Change is good
Change is fine
PMs do it all the time
Victims on the other hand
Take this time to make a stand
Whether you win or whether you lose
Will depend on the approach you choose…
In ‘What they didn’t tell you about project management in class’ I talk about organisational change management skills as perhaps the most significant management skills that a project manager can have. If you consider the definition of a project as something that changes the status quo, ie affecting a change, then project management and organisational change management are inextricably linked.
One of my favourite stories coming out of the PACs project was of a senior Radiologist who berated one of her staff for not sending a fax. The clerical assistant was confused, “But I did”. “Then why is it still there?”. When it came to x-rays she was an internationally renowned Radiologist with an eye for detail bordering on the psychic but when it came to computers etc she was quite the novice. Her expectation regarding the fax was that when it was sent it disappeared and then re-appeared at the new location. This is someone who has never sent an email, never played a computer game, in fact never sat at a computer. This is someone who for perhaps for forty years has held x-rays against a light box to study them. Now she had to analyse radiology images on a computer screen?
Empathy is more than a skill for a project manager, it’s a tool. To change someone’s behaviour you need to understand the world from their perspective. Please do not interpret this as an endorsement of terrorism in any way shape or form – but until you can feel what it means to WANT to strap explosives to yourself and walk into crowded shopping mall to kill yourself and as many others as you can, you will have no hope of stopping that behaviour. Sitting in our safe and comfortable lounge chairs, thousands of kilometres away declaring ‘war on terrorism’ is quite frankly like f___ing for virginity. You don’t have to agree, but if you want to affect a behavioural change, then you need to understand what’s driving the behaviour and I don’t mean a superficial text book analysis used to justify your own behaviour. When you understand, right to the depth of your soul, what’s causing the behaviour then you stand a chance of changing it. As a project manager you are forever making changes to someone else’s world. Whether you are working with or against the workforce will depend largely on your capacity to empathise with their plight.
It’s not always obvious which demons you are fighting which is why I highly recommend some additional study in organisational change management. Here is a sample.
Psychologists talk about four phases that people go through when change is inflicted upon them.
Phase 1, Denial: You’ll know you’re facing denial when those who should be most concerned are not concerned at at all in fact they are ignoring you. You’ll hear things like, “Here we go again”, “But this is the way we’ve always done it”. The general demeanour of the population at large is that they’re waiting for it to blow over so that they can go back to business as usual.
Phase 2, Resistance: So you’ve beaten them into submission and they now fully understand that it’s happening whether they like it or not. They are making it clear that they do not. You’ll get lots of complaints, absenteeism increases and sabotage – not necessarily people breaking things, but talking them down, “Acme did this and it was a disaster”. You’ll get emotional reactions and arguments that don’t at first make sense. You may have won the first battle, but the war is far from over.
Phase 3, Exploration: The apathy iceberg starts to melt and give rise to some energy in the workplace again. There’s some confusion and chaos as pecking orders are re-established. People are over preparing, establishing new boundaries, perhaps even competing for territories. You’ll hear more references to the future. You are over the worst of it.
Phase 4, Commitment: You’re on the down hill run. New opportunities are being identified, benefits that perhaps weren’t even identified in the business case. Teamwork takes over from anarchy. It’s no longer your project it’s theirs. You may even hear talk of the ‘next challenge’.
The above will help you to recognise the demon you are battling, now what to do. Some tips for project managers:
Phase 1, Denial: Be tactful. Tread lightly but assertively. Do not make concessions, instead demonstrate the authority behind the project. Perhaps you could take your sponsor on a tour of the workplace to talk about the project. Perhaps you could draft an email that your sponsor could send to the workforce announcing the project’s commencement & some execution details. Involve, engage and inform. Remember your role. With your project manager hat on you are neither the beneficiary nor the victim. Try and let those who do, tell you how it is to be done. If this raises concerns then address them, with your sponsor if necessary. Generate momentum, at exactly the right time. Don’t make them go thorough the anticipation and anxiety twice. If you miss a deadline, it will be twice as hard the second time around.
Phase 2, Resistance: Listen, a lot, especially to the bad. If it’s true then they’ve done you a favour by bringing to your attention an obstacle that you perhaps hadn’t thought of, and you should thank them. If it’s not true then just brining it out into the open will help to defuse it. Silly sounds sillier aloud, suppressed it festers. Not all change benefits all parties. Acknowledge those compromised by the change. “The decision was made because it brings an overall benefit to the organisation. I know it’s a step backward for your department and that’s why you’re getting an additional staff member to help cope with the increased workload, we will continue to monitor…”. Acknowledge, respect and respond and you’ll work with them instead of against them.
Phase 3, Exploration: Capitalise on the renewed focus on the future. Now is the time for training and planning sessions. Set short term goals. Achievements are evidence of progress and point to opportunities.
Phase 4, Commitment: Set longer term goals. Engage in team re-building exercises if necessary. Celebrate the achievements of your team and the workforce at large. Acknowledge and reward any extraordinary efforts and suffering that got you to where you are now; then get out of the way. It’s not your project any more.
All of my students have heard me say, “Organisational Change Management: Do it well and the users will cover for a myriad of your sins. Do it poorly and they’ll crucify you for not being able to play Solitaire on the weekends”. I’ve experienced both. Which you face will depend very much on how you prepare the workplace for the incoming change.