember that people are in the center of change, so every employee has to follow all the ADKAR steps all the way through on their own pace, without skipping one. 

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