I may have a really good track-record of creating successful and sustainable change but believe me when I tell you that every single one of my successes came with their fair share of mistakes. Today I’m owning up to four of my biggest in the hope that what I learned along the way helps you.
Why do I want to admit my mistakes publicly? Well, because I’ve mentored dozens of brilliant change makers who feel like they’re the only ones messing up and it’s not okay that so-called experts are rarely transparent about their own missteps.
The truth is that successful and sustainable change is created through lots of (sometimes painful) trial and error.
I was Transformation Director on a big global corporate project - the biggest I’d worked on at that point in my career and a huge step up.
I’ll never forget one particular meeting with the VP. I had carefully prepared the change management approach I wanted to take and knew it would deliver the change needed.
However, within twenty minutes of the scheduled ninety minute meeting, he was saying, “I don’t think we need to do this. That’s not required. Let’s be more firm with people.”
I was committed to this project, which was going to impact fourteen thousand people and change the culture of the organisation, but hearing my plan being pulled apart was like trying to stop a runaway train.
Later on I realised I had made the project seem too big and complicated. Because I wasn’t able to pull out a minimum solution that would meet the VPs requirements, I spent the next nine months trying to get pieces of my original solution back in.
The Golden Lesson: Be pragmatic when working with clients who don’t share your approach to change by preparing your must-do minimums and easy-win extras. Learn how to do this in the Change Maker Academy.
I was working on a massive organisational restructure for a company looking to make radical change. The Directors wanted to deliver change at a faster speed than everyone thought possible and I knew co-creation was the way to do it, so brought together highly informed people from each department as a co-creation team.
We locked ourselves away for three months and were thrilled at the end to have come up with what we believed to be brilliant solutions. When we returned to the company, we expected to be greeted like victors. To say it went down badly is an understatement.
We were viewed as people who had been off on a jolly and those who felt they had been left behind wanted to take down our solution.
What did I do wrong? While I love co-creation as a pillar of change, it’s not enough. Even though the co-creation team had been nominated and chosen in the right way and we had the right people in the group, we had failed to bring everyone else along with us.
The result was a six week delay as we engaged with everyone to bring them back on board (and some serious shine taken off our brilliant solution).
The Golden Lesson: Co-creation + awareness + extra engagement to bring everyone along with you = successful and sustainable change. Module Four of the Change Maker Academy will teach you the different levels of engagement so you can get this right the first time.
On another big service redesign project, we created a thorough training methodology that would give users the knowledge to take the next step according to their role.
We implemented the training, there were no questions and all seemed great. We decided the change was complete and congratulated ourselves for doing such a good job at giving people the information they needed. The vast majority of change professionals would hand over at this point too but knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t.
The second we left the project, questions snowballed. Within two weeks, the operating model we’d designed and put in was beginning to roll back.
The mistake we made was leaving before the end of the period of integration where the theoretical solution hits the practical road.
I talk a lot about needing to have a sustainable solution before you step away. The project needs to be able to support itself without any of the change people there, because it doesn’t matter how good your solution is if it falls apart the moment you leave.
The Golden Lesson: Don’t finish the project before the people who will carry the change forward have taken full ownership. Module Six of the Change Maker Academy will teach you exactly how to do this.
I was leading a transformation project in a big global company and we’d put in a detailed model of readiness to measure how ready different cohorts were.
Each month we reported readiness using this model. In the beginning everything was running to schedule so there was nothing negative to report, but soon patches of the organisation began to show problems.
It’s completely normal for readiness to differ and research shows why some people are earlier adopters than others. Acknowledging when people are moving slower means you can offer additional support.
As pace was revealed, we began to have a problem with transparency in senior leadership; suddenly we weren't allowed to reference that we were behind in certain areas because they wanted it to appear everyone was on track.
Everyone on the ground knew if they were ahead or behind so senior leadership quickly lost credibility. They missed the opportunity to be authentically transparent and acknowledge the additional work we were doing to support slower adopters.
When senior leaders treat people like they can’t handle the truth, good faith is lost and the ability to complete the project successfully is hindered.
Transparency isn’t easy, but it’s essential. Preparing leaders to accept that there will be mistakes and they will need to stand up in front of thousands of people and own them is a big cultural challenge, which is why I always suggest laying the groundwork at the start of any project.
The Golden Lesson: Set senior level expectations by getting sign-up to a code of conduct around how you are going to do change in a transparent, authentic and respectful way. Learn more about this in Module 1 of The Change Maker Academy
Want to understand all the must-do minimums and easy-win extras you need to create successful, sustainable change? Sign up to my free masterclass on July 21st for change makers and bring your biggest business change management problems which I will personally answer on the call - this kind of advice is truly priceless, and I’m giving it away for free! Places are limited so grab yours now https://app.oakwoodmanagementconsulting.com/masterclass-sign-up
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