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Manage Change Using the Collaborative Approach

A specific strategy, termed the collaborative approach, for addressing human and organisational changes related to IT projects has emerged in recent years. The collaborative approach is based upon a set of core principles derived over three decades of experience, from observations of what organisations have done when change has been successfully implemented, as well as what organisations have done when change implementation has failed.

The collaborative approach has been tried and tested over a range of projects internationally.

Using the collaborative approach for managing change is most effective in the early stages of a project. More flexibility generally exists in early stages because fewer concrete decisions have been formulated and there is more opportunity to use creative suggestions.

The collaborative approach is founded upon the premise of building consensus and is based upon collaboration between participants to determine the way the change should be achieved. These tasks presents the collaborative process and describes the following components of the collaborative change process:

  • The key roles in the collaborative process, and how to orchestrate their interaction effectively.
  • The four stages involved in building a fully resourced transformation plan which has the commitment of management and staff.
  • The nature of the workshops which form the cornerstone of the collaborative approach.
  • The process management role that keeps the collaborative change process on target.
  • A summary of the deliverables produced from the collaborative process

The descriptions provided are an overall guide. Although it is critical to maintain commitment to each principle discussed, the detail of the approach can be tailored to the specific needs of the organisation, aspirations of the sponsors, characteristics of the project and the capability of the organisation to contribute to the facilitation role.

The key roles for the collaborative approach remain the same as those discussed earlier, namely: initiating sponsor, sustaining sponsors, change agents and targets. The change agents may play a slightly more focused role as change agents/ facilitators.

A change agent/facilitation team is needed, although its exact makeup will depend on the project, the organisation, and the type and scope of change to be addressed. This team should be composed of individuals formally trained in the collaborative approach, as well as hand-selected personnel from within the organisation. These latter team members should be people who believe in the change, are committed to its success and are likely to thrive on the ambiguity that is a feature of major change.

The roles of the change agents/facilitators will be many and varied, including logistical planning and detailed change implementation activities, as well as the more challenging tasks of workshop facilitation and lobbying the sponsors and participants to sustain their commitment.

Stage 0: Prepare For And Mobilise The Change Programme

The collaborative change process begins with building a broad knowledge base pertaining to the project situation.

Factors to be examined include, but are not limited to, external influences, business goals and performance objectives, customer perceptions, and quality guidelines. In parallel with the building of this knowledge base, the high-level change strategy should be defined, the initial sponsorship team should be enrolled, the change agent team should be formed, and the sequencing and logistical planning should begin.

Stage 1: Analyse Situation

This stage focuses on the business imperative to change. The objective of the situation analysis is to formulate a clear understanding of the external forces at play and to build consensus for the need to act. The data accumulated in Stage 0 should be used as input and as a basis for the sponsors to create a “burning platform”, which is a clear statement that the change is inevitable: the only choice is how the change is driven and whether individuals opt to participate in, or be a “victim” of, the change.

Stage 1 is carried out through facilitated and carefully structured workshops. Employees are encouraged to identify obstacles they perceive are barring or preventing the organisation from reaching desired performance goals. The employees’ perceptions should be used to challenge and extend those of senior management.

Stage 2: Design The Strategy

Next, focus is shifted to identifying the best way to address the challenge of change. This is accomplished by establishing a vision of what a successful future will look like. The participants are then facilitated to “design” the most effective responses to the external threats and to strive for the vision they have created.

Industry Best Practice models are introduced during this stage to broaden the participants thinking and to elevate expectations.

The “design” that is adopted should cover all components of the transformed organisation, including structure, processes, resources and culture. A straw man proposal should be built, tested with the initiating sponsors, and presented in the next stage.

Stage 3: Plan The Transition

During transition planning, participants have an opportunity to review the analysis from the design workshops, and to challenge the straw man proposal. This process assists participants in determining their degree of buy-in to the transition and adds a personal level of contribution to the process.

The participants should now be ready to construct a plan to move the organisation from its current state to the target adopted above. The transition plan should address the activities and tasks required to achieve the desired changes in the organisation, structure, processes and procedures. The plan should include an appropriate detail work plan, with schedules, resource requirements, and quality measurements clearly defined. The people who are likely to be most effective in the transformed organisation often begin to shine during this stage.

Facilitators perform key activities during transition planning to cultivate appropriate, positive responses to the change. Facilitation may need to be focused at the individual level to cultivate healthy responses to the change and to help individuals determine positive ways in which they will be affected by the change.

Stage 4: Commit To The Change

To achieve formal commitment to the change, the transition plan should be consolidated and presented to the initiating sponsors for endorsement. The sponsors will then need to show solid support for the change by allocating necessary resources and agreeing to the detail work plans for implementing the change.

The contribution of workshops

Each stage is built around powerfully facilitated innovative structured workshops. These workshops, aimed at challenging accepted paradigms, provide the cornerstone for each of the stages discussed above.

Workshops are designed to get the best out of the participants by being collaborative and task oriented. They also provide the environment for individuals to “check-in to” or “check-out from” the change process. The workshop process overcomes institutionalised “turfism”, hierarchical constraints, and other inhibitors of personal and team performance. The workshops become role models for progression and teamwork and are powerful enablers of change.

A key characteristic of the workshops is that they provide a forum for the expression of resistance within a carefully managed framework which encourages ownership and participation, both of which are prerequisites to overcoming resistance.

The workshops are carefully designed for each stage. For example, in Stage 1, the objective of the first workshop is to build a common understanding of the business imperative to act between the sponsors and the first level of participants. The standard process for a Stage 1 workshop is as follows:

  • The sponsors present the business imperative, including all the data upon which the analysis is based. The presentation should include information on competitors’ strategies and best practices, where available.
  • The participants are asked to work together to build a response to the sponsors’ analysis. To do this, they try to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and assess the situation from their perspective. The sponsors and other executives involved in the initial analysis do not actively participate in this second-level analysis. The participants present their responses to the sponsors. Presentations should highlight areas of agreement with the initial sponsor’s analysis, as well as differences.
  • The Stage 1 workshops should also include an education process directed at the principles of managing and achieving change, and coaching in facilitation techniques. The first-level participants are thus equipped to drill down through the subsequent levels, acting as facilitator and enablers of change. They are thereby given the opportunity to demonstrate commitment and ownership.

At the end of the Stage 1 workshops, the majority of the participants generally share a deep understanding of the business imperative to change.

Workshops in subsequent phases are entitled, “Designing the Strategy ” and “Constructing the Transition Plan”, and follow a similar structure to that outlined for Stage 1. The latter stage workshop focus is on building a consensus on achieving change.

Aim to ensure the proposed designs are not limited by the experience of the participants, ambitious, challenging and visionary targets are set, with models of industry best practice presented to the workshop groups. This method generally results in an effective balance of breakthrough thinking and established approaches.

The objective is achieved by pulling together around 25 key individuals, conducting a workshop, conducting a workshop, then each of the 25 (now sponsors) conduct a further 25 workshops in a cascade effect. The format and content of the workshops held for the remaining participants are exactly the same. The aim is for all participants to go through the same thought process and experience shows that they will tend to arrive at the same conclusions.

Logistical planning is paramount, as is timing. The whole process should typically be planned to take place over a three-month period.

Facilitating the collaborative change process

Individuals trained in this specific methodology and with direct prior experience should facilitate the collaborative change process. The process facilitator should make the following contributions to the process:

  • Maintain an overview of the collaborative change process and monitor progress against the planned time frames.
  • Apply collaborative change management principles and best practices to help the sponsors steer the change to a successful conclusion.
  • Design and facilitate the workshops.
  • Organise the process, including logistics and communication.
  • Assess specific risks to the process and design appropriate interventions to help manage the risks, seeking appropriate sponsorship where needed.
  • Educate and coach sponsors and targets, as appropriate, in the principles and practices of the collaborative process.
  • Conduct ongoing lobbying to cultivate continued support for the process.

Summary of deliverables produced

The collaborative change process described above takes the change to the point of implementing an agreed transition plan. Specifically, the collaborative process delivers:

  • An empowered group of people who:
  • understand the business imperative for change,
  • “own” the strategy for responding to the imperative, and,
  • re-committed to see the change through to final implementation.
  • Agreed upon actions to deal with resistance that is uncovered;
  • a plan to drive for the strategy , addressing all aspects of the change.
  • an implementation plan for achieving the defined benefits of the change. The plan will have the commitment of the staff in terms of approach, schedule and resources.